Biologist and expedition leader, Helga Bårdsdatter Kristiansen is at a beach filled with garbage, cleaning the beach

How we said goodbye to single-use plastics

In summer 2018, we were the first cruiseline to remove single-use plastics from all our ships and offices. Our own Helga Bårdsdatter Kristiansen was the driving force behind the initiative.

As a biologist and expedition leader, Helga had seen the danger plastics posed to our oceans. Long before it became an issue highlighted by mainstream media, she knew we needed to take swift action against plastic waste.

“I’ve wanted to do something to raise awareness about plastics in the ocean for a long time,” she says. “We all have a huge challenge to face when it comes to garbage in general.”

Helga started by doing research on the amount of disposable plastic which was being used on our ships. “I found that 1,653 single-use plastic cups were placed in the bathrooms of cabins throughout the fleet each day. Just these cups alone would add up to several tonnes of plastic waste over ten years. Those numbers shocked me.”

Helga on a small speedboat pulling plastic from the ocean
Helge pulling a old, ruined fishing net out of the ocean

Taking action 

Equipped with a matrix calculating plastic consumption and feedback forms from past guests, Helga brought her findings to senior management at The Coastal Express.  

Her hard work was very well received and plans were quickly put into place to begin the process of removing the single-use plastic and finding alternatives.  

“The Coastal Express proved to me that it really is possible to have an idea, to share it, and to see that idea become a reality,” Helga says with a look of satisfaction. “It’s important to me that I work in a company that really wants to do better and that creates change.”  

Convincing her colleagues 

As much as senior management were united in their approach, there were a few concerns by well-meaning crew members. MS Nordlys’ Hotel Manager Lars Grannum admits to being one of them.

“I’d only been working for The Coastal Express for five months when the war on disposable plastic was set in motion,” says Lars. “There were some skeptical people among us, and I was one of them,” he smirks as he points to himself.

“I've been in the hotel business for 30 years, and plastics have always been around as a part of the work we do. I wasn’t confident that we’d really be able to get rid of a lot it. I also didn’t realize just how much of it there was!” Lars exclaims.

“When I met with Helga to discuss plastic usage, what I found was shocking, really shocking! Plastics were everywhere; the toothbrush cups, the wrapping around these cups, the wrapping around toothpicks, pens, keyrings in the onboard shop, straws, coffee stirrers – the list went on and on.”

Seeing the scope of what was being planned and the possibility to have biodegradable or more long-lasting replacements for the single-use plastic, Lars counts himself as one of the earliest converts. “I’m really proud of what we’ve been able to accomplish. And to be the first ones to do that in the industry! It’s great to see what we can do when we take positive action!”

A better experience 

With his initial scepticism turned into engagement, Lars has become an active advocate for removing disposable plastic. “The result now is that the experience on board for our guests is so much better,” he says enthusiastically. “Rather than cheap plastic, we use durable products which lift the overall quality of the experience.”

“Our guests tell me that they really like the improvements,” continues Lars. “They can also join talks about the problems caused by plastics in the ocean. In some places, we even organize beach clean-ups to clear the shore of any plastic debris.”

For Helga, she’s got even bigger plans in mind. “This is just the beginning. What is sustainable today might not be tomorrow,” she states. “We’re going to be working even harder to be better and to stay first and best in class in the cruise industry. So watch this space for what we do next!”