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Can there ever be a plastic free hotel picnic?

Plastic Cutlery found on a Beach Clean
Photo Credit: Brian Yurasits Unsplash - Plastic Cutlery found on a beach clean

Alongside restaurant buffets, and room service, providing your guests with picnic lunches or a take-away breakfast when they head out for a day excursion often involves single use plastic.

For some hotels these lunches can provide an additional source of revenue, whilst for all-inclusive hotels guests might expect them to be provided.

Most items for picnics come individually wrapped or pre-packaged for freshness and it can be hard to find suitable alternatives. Not all of our suggestions will be suitable for all hotels, however, you might just find that you're inspired to think a little differently about the traditional picnic.

Take a look at your picnic contents

A first step in making lunches plastic free is to think about the items you are including, and which types of plastic are currently used. This first step can highlight areas that might be easy for you to change and you might even find ideas to provide guests with a better experience.

Some of the most common picnic foods include:

  • Cartons or plastic pots of juice

  • Wrapped sandwiches

  • Plastic pots of salad or other dishes

  • Crisps

  • Chocolate bars

  • Snack bars or biscuits

  • Dried fruit and nut mix

  • Fruit, fruit salads and yoghurts

  • Bottled water

  • Sachets of ketchup , mayonnaise , salad dressing

Other common items of plastic also include individually wrapped serviettes or refreshment wipes, plastic cutlery, and the lunch bag itself. Once you have a list of the plastic you use there are several steps that can be taken to reduce it. We don't go into the alternatives of every here but...

Our top tips are to get started are:

  • Cut out items that really are unnecessary

  • Consider reusable and returnable packaging

  • Communicate to guests and give them choices

Cutting out unnecessary plastic

Cutting out unnecessary plastic not only reduces plastic waste but can also save you money. A great place to start is to identify items don’t require plastic at all e.g. not wrapping a whole fruit like a banana or an apple in clingfilm.

As picnics are ordered in advance, give customers the opportunity to choose from a range of items rather than assuming they will eat what you provide. For example, yoghurts, butter, jam, bread rolls, fruit portions, water bottles, plastic cutlery. Not only does this add a personalised service, it can reduce the use of unnecessary plastic and food waste!

If you currently provide the lunch in a plastic bag, why not ask customers if they need the bag, or ask if they would prefer to use their own. Switch to paper bags or boxes which can incorporate a 'recycle me' message or offer a reusable bag that guests should return to the hotel.

Plastic water bottles are another source of potentially unnecessary plastic picnic waste. If tap water in your hotel is perfectly fine to drink, encourage guests to use their own bottles. Remind them to fill their own bottle before leaving, share information on local refill sites, and work with excursion providers to create additional opportunities for guests to refill their bottles during the trip. Where tap water is not potable, consider the installation of water filter systems, not just for picnics, these can considerably reduce plastic across the entire operation and are often much more economical than buying bottled water.

Invest in reusable and returnable

Some items of plastic are more challenging to replace than others, and not all alternatives are better in terms of water, energy and carbon use. The most challenging waste item for picnics is cling film or aluminium foil.

Comparing the two, cling film has a much lower impact in terms of fossil fuels used in its production and greenhouse gas emissions. Aluminium foil would need to be reused several times to compare, which is usually not possible. Aluminium is recyclable, but only if it is not contaminated with food, and only then if it is disposed of correctly, which will not always be the case.

But what other alternatives are there?

More innovative products such as bees wax wraps, bento boxes and vegan leather sandwich bags could provide your hotel with an alternative. All of these can be washed and reused multiple times. These are significantly more expensive than cling film and aluminium and would require some outside of the box thinking for their use. For example - enable guests to pay to 'upgrade' their picnic and to keep the reusable alternatives, or offer such alternatives with a deposit which is returned to the guest when the items are returned.

Cutting back on utensils

Firstly, consider is if cutlery is really necessary. Not all foods need to be eaten with a knife, fork or spoon. Perhaps some simple changes to the food provided could eliminate utensils completely?

Bamboo to-go cutlery sets are a great alternative. Consider branding these and using them as a marketing tool or offering them for sale. As above, give guests the option to pay a reasonable additional price to upgrade their picnic and keep the items or to return them via a deposit system.

Should you use bio-plastics?

Many of the suggestions here may not be suitable for your specific business, whether it is the customer demographic, the initial investment or the logistics of managing reusable alternatives.

An obvious answer to eliminate traditional single use plastic is to look at plant based alternatives, however these also require careful consideration.

Many destinations do not have the facilities to properly manage plant-based plastics, they usually require a commercial facility that can guarantee the exact parameters of temperature and moisture for them to break down successfully. Plant-plastics do have good features, particularly as during their growth phase they actually absorb carbon rather than create it. Our advice if you wish to use bio-plastics is to source these from companies who make it very clear on the packaging that the items require specific disposal facilities.

Share the message with your guests

You will enjoy more success on your plastic reduction journey if guests are engaged.

Encouraging guests to return picnic boxes, keep their cutlery and bring their own bottle are all steps that will help your business to reduce single use.

Keep messages simple and make them visible. A label on the lunch box asking guests to return it to the hotel is far more likely to be effective than a notice in the restaurant.

If the picnics are for an excursion organised exclusively by your hotel, ask the accompanying guides to collect the items from the guests once they are finished with. This is a better service to the guest and will ensure their return.

You might want to tell your guests more about your efforts to go plastic free before their trip even starts. More and more people are already using their own reusable bottles and cups and might bring them along if they know it will be easy to use them. Promote these options on your social media, in newsletters and on your website. Think about incorporating plastic free messages into the descriptions on third party booking sites.

On site communications opportunities include involving tour operating staff if welcome meetings are offered, information at reception or information folders in guest rooms. You might even encourage people to skip the picnic and eat at a local restaurant instead where that would be practical.

Alternatives to single use plastics are being developed all the time. Not everything will work for your hotel and it's important to remember that not all alternatives are as green as they seem. We recommend you take some time to consider alternatives and think about the options that support your individual needs.

Have you implemented any of the changes we’ve mentioned here?

Do you have any alternative ideas for ways to go plastic free?

We would love to hear more about the steps your implementing in the comments below or on any of our social media pages.

Blog By: Francesca Dewar

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