Recently, I spent some time in my beloved Spain, in the city of Bilbao in particular. During my stay, I was delighted to see the hotel I had booked did not offer single-use toiletries - I was thrilled. I know for most people this might be a silly thing to get excited about, but when you work in the world of environmentalism, and you see the figures I see in a weekly basis, regarding discarded mini toiletries, this is a big thing.
Single-use plastics in hotels are a much bigger issue than most people think. To a customer, opening a mini bottle of shampoo, or an individually wrapped ketchup sachet or a mini jam at their breakfast seems like a very small thing. It is just one item, isn’t it? What harm can it do?
An issue bigger than we think
According to STR Global (American based company that tracks global data), there are nearly 200,000 hotels in the world. This number does not include guest houses, B&B’s or hostels, so the real number is much larger. Let’s say every hotel accommodates an average of 100 people per night. This is not science, but just an example, I suspect the average could be larger than that. Now let’s imagine that each customer during their stay uses only 3 single-use items from their room or breakfast buffet.
This estimation would mean that in one day, hotels around the world discard 60,000,000 pieces of plastics into the environment. 60 million in just one day, and that is a very low estimate.
Apart from the fact that those amounts of plastic, daily, are totally unsustainable to deal with, we also have two problems:
- Most of those items are not recyclable, as they may contain still residues of shampoo, soap, sauce, etc. So they end up in landfill waste.
- Even those items that are recyclable, the reality is recycling as such is not working with our current waste management systems.
The reality is that only 30% of all the plastic created since 1950 is still in use, and out of the 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic that has been created in the last 60 years, only 9% of it has been recycled.
Statistics like this are not to place blame or shame in the hospitality industry. I love tourism, it has been my courier for the past 20 years, but these figures need to be highlighted. They need to be talked about so people can start realizing that what seems like a small action, like using or providing mini toiletries and other single-use items, do have considerable consequences to our environment.
Hospitality businesses need to change their mind-set
On further inspection of my room in Bilbao, I found a tray containing at least 20 single-use plastics. The tray contained several amenities that I had not seen in hotels in Ireland for a long, long time. There were plastic raisers, toothbrushes, cotton sticks, a sewing kit, even a hair comb! Right beside the tray, I also found that the glasses provided for brushing teeth were plastic.
Each item came wrapped in another layer of plastic, which is in fact, not recyclable at all. To say a tray like this is heartbreaking, will be an exaggeration for most people, but for me, it really was shocking to find that hotels are still promoting the use of these items. I posted an image on Facebook, mainly because I was quite disturbed by it, and I wanted to raise awareness. I usually do not post negative comments about places I visit; I instead take the approach to champion those that do well, rather than highlight those that don’t. But on this occasion, I felt I had to.
The response from the hotel came a day later, and here are the reasons they gave for having these amenities:
- Clients keep asking for these items, so they feel they need to provide them
- Providing plastic glasses is better for them as they experience fewer breakages, they also use less water and soap not having to clean real glasses daily and the best one of them all, hygiene reasons, who knows how many people have previously drunk from real glasses, was their actual response.
I was nearly more flabbergasted by their answer than from the issue itself. To me, it seems like a range of invalid excuses. To say it is more hygienic to provide plastics glasses is an outright lie - if that was the case, should I expect plastic glasses to be used in restaurants and pubs?
So if your business is in a similar situation, and you really want to start making a change and reduce your production of plastic here are some things you can do:
- ALWAYS provide real glasses and crockery (for tea/coffee) in your bedrooms. Washing them daily is easy, is do-able, and un-excusable not to.
- If you feel the need to provide extra amenities like toothbrushes or combs, place a card in your bedrooms explaining to your customers that those amenities are available at reception to be purchased. Explain you are trying to abolish plastic in your hotel to protect the environment, and that bamboo toothbrushes and combs are available to be purchased. You can even get your logo printed on those durable items, and people can keep them and bring them home.
- Replace individually package breakfast items with ramekins or small bowls containing sugar, butter, jam, etc
- Look at everything you put in front of your clients, from the offerings in your bedrooms to your reception area, breakfast, bar & restaurant. Make a list of all those things that are single-use plastics, go at your own pace, and start phasing them out one by one, replacing them with durable re-usable products.
So that’s it. Change is possible, and change is do-able. But we, as hospitality managers, need to lead the transition from within. If you want to start making changes, and you do not know where or how to start, schedule a discovery call with me totally free of charge.