Updated: Jul 27, 2018
Since making single-use plastic the main focus of our business in 2017, we’ve spoken to hotel teams around the world to find out more about the challenges they face when it comes to reducing or eliminating this material from their operations.
As public pressure increases and country after country seems to be banning straws and plastic bags, many hotels find themselves stuck between a rock and hard place, they want to make the switch, but finding suitable and readily available alternatives in line with their budget or customer demographic is trickier than they might have thought.
Our conversations with hundreds of managers and employees revealed that hotels of all shapes and sizes from B&B's to giant All-Inclusives face very similar problems when it comes to reducing single-use.
Hotels are huge consumers of ‘stuff’. Reasons for purchasing decisions vary widely depending on location, customer demographic, seasonality, availability and brand requirements but one thing they all tend to have in common is packaging – tons of it.
Packaging alone can account for up to 40% of a hotels’ waste-stream and there are certainly times when it is completely unnecessary, but couldn’t hotels use their significant influence on supply chains to create positive change?
Having recently interviewed a number of hotels in Gran Canaria, we found that only one of them that we spoke to has a purchasing policy that considers a reduction in packaging. Some have spoken with their wholesalers or directly to their suppliers to enquire about the possibility of returnable packaging, particularly for liquid cleaning items but they are being met with resistance and this halts the process.
A good number of hotels do what they can with what is available e.g. by using large 20 litre returnable carafes for water fountains in staff areas and most hotels had returnable options for water, beers and soft drinks provided in glass bottles but that was about all.
One particularly engaged hotel we spoke with was taken aback by how surprised the suppliers and wholesalers were to be asked for returnable or non-plastic packaging, eventually having to find alternatives themselves, putting an end to contracts with companies that seemed unable or unwilling to support them.
It is important to remember that hotels have preferred suppliers they’ve used for many years who are reliable, reasonably priced and provide good quality products, breaking up with them can be hard to do, bit it's not off the cards. During a conversation with a hotel in the UK this week, the management team there recognised that their preferred suppliers were going to have to find alternatives in order to keep their contracts.
Public pressure on companies to reduce or eliminate single-use continues to increase and as more and more alternatives come onto the market, there is only so long hotels can wait before they have to turn to other suppliers and wholesalers to fulfil their targets around plastic reduction. If hotels don't ask for alternatives, only the innovative will think to lead the way and traditional suppliers could be left behind.
Larger hotels and hotel groups may be influential enough to initiate a change in purchasing policies that impact upon wider supply chains also used by others. As more options become alternatives are manufactured on a larger scale it will hopefully make products available at a reasonable enough price for many more businesses to make the switch.
Buying local is a great way to work directly with producers to not only eliminate packaging but also reduce food miles and tell great stories. Unfortunately, on islands like Gran Canaria this can be cost prohibitive for many. There is very limited land compared to other vast agricultural areas, so much so that buying packaged fruits and vegetables from the other side of the world can be cheaper than buying from the producer 20 or 30 kilometres away. Whilst buying local may be the preferred thing to do, not every hotel has the budget to make this happen. All in all, it paints a challenging picture but that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try to change.
For quick wins in packaging reduction, try to reduce or eliminate the most unnecessary plastic with simple changes:
· plastic wrapped sewing kits
· plastic wrapped plastic glasses in the bathroom
· plastic wrapped tea bags
· plastic wrapped plastic cutlery
· plastic wrapped straws
Often, hotels don’t realise how much unnecessary plastic is moving through their operation until they implement some measuring and monitoring tactics. They don’t need to be complicated, our Let’s Reduce Single-Use Tool Kit makes this a straight-forward process.
How many people could open up a bathroom cabinet and find any number of these lurking at the back? Promised many more exciting travels, but they’ve never left the dark confines of the bathroom cupboard! This happened at my parent’s house where we found soaps and toiletries from holidays over 30 years ago in the kitchen draw when they were moving.
Applauded by the over-nighter with hand luggage as an absolute necessity and perhaps never even used by the 7-14 night holidaymaker but swiped anyway as a free momento of their stay (we’re back to the bathroom cupboard again).
Many hotels are seeing the flaw in the miniature plastic concept. Aside from the money spent on purchasing them (which can be upwards of €5000 per year for an averagely occupied 100 bedroom hotel), they must store them, housekeeping must constantly replace them, sometimes when they’re not even empty, and then discard them, unlikely that they will be removed from the bathroom bin for recycling and so they end up as landfill, but there are other ways.
For years, hotels have used wall dispensers, those that are more switched on to the world around them are now including innovative customer communications to engage people with plastic reduction, rather than the generic ‘save the environment’ strapline that people don’t really pay much attention to. These certainly reduce waste from miniatures and create significant cost savings, however the refills still tend to come in 5-litre non-returnable bottles, but at least these can be disposed of to recycling bins where the infrastructure exists.
There are more and more suppliers of plastic free toiletries coming onto the market all the time. Whilst some of them can be cost prohibitive to supply free of charge to hotel guests, they can be provided for sale in retail outlets, spas or boutiques within the hotel.
Companies such as BeautyKubes in the UK are doing hotel sizes whilst still catering for the retail opportunity and other sites offer ‘soap ends’ which are the off-cuts of larger soap bars that can’t be packaged and sold but could be great for hotel bathrooms where guests stay an average of one or two nights. Cloud Cloth is fantastic for high end hotels looking to offer superb cleansing options and Plaine Products in the USA offer returnable, refillable toiletries.
You’ll find a great zero cost option to reducing miniatures in our FREE Introduction to Plastics Reduction in hotels here.
3) Customer Perception
This has been a key topic of discussion with hoteliers of late and it strikes me that we all think we know what customers want without actually having asked them.
We did a Facebook poll recently about bathroom miniatures, it was a really small sample size as it was just on a personal page, but it revealed that 66% of people would not use miniatures (either because they prefer a dispenser in the shower, bring their own toiletries, don’t like the plastic or don’t trust the contents), 9.5 % classified themselves as collectors who will take them home, 9.5 % use them because they travel with hand luggage and 14% would use them on an overnight stay or weekend away but not on a 7 or 14 night holiday.
This tells us that hotels still need to meet the expectations of guests who like to use toiletries but we know they can do this whilst saving money and reducing plastic by following the tips in our FREE Introduction – communication is key.
Hotels are worried that customers will complain if certain items are not provided or if things are done differently to their expectations, yet many times they’ve never asked customers what they think.
I recall a conversation many years ago with a hotel manager and the housekeeper, we were trying to identify ways to reduce water and electricity consumption and suggested the ‘top to bottom’ sheet change. This means that when housekeeping change the bedding, assuming it is not soiled, the top sheet that is usually only used to cover a person replaces the bottom sheet, a new top sheet is provided, reducing the number of sheets laundered by 50% immediately.
The hotel manager was appalled, guests would most certainly complain, I asked if they could try it to see. When he sought the opinion of the housekeeper she was hesitant in her response, eventually she admitted that her team had employed this method for two years as they did not have enough bed sheets to replace all of them at the same time and she was concerned about asking for more. Whilst I was disappointed not be able to create a new energy and water saving, I was really happy to know that guests hadn’t actually complained. The assumption had been flawed.
Managers are also afraid that guests will accuse them of just trying to save money. This is why communications are so important. By making the message personal and meaningful rather than generic, telling people why your hotel is taking this route, promoting the positive difference it can make and explaining how guests can support it, hotels have a much better chance of taking customers along on the journey with them.
We have become creatures of habit, but with time and effort habits can be undone. We have conditioned people to expect miniature toiletries, some quality standards even make it a requirement (something we presume they will need to review pretty quickly), we have conditioned people to think that their toilet isn’t clean unless there is a plastic wrapper draped over it proclaiming it to be so, we have conditioned people to think the bathroom glasses are clean when they are wrapped in plastic informing guests they have been disinfected (which is many cases is not even true).
We can condition guests into expectations of zero single-use plastic if we support this with good communications.