Eco Friendly Cruises: Why You Should Rethink Your Next Cruise Vacation

Are you wondering where to go on your next family vacation? Spring break and summer vacation are popular times for people to take a cruise vacation but have you ever considered the ecological impact of your trip?

Sure, hanging around by a floating pool and sending your kids to an on board play center may be relaxing but what are you doing to the environment while your ship floats through the ocean? I would like to encourage you to research eco friendly cruises before you book your next trip!

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Cruise ship at sea

I may be one of the few people in this world who has never been on a cruise. The opportunity never came up when I was young and then I married a man who downright refuses to go on one.

WHY is dear husband so anti-cruise? Because he HAS gone on one and after being so violently ill he didn’t leave the bathroom for 2 days he refuses to go on another cruise vacation!

I tried to plead my case…”What a great way to vacation with kids!” I said. “Think of how much fun we could have, and we could go see the beautiful scenery of the Alaska coastline” I suggested. Nope, not budging.

Then he hits me where it counts with “Don’t you know how bad they are for the environment?” Ouch! While I knew that the fuel consumption would be huge, I never stopped to think about other environmental concerns surrounding cruise ships. So I started digging deeper into this issue and am really appalled at what I discovered!

Cruise ship with smoke coming out of the top

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Environmental Impact of Cruises

The biggest concern regarding cruise ships and the environment seems to be the waste that is pumped into the ocean from bathrooms, medical facilities, pool maintenance, dry cleaners, and laundry facilities on board.

Apparently, what you flush down the drain can actually be dumped untreated into the ocean so long as the ship is at least three nautical miles from shore. As a result, there is a phenomenal amount of human waste, hazardous chemicals, and pharmaceuticals all being flushed out into the ocean.

I (quite naively, I guess) thought that cruise lines had to store this waste for treatment after returning to dock. That is what RV’s do, right?

I never realized that dumping untreated waste water into the ocean was an acceptable practice ANYWHERE! The statistics I find suggest that cruise ships dump 1 billion gallons of untreated waste into the ocean every year. Absolutely disturbing.

Large cruise ship names queen mary 2

Think About This:  In a recent EPA survey of boats operating in Alaska, cruise ships reported generating an average of 21,000 gallons of sewage a day. That is a staggering amount of waste to be dumping into our oceans!

According to the Friends of the Earth, 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.

That is seriously an awful lot of waste for one ship to generate! Now, imagine the number of cruise ships transporting people hither and yon every single week around the world!

Image of large cruise ship with text overlay ‘eco friendly cruises rethink your holiday cruise’

Eco Friendly Cruises

Friends of the Earth has put together a ‘report card’ of sorts that grades vacation cruise lines on their environmental impact. Since people aren’t going to just stop taking cruises (well, except for my husband and me apparently!) you can use this report card to choose a ‘greener’ ocean vessel.

Companies are rated based on sewage treatment, air pollution reduction, water quality compliance and accessibility of environmental information. If you are looking for eco friendly cruises, this is definitely the first place to start looking!

Like most environmental awareness groups, the Friends of the Earth has a few detractors. According to AOL Travel, (and I quote here):

The Cruise Lines International Association released a statement calling the Friends of the Earth “a campaign fundraising group” and that the criteria for the survey were “arbitrary and flawed.” The statement continues on to say that its members “meet and exceed” environmental standards, accusing the group of misstating facts “to advance its own agenda.” 

Close up of the side of a large cruise ship

The Truth About Your Cruise Vacation

So, who do we believe? What is the true impact of your cruise vacation? I really have no idea…the truth probably lies somewhere in the middle.

Head over to the Friends of the Earth website and check out the Cruise Ship Report Card.  You can see which cruise lines are doing a better job at protecting the environment. They definitely NOT all created equally! If reducing your carbon footprint is important to you, consider finding an eco friendly cruise line.

It is interesting to note that not a single cruise line scored an A on this report card. Many of the cruise vacation lines listed also have a link for sustainability information on their websites. Check out their points of view regarding this issue.

If you decide that you absolutely cannot skip that vacation cruise you have been dreaming about, at least check out the report card and choose eco friendly cruises that have a smaller carbon footprint.

Or, maybe you could choose a super green vacation instead like one of these Top Ten Eco-friendly Getaways!  Looking for more eco friendly family vacation tips? Check out these posts!

Beach Vacation Tips for a Smaller Carbon Footprint

Footprints in the sand with text overlay ‘Beach Vacation Tips for a Smaller Carbon Footprint’


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1 thought on “Eco Friendly Cruises: Why You Should Rethink Your Next Cruise Vacation”

  1. I always wondered what they did with the sewage. I just assumed it was stored and dumped in an appropriate place after the cruise.


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