Cruise Ship Industry Needs to Embrace Sustainability or Sink


It must be pretty damaging for any industry’s reputation to be labeled Dinosaur of the Year. And that’s what the Nature and Biodiversity Conservation Union (NABU) has called the cruise ship industry. NABU, which is based in Germany, singled out cruise lines AIDA and TUI to get their yearly trophy, which goes to people or companies with “the most ridiculous statement or anachronistic decision in connection with Nature and the Environment.”

According to NABU, cruise ships emit particle pollution that equals the amount released by five million cars driving the same distance as the cruise ship tears through the ocean. The organization said the luxury cruise ship industry has made no investments to move away from heavy fossil fuel oil or to install filters to reduce the pollution they dump into the oceans. It added that the 15 largest cruise ships emit as much sulfur dioxide pollution annually as all 760 million cars in the world. Not much glamour or luxury in that, is there?

Figures revealed by environmental NGO Friends of the Earth are alarming. A large cruise ship on a one week voyage is estimated to generate:

210,000 gallons of human sewage,

1 million gallons of gray water (water from sinks, baths, showers, laundry, and galleys),

25,000 gallons of oily bilge water,

Up to 11,550 gallons of sewage sludge, and

More than 130 gallons of hazardous wastes.

The NGO says most of this waste is dumped directly into the ocean, treated or not. Luxury liners also spew a range of pollutants into the air that can lead to acid rain and contribute to global warming. On top of all that, they can spread invasive species by dumping untreated ballast water in coastal zones.

To add to the problem, as more people pursue traveling as a leisure activity, the number of cruise ships in U.S. waters, as well as across the seven seas, has triggered a cruise ship pollution crisis. FoE says environmental laws have not kept pace with the industry’s growth, which reaches pristine waters, leaving a rotten track in its trail.

Back in 2008, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) agreed to respond to a petition filed by 53 groups and issued a draft report assessing discharges from cruise ships. “Now that EPA has finally agreed to release this report, the public must submit comments compelling the EPA to regulate these floating cities and protect the very places people are paying to visit,” Teri Shore of Friends of the Earth said at the time.

The EPA draft report found that cruise ship discharges contain concentrations of bacteria, chlorine, nutrients, metals and other pollutants that often far exceed federal effluent and water quality standards and are harmful to human health and the marine environment. The report estimated that cruise ships produce an average of 21,000 gallons per day of sewage and 170,000 gallons per day of raw graywater that can contain as much bacteria as sewage. Large volumes of highly concentrated sewage sludge are also routinely dumped overboard. The report found that even the Advanced Wastewater Treatment systems required in Alaska were far from perfect.

At a time when the health of our oceans is seriously threatened, it is distressing to see an industry turning its back on sustainability. Consumers have a role to play by refusing to participate in this vandalization of the oceans.

Article by Antonio Pasolini, appearing courtesy Justmeans and 3BL Media.

About Author

Walter’s contributions to CleanTechies over the past 4 years have been instrumental in growing the publications social media channels via his ongoing editorial and data driven strategies. He is the founder and managing director of Sunflower Tax, a renewable energy tax and finance consultancy based in San Diego, California. Active in the San Diego clean technology community, participating in events sponsored by CleanTech San Diego, EcoTopics, and Cleantech Open San Diego, Walter has also been a presenter at numerous California Center for Sustainability (CCSE) programs. He currently serves as an adjunct professor at the University of San Diego School of Law where he teaches a course on energy taxation and policy.


  1. …you are absolutley right, but instead of picking out only 1-2% of all sea going vessels and blaming them, it would be better to claim 98% of the other vessels (cargo vessels, passenger ferries, navy vessels, etc.) polluting the air and oceans even more – and legally!

    But as the cruise industry is easier to attack than to THINK of the complete and very complex problem, it gets a certain smell, that only easy targets are focussed.

  2. As a citizen of this planet, I would like to say that Cruise industry is just for entertainment which means there is no need for it to exist; other words, we would be good without it. We have to stop crew ships and safe our environment for future generation. It’s very sad that a lot of people don’t understand the reality and sea world is the one who has to pay for human mistakes.