How Significant is the Plastic Problem in Hospitality?

Single-use plastic products have always provided convenience and economy. After all, plastic products are cheap, durable and address the most basic hygienic concerns. Plastic products are especially apparent in the hospitality industry due to guest’s expectations of convenience and immediacy. However, this universal use of and dependence on single-use plastic comes at a serious environmental cost to our planet.  

It’s hard to quantify the impact to the planet in financial terms, but the evidence is everywhere. Plastic waste has wreaked havoc on tourist destinations all around the world. Authorities in Bali, Indonesia, recently declared a “garbage emergency” because the amount of plastic washing up on a nearly 4-mile stretch of beach.

When asked about plastic waste, Denise Naguib, vice president of sustainability and supplier diversity for Marriott International had this to say, “The visibility of plastic waste in our community is becoming much more prevalent, especially in the travel industry. It’s much more visible not to the microscopic portion of the public paying attention to these things, but to everyday travelers.”

A new study – based on what researchers called a mega-expedition to the Great Pacific Garbage Patch in 2015 – suggests there is about 16 times more waste than previously thought floating there. The mass of waste spans 617,763 square miles (1.6 million square km), about three times the size of France.

What Can Be Done to Solve The Problem?

Leading global businesses are starting to take note of the problem, and are actively seeking solutions. BRITA UK for example recently conducted a survey which noted that 70% of businesses are currently looking to cut down on single-use plastics, like straws and water bottles. Plus, 64% of consumers said they would likely return to a shop with the intent of making a purchase if they could refill their water bottle.

How Can Hotels Be Part of The Solution?

As the saying goes, “a journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.”  A number of hotel operators have chosen to take that first step by eliminating ‘single-use plastics’ such as straws or utensils at their properties.  Successful examples include using forks and spoons made from bamboo and straws made from paper – all of which are still single-use, but easily breakdown when they wind up in landfills.

An increasing number of hotels are actively making internal changes in order to be part of the solution. Hilton, for example, has committed to eliminating plastic straws from its hotels by the end of this year. Hilton management is also working on removing plastic bottles from their conference and event spaces – offering refillable bottles to meeting attendees instead. Carnival Cruise Line is making an effort to reduce plastic by only offering straws for non-frozen drinks upon request.

The Marriott chain of hotels has also started replacing individual, small amenity bath bottles at five of their select-service brands in North America with in-shower dispensers containing Paul Mitchell Tea Tree products. Of course, this is just the start of a more wide-scale movement. The company expects about 1,500 hotels in North America to participate in the initiative by year’s end. This change is expected to result in the elimination of about 34.5 million bottles and 375,000 pounds of plastic in an average year

Some hotel brands have adopted sustainability as a hallmark of their brand identity.  One such operator is the Six Senses hotel chain that operates 11 resorts and 31 spas in over 20 countries.  Six Senses resorts bottle their own water on-site to reduce the use of plastic water bottles. They’ve also begun using a number of alternatives to plastic straws that includes paper, bamboo, and lemongrass. As part of their “Earth Lab” initiative, Six Senses has adopted a policy of zero-waste, meaning all materials have a new purpose.

Reducing Hotel Plastic Key Cards

Mobile keyless entry has made plastic keycards unnecessary.  Not only are digital keys the most secure form of room entry today, but they’re also the most environmentally friendly choice for hotels.  Hilton, for instance, estimated that it has saved 40 tons of plastic through its 7.6 million digital key downloads so far. In 2018 Remington Hotels which manages over 85 hotels in 27 states across 16 different brands, selected OpenKey, the industry standard for universal mobile key technology, to provide keyless access to their properties nationwide in an effort to adopt a more sustainable service model.

On the OpenKey partnership Remington Hotels COO Sloan Dean said, “Guests at our hotels are expecting to use their mobile devices to control more of their experience on property. Partnering with OpenKey is one way Remington Hotels is responding to evolving guest demands and delivering an exceptional stay experience across our portfolio of a dozen independently flagged hotels.”

Sustainable tourism is essential for the industry’s long-term viability, and plastics is one of the key environmental issues.. There are many ways the hospitality industry, and everyone related to it, can help reduce plastic waste. 

Thanks to the advances in technologies and increasing awareness, a number of organic alternatives to plastic are being created and improved every day. These materials are made from renewable resources that offer many of the same properties as plastics but decompose much faster.

For example, ecologically-sourced bamboo is a common alternative to disposable plastic cutlery. Other alternatives to plastic are currently being produced from paper, wood, fungi, potatoes, and pineapple leaves, and other recyclable materials.  Another alternative that needs to be mentioned is polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) polyesters – a type of biodegradable plastic made from polypropylene.The problem with plastic in the hospitality industry is significant.  The time for hoteliers to investigate the options of eco-friendly products that will best replace current plastic products is now. These products may cost a little more, but you may be surprised to discover that many of your clients will pay more to support your ecologically sustainable business.