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Most of us are in agreement (finally) that global warming isn't a myth or some crazy liberal conspiracy, so reducing our carbon footprint even on vacation makes sense. Luckily, over the past decade or so cruise lines have gotten the message too. For the most part, gone are the days of heaving garbage overboard, discharging untreated sewage right into the sea, or skeet shooting off the stern (the fear of CNN, cell phone cameras and smart phones broadcasting missteps to the world is not to be underestimated).

In fact, most cruise lines now employ an environmental officer (Royal Caribbean and Holland America, for example, have them on every ship). A senior officer who reports directly to the Captain, it's their job to make sure the company's onboard environmental rules and regulations are being followed, from crew member training to waste management. Around the ship, certain crew members work specifically to carry out environmentally sound practices, from separating trash to servicing the systems that treat bilge water, oily waste, sewage and gray water.

Holland America's on-board waste water purification systems, for example, are so advanced in their treating of wastewater that they claim the discharge is clean enough to drink (after you!). Holland also uses environmentally friendly soy inks for printed onboard materials and they only use environmentally friendly cleaning products as well. They're also phasing in new dry cleaning machines that use non-hazardous detergents made from soy, banana and orange extracts. In fact, Holland America is the only line I know of that gives "Environmental Stewardship" presentations on every cruise, featuring a behind-the-scenes video that show the ship's waste management machines and practices at work. Afterward is a Q&A with the ship's environmental officer.

Of course there's a lot passengers can do to reduce waste and energy use. So go ahead, heed these basic tips. It's easy to be green.

  • Keeping your balcony door closed keeps the stateroom temperature constant; when the balcony door is open for extended periods of time, the air-conditioning is wasted and therefore energy is wasted. When you leave your stateroom, adjust your thermostat to a neutral position to increase the amount of energy you help save.
  • Re-using towels cuts down on the water consumption which in turn reduces the energy used to make the water. Energy savings translates to reduced engine emissions.
  • Turning off lights and appliances when you leave your stateroom reduces energy consumption because the ship's electricity is generated by its main engines or auxiliary engines. This helps to conserve fuel and reduce emissions.
  • Just because the food is "free" doesn't mean you should carelessly waste it. In buffet restaurants, don't pile your tray with food you're not sure you'll finish. You can always go back for seconds and thirds, but once you take six rolls and four desserts only to decide later you're too full to finish them, it's a big fat waste.
  • Drink "tap" water instead of chugging bottles and bottles of water in plastic bottles. Ships' buffet restaurants typically have machines dispensing chilled water all day long, so get your fill in a glass or reusable plastic cup.
  • Deposit cans, bottles and other garbage in the appropriate recycling bins located around deck and in the restaurants. Never throw anything overboard, even food, as it not only litters the sea, but injures wildlife as well.
  • Choose to cruise from an embarkation port you can drive or take a bus or train to and avoid fuel-sucking, emissions-generating airplane travel.