European Attractions Plan Positive Changes to Comply with Upcoming Single-Use Plastics Ban
The European Parliament’s Single-Use Plastics Directive comes into force in 2021. Designed to prevent plastic pollution, the law will compel Europe’s attractions industry to phase out unnecessary single-use plastics, achieve high collection rates for recycled items, and transition to greener solutions. Member of the European Parliament Frédérique Ries, who steered the legislation through the Parliament, says it was “essential for the planet.”
According to the European Commission, more than 80% of marine litter is plastics. Products covered by the new ban will include several items used in food and beverage operations at attractions, like single-use plastic cutlery, single-use plastic plates, plastic straws, plastic balloon sticks, oxo-degradable plastics and food containers, and expanded polystyrene cups.
PortAventura World’s Plastic-Free Plan
Attractions are already taking action. PortAventura World Parks & Resort in Tarragona, Spain, is on a mission to become plastic-free. “We apply the principle: ‘There is no better waste than the one that doesn’t exist,’” says Choni Fernández, director of corporate responsibility.
Where possible, the company removes plastic materials altogether—plastic straws have gone, for example. China plates and glass cups have replaced plastic tableware. Guests have been impressed, reporting that food served on china looks of a higher quality. To facilitate the change, “we carried out a big investment to install dishwashers and to contract more staff hours to manage them,” says Fernández.
PortAventura World also offers guests a reusable glass for a 1 euro deposit, refunded when they return them. “The trick is to have a very attractive glass so that they do not return them. The park earns money as the cost is lower, and you do not need to clean or destroy them,” says Fernández.
Where a single-use plastic product cannot be eliminated or changed to a multiuse material, the company uses biodegradable single-use materials. Cups and containers made from cardboard, wood, or PLA (polylactic acid, derived from cornstarch) are used for takeaways or at swimming pools where glass is not permitted. Guests also use PLA gloves (instead of plastic) in the “El Secreto de Los Mayas” mirror maze to keep it clean.
PortAventura introduced new bins for the biodegradable waste, but because some of the biodegradable materials looked like plastic, people weren’t sure where to throw them. So, the park developed a campaign with Sesame Street character Oscar the Grouch to ensure the correct disposal of waste. The company has also produced a free program for schools, encouraging younger generations to take care of the planet.
PortAventura only buys plastic bottles made of recycled PET (polyethylene terephthalate) and earned a “Zero Waste” certification from Spain’s standards association AENOR because the resort recovers more than 90% of its waste. “It is not enough to change plastic; a facility needs to analyze origin, distribution, use, and waste management to close the loop,” says Fernández.
While PortAventura World will still use plastic items in 2020, due to COVID-19 measures, “we will still commit to eliminate them by 2021,” says Fernández.
Efteling’s Environmental Efforts
COVID-19 will increase plastic waste and make trash separation more difficult in the short term at Efteling in Kaatsheuvel, Netherlands. “We see this as a temporary setback,” says Wyke Smit, governmental affairs and sustainability manager at Efteling. If anything, the pandemic has reinforced the park’s environmental intentions.
“Behind the scenes, we have no less than 40 separate waste streams, and we also separate waste at our offices,” says Smit. “Our employees used to use 380,000 plastic cups a year, which we have now replaced with a recyclable one.”
Smit advises other operators to start small.
“We no longer actively offer plastic straws, coffee cup lids, cutlery, etc.,” Smit says. “They are only available on request.”
Attractions should take a critical look at their inventory and replace plastic where possible. Smit recommends involving employees in the process. “Above all, look for creative solutions to avoid using disposables.” Venues could perhaps offer ice cream sandwiches instead of using paper or plastic trays.
Efteling has changed plastic children’s plates for bamboo plates, but parks should consider the sustainability of all materials. “Bamboo seems sustainable, but if you can’t recycle it anywhere you might still want to use plastic and collect it properly,” says Smit. Efteling is working with specialists to “investigate together which packaging is the most sustainable and when it is appropriate to use it.”
Parks Making Progress on Plastics
Mirabilandia in Savio, Italy, continues to work with certified companies to cut plastic and create a greener environment. Under the Single-Use Plastics Directive, the park will replace “all plastic with biocompatible material and paper,” says Sabrina Mangia, Mirabilandia’s sales and marketing director. The park uses paper cups and organic, compostable cutlery and plates made from palm leaves. Mirabilandia also uses individually sanitized porcelain dishes and steel cutlery.
In the United Kingdom, Legoland Windsor Resort has switched to paper straws and replaced all plastic cutlery with either wooden or plant starch versions.
“As part of our reopening health and safety measures, we have redesigned our resort menus to focus more on grab-and-go options to allow for social distancing. This does mean that we are using slightly more disposable packaging than previously, but we are using sustainable materials wherever possible,” says Laura Askew, Legoland Windsor’s head of public relations. “All our POP badges (collectable badges that are released throughout the year), produced from this year, are made from 100% recycled materials and can be recycled.”
Coca-Cola Targets Collection and Innovation
Coca-Cola’s drinks are a familiar sight at Europe’s theme parks and attractions. The company has pledged to recycle as many plastic bottles as it uses by 2025 in Western Europe and by 2030 globally.
Recycling is a cornerstone of Coca-Cola’s global “World Without Waste” vision, launched in 2018. Consumers are already seeing changes in Europe. “Our Sprite bottles have gone from green to clear,” says Therese Noorlander, Coca-Cola’s sustainability director for Europe. Although Sprite’s green bottles were previously recyclable, the switch to clear PET plastic means they can be “recycled bottle to bottle”—meaning the clear plastic can more easily become a bottle again.
For Coca-Cola, part of the solution to the environmental crisis is a circular economy—one where materials such as plastic, aluminum, and glass are recycled or reused.
The European Parliament has set a 90% collection target for plastic bottles by 2029. Attractions can help by collecting bottles and encouraging guests not to discard them as litter. Proper collection of PET plastics is crucial. “That means separate collection streams so that you don’t dilute the quality of the plastic,” says Noorlander. The cleaner the plastic stock, the longer its life cycle.
Coca-Cola supports “well-designed deposit return schemes” to collect packaging. The beverage maker continues to work with theme parks across Europe on recycling reward programs that allow people to return bottles in exchange for incentives.
In a pilot project with Merlin Entertainments in the United Kingdom, guests who returned bottles via reverse vending machines received discount vouchers for attraction tickets.
At Efteling, “the PET collection vending machines are nicely themed, and guests are given a Snapchat filter when they hand in their bottles,” says Smit. The park plans to add more machines. Efteling’s employees also manually collect PET bottles (which account for 15-20% of guests’ waste) from bins. This two-pronged approach has been very successful, according to Smit.
For markets where deposit return programs don’t exist, Noorlander recommends parks rethink their on-site waste infrastructure, set up separate collection bins to sort waste, and educate guests.
“It is super important to integrate recycling into the style of your park and to make it fun. If you make it engaging and accessible, specifically for kids, that can be a really positive experience,” says Noorlander. “If you have a vision, it’s much easier to explain to your waste management company why this is important to you and how it knits into other things that you’re doing, such as reducing food waste or conserving water and energy.”
Coca-Cola is removing unnecessary and hard-to-recycle plastic, switching from shrink wrap to cardboard and KeelClip packaging (pictured left), for example.
The company is investing in innovation and collaborating with other consumer brands to crack the formula of a paper bottle. Coca-Cola is broadening access to its PlantBottle IP (a recyclable PET plastic bottle made partially from biobased materials such as plants). It has partnered with enhanced recycling startup Ioniqa to produce a sample bottle made with marine litter plastics. It is also looking at refillable and dispensed delivery model opportunities. A growing number of parks across Europe are using Coca-Cola’s Freestyle dispenser machines. These allow guests to choose different variations and encourage the use of reusable beverage containers.
Mirabilandia also “encourages the use of refillable bottles and refills to reduce plastic bottle use,” says Mangia.
Funworld Contributing Editor Juliana Gilling covers the attractions industry in the Europe, Middle East, and Africa region. Contact her at [email protected].