Plastic pollution is one of the major environmental challenges of our time, and Indigenous tourism has an important role to play in contributing to the solution. Every year, an estimated 100-150 million tonnes of plastics are produced for single-use purposes and about 8 million tonnes of plastics are dumped into the oceans (UNWTO, 2021). Unsurprisingly, the tourism sector is a significant contributor to the problem of plastic pollution, and eliminating single-use plastic products across the tourism industry represents an opportunity to tackle plastic pollution at the source. Indigenous ways of life are steeped in traditions of taking care of the land, water, and wildlife; and Indigenous tourism businesses are perfect conduits in supporting those deeply rooted values. Not only are Indigenous tourism businesses led by Indigenous, Metis, and Inuit Peoples of Canada who embody holistic worldviews, but by operating a tourism business they offer visitors (both domestically and nationally) an opportunity to learn from and engage in responsible tourism behaviours, such as choosing plastic alternatives. Lastly, by taking actions towards more social and ecological business practices, such as eliminating plastics from operations, Indigenous tourism businesses are leading a path forward that is regenerative.

The World Travel & Tourism Council and the UN Environment Programme, one of the leading organizations of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative, launched a report in June, addressing the complex issue of single-use plastic products within travel and tourism. In this blog, we explore ways we can support the elimination and awareness building of plastics and micro-plastic pollution. Our aim is to support members of the Indigenous Tourism Association of Canada (ITAC) with information and arm our members with resources and tools for positive change! It is our intention to help Indigenous tourism businesses take collective steps towards coordinated actions and policies that drive a shift towards reduce and reuse models, in line with circularity principles.

As Canada’s plastic production continues to rise, so does the number of national and international commitments to reduce plastic pollution. Increasingly, national governments are banning or introducing placing levies on single-use plastic products (Plastics and the UN Sustainable Development Goals, 2021). At the international level, the United Nations (UN) has made commitments to reduce plastic leakage into the environment. For example, these commitments include Addressing Single-Use Plastic Products Pollution, the UN Environment Assembly Resolutions Marine Litter and Microplastics, and the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

Key-Messages and Actions Indigenous Tourism Businesses Can Adopt

So, what are some of the ways that Indigenous tourism businesses can make a positive impact and support changes that align with environmental best practices? The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative has put forward eight principles for action towards eliminating pollution from single-use plastic products in tourism businesses’:

  1. Reduce the use of single-use products regardless of the material (e.g., glass, paper, plastic, etc.).
  2. Promote reusable products and systems in your tourism business – the most sustainable product is the multi-use product.
  3. Use tourist and staff-targeted strategies and communications to ensure products are continuously reused.
  4. Aim to decrease the environmental footprint of production (through reuse, demanding products with high recycled content, and partnering with suppliers engaging in sustainable production methods).
  5. Engage with suppliers and relevant actors in the value chain to procure products that are designed to be fit for purpose, durable, and function.
  6. Ensure that resource-efficient washing technologies are in place.
  7. Establish good waste separation systems in your tourism business to ensure products receive proper end-of-life treatment.
  8. Know your context when making decisions related to single-use plastic products (Cultural norms, production methods, waste management technology infrastructure available, tourist behaviours, regulatory framework).
Indigenous Tourism Businesses That ‘Get It’

Mr. Bannock

Mr. Bannock offers tastes of the Coast Salish! Showcasing fresh, local ingredients featuring Indigenous Fusion in North Vancouver, BC. Check social media to track down Mr. Bannock, Vancouver’s first Indigenous food truck. Created by Squamish Nation chef, Paul Natrall, who says, “We take pride and joy in sharing fusion Indigenous cuisine, using traditional ingredients from the Squamish Nation such as juniper berries, smoked wild salmon and meats, and traditional methods such as clay baking and stone baking.”

Paul made the switch from plastic and Styrofoam products a couple of years ago when Vancouver passed a bylaw around plastic products and food vendors. While this was a mandatory change, Paul says that it was a welcomed change “anything that we can do for the environment, being Indigenous we want to showcase the overall picture, not just showing the traditional foods – taking care of the environment is a part of that big picture.”

Mr. Bannock now offers wooden and compostable food containers and products. During this change, they noted that it has made a huge impact on their overall waste and that while it does cost a bit more to supply these options, it does not compare to the impacts of plastics on the local waters and lands.


Spirit Bear Lodge

Visit Spirit Bear Lodge and explore the largest intact temperate rainforest in the world — the traditional territory of the Kitasoo/Xai’xais First Nation. With a guide by your side, explore a landscape teeming with wildlife that includes grizzlies, sea wolves and the legendary spirit bear (Kermode bear), a rare, genetic variation of the black bear.

In a large-scale effort involving Kitasoo/Xai’xais, Gitga’at, Haisla and Gitxaala Nations and ecotourism partners, more than 200 tonnes of garbage was removed from shorelines throughout the Great Bear Rainforest in May and June. “As wonderful as it is to see and be a part of all the work being done to clean up the coast, there really is so much more that needs to be done. More accountability and government interventions are needed to prevent industries from leaving behind their garbage.”

Indigenous Culinary of Associated Nations

Joseph Shawana, Board Chair for the Indigenous Culinary of Associated Nations (ICAN), based in Toronto, Ontario uses 100% bamboo and wood products and recommends Klover Sales for ITAC members to consider when ordering their supplies.

The Take-away

To realize this vision of eliminating plastics from the tourism sector, tourism companies and destinations need to commit to eliminating the plastic items you do not need. Further, innovate so all plastics you do need are designed to be safely reused, recycled, or composted; and circulate everything you use to keep it in the economy and out of the environment. Focusing on plastic bottles, plastic cups, plastic bags, takeaway food packaging and tableware is a great start! Businesses can also lead or engage in beach/land clean-ups and learn more about how they can raise awareness to their visitors/guests by sharing best practices before guests arrive. Lastly, businesses can align their business values by signing onto pledges or becoming members of plastic-free initiatives at the local, regional, provincial, and national levels.