(5 p.m. EST) -- Banishing single-use plastics, reducing and recycling waste, using electricity supplies in ports and the introduction of a new generation of battery-powered vessels are among the environmentally friendly policies being introduced by river cruise lines.

During a question and answer session on sustainability at the CLIA (Cruise Lines International Association) UK & Ireland River Cruise Conference 2019, river companies said they were taking the subject seriously and would continue to make strides to improve their environmental policies.

"It is a subject that has been talked about a lot in terms of oceans ships, but it is something the river cruise lines have been focusing on too," said Ben Wirz, managing director for Uniworld. "We set a target to remove all single-use plastic and have replaced water bottles with flasks that can be refilled onboard."

He said Uniworld's "young at heart" sister brand, U River Cruises, had trialled the introduction of electronic communication and banished printed paper.

"We introduced a WhatsApp group to communicate with U River passengers, and we do not distribute menus but display them on a screen," he explained. "Guests with an eco-conscience love it and even passengers that don't really care find it more practical to have information on their phones."

Giles Hawke, CEO of Cosmos and Avalon Waterways, said: "All the river cruise lines are doing something about sustainability at varying levels. Because we do not have large ships carrying thousands of passengers, we can adapt and do things very quickly, such as removing straws and single-use plastics in a very short space of time."

He also claimed that the environmental emissions on a ship during one day's river cruising had less environmental impact than a group of five to eight people flying economy class to New York.

Pioneering the introduction of eco-friendly vessels is A-Rosa River Cruises, which in 2021 will launch the first of its "E-Motion" river vessels, featuring sustainable technology to reduce the line's carbon footprint. The groundbreaking 140-cabin vessel, with a sister ship planned for 2023, will be equipped with battery propulsion for emission-free sailing in and out of ports of call and "air bubble" technology to reduce fuel consumption. 

The "E-Motion" concept will allow the ship to switch to battery power when approaching a destination and arrive emission-free. Like all other ships in the fleet, it will be fitted with a shore power connection, meaning the battery can be charged overnight, allowing the ship to depart from the city in the same way.

Matthias Lutter, head of new-building for A-Rosa, said: "We have put a lot of thought into how to reduce emissions, which has resulted in this new technology and partially battery-powered ships. We are also using shore power connections to reduce the time diesel engines are left running."

He said it was not practicable for river ships to use the same liquified natural gas (LNG) fuel being introduced on ocean ships because the size of the equipment required would take up too much space on small river vessels, which carry fewer than 200 passengers. However, he said A-Rosa was actively looking to move to E-fuels with zero CO2 emissions.

Want to know more about what cruise lines are doing to reduce their environmental footprints? Check out our story on green cruising.