As the world starts to slowly open back up to tourism, all of the focus is on health, safety and hygiene. Whilst we completely agree that this is of utmost importance, we don't believe that it needs to come at the cost of the environment and our health.
By reverting to single-use plastics now to 'protect' ourselves from COVID-19, we are storing up health problems for the future, whether it’s microplastics in the food chain or toxic fumes from air pollution. There is not much point in shifting the burden, we need to find a better balance.
These are our Top 5 insights to reducing single-use plastic waste and meeting hygiene standards:
1) Prioritise processes over products
Any product or surface, whether it is single-use or reusable can be contaminated with germs. Single-use plastic is not a hygiene measure in itself.
One of the most effective actions a business can take is to alter processes so that guest expectations and operational requirements can be met safely and sustainably.
We can demonstrate this with a couple of examples.
We are seeing a sudden increase in hotels wrapping remote controls for air conditioning units or televisions in plastic. The plastic wrap will either need to be sanitised daily or removed and replaced daily. The latter will create unnecessary (and probably non-recyclable) plastic waste. Of course, it is more time consuming to sanitise the remote control daily, but it achieves the same goal without the plastic waste.
Similarly, door seals have sprung up as products to help communicate that rooms have been cleaned and sanitised. The seal itself does not guarantee hygiene, it guarantees that no-one else has entered the room since the seal was placed over the door. Room cleanliness is a basic expectation. The process of communicating this could be achieved in other ways (in-house TV channel or a verbal explanation at check-in)
2) Challenge brand standards
For years, many brand standards have (and continue to be) one of the biggest challenges to reducing or eliminating single-use plastic.
Specifically, bathroom amenities and bottled water. They have become an expectation, and the offering seems to have got more elaborate over time. It’s no longer just essentials like shower gel, shampoo and hand-washing soap, but miniature packs of cotton rounds, nail files and earbuds, all individually wrapped in plastic.
We often find hotels still providing shoe-shines when their customer demographic now only wears flipflops or providing bottled water when the tap water is perfectly safe and pleasant to drink.
Aside from hand-washing soap, most of these items are unnecessary and add no value to the customer experience but there is a general fear that removing them will cause complaints. However, previously unthinkable strategies are now becoming a reality thanks to COVID. Both hoteliers and guests are more aware that every additional product is a potential vehicle of virus transmission, and the minimalist approach is becoming a strong sales tool. It’s time to embrace this and have an honest conversation about what really adds value to the guest experience. If it feels like a big step to remove these completely, make them available on request and keep a log, the results might surprise you.
3) Don’t switch single-use for single-use
It’s very common to see businesses replace single-use plastics with other single-use materials, which only shifts the burden rather than reducing overall waste.
Sadly, not all alternatives are as green as their marketing materials will have you believe. Many of them require significant resources for their manufacture or can be difficult to dispose of responsibly. Before you think about switching to a non-plastic alternative, take a bold step and ask yourself if you are really adding value or acting out of habit.
If you still wish to find a replacement, take the time to consider reusable alternatives. You might need to develop some new standard operating procedures for their storage, their use and their cleaning, but it’s worth taking the time to do this as it can result in significant cost savings longer term.
If you still wish to use single-use replacements, find out what types of materials are readily accepted by your waste contractor / informal recycling sector and prioritise these.
Check whether ‘compostable’ products are certified ‘home compostable’ or ‘commercially compostable’ and if suitable facilities aren’t available in your area, try to avoid these options for the time being.
4) Embrace Refills
Whether this is refillable amenities or refillable water dispensers, there is no reason that they should be any less hygienic than their single-use counterparts, the important thing is to have the right procedures in place.
Refillable amenities are easy to keep clean and should be included on the daily housekeeping checklist. Choose tamper proof fittings and bottles that are dishwasher safe so that they can be regularly removed to go through a full cleaning cycle. Where possible, choose refill suppliers that allow you to return the packaging. Keep a look out for contact-less dispensers, these are increasingly popular.
Similarly, water refill dispensers that operate via sensors or foot pedals are becoming more common. Choose those without a spout to avoid contact between the top of a reusable bottle or glass. The machines themselves should of course be regularly sanitised by staff throughout the day. Bottling your own filtered water (for sale or to make freely available) in reusable bottles that are washed daily is a great way to reduce the millions of bottles consumed by hotels every year and to save on costs.
5) Reassure guests with communications
One of the most popular reasons we’ve heard for hotels returning to single-use plastic is to reassure guests of hygiene standards.
There is a ‘perception’ that single-use is more hygienic but we know that this is often not the case and worse, single-use plastic is often improperly discarded and could continue to transmit germs and create litter. Many of your guests are likely to be as concerned about the impacts of single-use plastic as you are, and this won’t change just because they are on a short break or a holiday.
Rather than buying single-use plastics to make guests feel safe, think about the processes you can alter to achieve the same goal. Once you’ve done that, identify all of the communications opportunities you can use to reassure your guests that you are taking the appropriate safety measures.
Before Travel – website and social media, booking confirmations, emails and newsletters
During their stay – Verbal information at check in, notices at reception, in lifts, stairwells, in-room TV channels and via apps.
All of these actions will not only help you to reduce single-use during the COVID recovery, they will help you to future proof your business from an increasingly unsustainable reliance on single-use products.
Have you managed to switch products for processes? We'd love to know, contact us on firstname.lastname@example.org