Share This Article
It’s Plastic Free July and a good time for hoteliers to think about the impact of plastic in their properties. There are compelling reasons to do this as plastic pollution is contributing to the climate crisis and there are simple steps you can take to reduce plastic in your hotel.
The scale of the plastic problem
According to researchers from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, plastic production and disposal resulted in 850 million tons of greenhouse gas emissions in 2019 and may be responsible for up to 2.8 billion tons by 2050.
The United States produces more plastic packaging waste per capita than any other country. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, Americans on average create 4.9 pounds of waste per person per day. Only 32% of the total municipal solid waste in the US is recycled or composted, while the remaining is trashed. Most of the discarded plastic waste is not recycled. This is very common across the world where some consumers make the effort to sort their waste in the belief that it will be recycled. Plastic cannot be broken down naturally and takes centuries to degrade.
On average, 8 million metric tons of plastic ends up in our oceans each year, wreaking havoc on wildlife and natural processes. This includes the familiar plastic water bottle but also comprises old fishing gear and microplastics found in synthetic clothing and cosmetics/personal care products.
The Covid-19 pandemic has exacerbated the plastic problem with the use of face masks and gloves. Single-use plastics have increased between 250%-300% since the COVID-19 pandemic began and we have probably all seen discarded face masks on the pavement and even on beaches.
In the food service industry huge savings could be made if it moved to reuse. According to a Sustainable Brands report, 841 million disposable food packaging items (7.5 million tons of materials) could be averted annually. This would result in a saving of $5 billion a year from no longer procuring disposables, and businesses and city governments $5.1 billion from not having to clean up after them.
Why is reducing plastic important for hotels?
Of course, it is the right thing to do for the future of our planet but adopting a sustainability strategy also makes business sense. For example, shifting to refills instead of single use plastic will generate cost savings. A recent Morgan Stanley meta-analysis shows that 88% of studies found that companies abiding by social or environmental standards showed higher operational performance.
Consumers expect it – particularly the travelers who are likely to travel most in the future. Countless insights show that Millennials and Generation Z consumers are willing to pay more for sustainable products and services. Will your hotel fair favorably when these savvy travelers are looking for a sustainable place to stay?
As with any sustainability strategy, your move away from plastic will be a process. A good place to start is by removing all single use plastics and then move on to other plastics which can be replaced with non-plastic alternatives. As mentioned above, recycling is important but it is still best to look at reuse and non-plastic options.
Here are ideas of where you can start your journey to remove plastic in your hotel.
In the hotel – guest-facing
There are lots of plastic alternatives which can be fairly quickly introduced. These will be visible to guests, showing your sustainable commitment, and will also be part of enhancing the guest experience. Here are some areas to consider.
- Remove plastic water bottles – offer guests branded non-plastic reusable bottles – these are often given as a gift for the guest to take home with them, acting as a promotional piece for your hotel
- Remove single use small bottles or sachets of shampoos\body wash and buy in refills. Then fill free-standing non-plastic dispensers which can be sanitized and refilled. Or refillable dispensers are available from certain suppliers.
- Follow the same process for hand sanitizers
- Remove single use liquid soaps and use refills or supply as hard bars.
- No plastic for items like complimentary slippers – supply in cotton or bamboo bags
- Complimentary toothbrushes can be supplied as bamboo in bamboo containers
- No plastic cups or cutlery – stainless steel or bamboo are good alternatives
- No plastic straws – try bamboo or stainless steel
- No single sachet containers for condiments like jam, honey, mayonnaise. Buy in bulk and transfer into glass or stainless steel small containers or buy in glass or non-plastic containers
- For in-room tea and coffee facilities provide plastic-free tea bags (yes, tea bags do contain plastic!) and coffee granules wrapped in paper for single use. If coffee machines are provided research non-plastic compostable coffee capsules
- Provide cotton or hemp bags for shopping
- Change to non-plastic keycards
- If packed lunches are provided, supply in paper bags, cardboard boxes, containers made of biopolymer or beeswax/plant based wraps with reusable water bottles.
Staff engagement is key
As with any sustainability initiative, it is vital to have your staff onboard. Empower them to feel part of saving the planet for future generations and to be proud to be working for a hotel that is playing its part. These are some ideas you could look at.
- When not for cleaning purposes, supply non-surgical washable masks made of cotton or bamboo – these can be branded
- Cleaning products can be bought in large bulk containers and dispensed into aluminium containers
- For used linen collection, provide non-plastic bags such as cotton or bamboo
- Ensure that staff are well-informed about sorting waste for recycling
- Develop a staff training program about plastic pollution using inspirational video clips and stats
Working with your suppliers
This will be the most difficult part of your policy to reduce plastic in your hotel. It needs a collaborative approach to work together to remove plastic throughout your supply chain and will probably come at the end of your journey.
- Work with suppliers to find alternatives to plastic packaging. Does laundry need to be wrapped in plastic for delivery back to the hotel?
- In the kitchens store food in non-plastic containers, ie glass, aluminium
- For microwave use (better to remove entirely!), use glass not plastic
- Coffee capsules are a big problem – research compostable alternatives
- Use as much fresh local produce and grow-your-own as possible. Research suppliers who do not supply in plastic containers
Tell the world!
Be proud about your efforts to reduce plastic in your hotel. Make sure that you communicate what you’re doing to your guests in your information guide, inviting them to help you by playing their part, such as not buying water in plastic bottles and using the recycling bins you provide.
If you really want to be serious about your commitment, sign the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative set up by the UN World Tourism Organization already with an impressive list of signatories amongst accommodation providers, tour operators and tourism organizations.