The Plastic plague

Plastic is cheap, durable and versatile. It is also horrible for our environment. How can hotels juggle the advantages of plastic usage with the increasing concerns over how to preserve our planet for future generations?

Text: Laura Myers // Fotos: iStock

We have all seen the images: plastic water bottles piled high on Thai beaches, old toothbrushes washing up on the Galapagos Islands, plastic bags being extracted from dead seabirds in the Mediterranean, and the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the largest accumulation of ocean plastic on the planet, between Hawaii and the coast of California. In just about 60 years plastics have become the most used, produced and discarded materials worldwide.

Many major corporations and businesses are opting to ditch single-use plastics (SUP) from their day-to-day operations – and so is the hospitality space. You as a hotelier find yourself with a unique opportunity to really impact the effects of global plastic consumption as hotels often provide disposable products at mass scales.

Plastic is everywhere, but it does not have to be

Plastics have much to offer both hotels and guests, and both parties are addicted to it. They are omnipresent in hotels: cups, straws, coffee lids, shampoo bottles, amenity kits, individually wrapped chocolates, minibars, breakfast buffets, event spaces, the kitchen, supplier deliveries, and more. However, there usually are ways of replacing every single item with a plastic alternative.

  • You can introduce a “no straws policy” and provide plastic straws only on request. You can employ reusable straws made of steel or glass. Or replace plastic straws with bamboo, edible or paper straws.
     
  • Instead of individual mini sachets for ketchup or mayonnaise use sauce dispensers.
     
  • In conference rooms replace small plastic bottles with water carafes.
     
  • Provide pencils instead of pens, cotton instead of plastic laundry bags, slippers in bathrobe instead of wrapped in plastic
     
  • In housekeeping, employ refillable flasks of cleaning materials and buy bulk supplies.

Sometimes you can just do away with SUP items like hygiene ribbons around toilets and plastic coasters on tables. “A lot of our measures have been triggered by guest ideas,” said Gabi Block with Ivory Playa Hotel in Mallorca, “and people really appreciate what we do if we explain what we have changed in order to use less single-use plastic.

” TUI Group has published very useful “Plastic Reduction Guidelines for Hotels” (downloadable pdf), which list dozens of the most frequently used items and their non-plastic alternatives and also includes back-of-house waste.

But is it worth it?

Snowballing global awareness has led to widespread social pressure to shun single-use plastics. Unfortunately, the cost of using less plastic is much harder to pinpoint. After all, it is one of the cheapest and most-available materials out there. There is no standard answer; it depends on the item in question, i.e. a plastic cup, and how much labor is required to clean a reusable alternative. A hotel might lose money in the short term while saving money in the long term. Sustainable materials might cost a little bit more, but guests will also be using less of them. “The sad thing with plastic is there are no proper financial benefits in switching to more sustainable practices, beyond the good image,” said Benjamin Lephilibert of LightBlue Environmental Consulting based in Bangkok. “You are giving up on convenience and you are not even making more money.” According to a 2018 traveler survey by Skift Research, a slim majority of respondents, 53 percent, said they were willing to pay higher rates to use a travel service provider that demonstrated environmental responsibility, 29 percent were neutral and 18 percent disagreed.

Do good things and talk about it

Given the extent of coverage that plastic waste has had in the media, your guests may actually expect you to be taking reduction measures. Continued use might even reflect negatively on your hotel or brand. So information is key – and in your own interest. In a recent survey by Hilton hotels 80 percent of surveyed guests said a hotel’s social and environmental efforts mattered to them, and over 60 percent said these efforts would influence their booking decisions over the next 12 months. Even more telling is that one-third of guests actually research these efforts before booking. Messaging and communication about removing SUP should be a no-brainer. Positive messaging can be placed throughout the hotel. And never forget your staff: informing and training them about how your business is tackling the plastic plague can turn them into sustainability ambassadors.

“If nothing changes, in 2050 there will be as much plastic waste in the oceans as there are fish.”

The Ellen MacArthur Foundation

FACT-BOX:

Plastic by the numbers

8.8 million tons of plastic waste get into the oceans every year
50 percent of plastic waste generated globally is packaging
The equivalent of 1 garbage truck filled with plastic waste is dumped into our oceans per minute
Only 10-15 percent of plastics are is recycled worldwide
1 million plastic beverage bottles worldwide are produced every minute
73 percent of beach litter is plastic

 

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