There is nothing more joyful than walking into a hotel room to find a lovely selection of toiletries and a luxurious robe. The little plastic bottles that are placed on the sink in tiny bottles are one of the most fascinating aspects of staying at a hotel. They replenish like magic. A new shampoo will appear on the sink if you move the shampoo from the shower to the bathroom. A tiny amount of the petite lotion can be used in the morning to make your hair feel soft. By the evening, you will find a new and fuller version in the bathroom. How did they do it?
This housekeeping process may be something you have already imagined. You might find huge tubs of shampoo, conditioner and lotion in basements of hotels, waiting to be scooped up and delivered through funnels into smaller bottles. There are thousands upon thousands of tiny toiletries that sit in hotel basements, awaiting to be picked up and delivered.
The truth about these tiny bottles is quite disturbing–at least if you care about the environment or were moved by a Greta Thunberg speech. Russ Cronberg is the general manager at the Boar’s Head Resort in Charlottesville. They were considered disposable products.
“Those tiny little bottles that are found in every hotel do not get refilled. Lynette Eastman is the general manager of the Surfjack Hotel in Honolulu. Although this estimate is low, she estimates that hundreds of thousands of bottles end up in landfills every year, if there are 40 people who arrive per day, for 30 days, and for 12 months. We have found that landfill trash items end-up in the ocean and kill fish. She says they kill coral reefs.
Be aware that the industry is rapidly changing and you shouldn’t get too discouraged by every bottle of lilliputian shampoo that you have had to throw away. InterContinental Hotels Group in July announced that it would switch to bulk-size toiletry dispensers at all its hotels by 2021. This move could save 200 million mini bottles annually, according to the company. After testing a new system in several properties, Marriott International, the largest hotel chain in the world, announced that it was also eliminating single-use toiletry containers worldwide.
Denise Naguib is vice president of sustainability at Marriott International. She says that “we set some very strategic objectives across our group of hotel properties back in 2017”. “One was to reduce our waste landfill by 45 percent and another was to look at sourcing responsibly, sustainably, across a group group of commonly purchased products including guest room amenities.” The group also launched a pilot program using pump-top bottles in several thousand properties. In 2018, they determined that “we were going move the rest of our hotel brands to large-size bottles which will eventually reduce… 500,000,000 tiny bottles annually, reducing our plastic waste in the millions by 1.7 million pounds.”
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This is a huge industry shift. It’s not unlike a decade ago, when hotels issued little cards telling guests that not dropping your towel onto the ground would save them thousands of gallons of drinking water per year. A swap that makes so much sense for the guest and so much for the planet. It extends beyond hotel initiatives: This month, California prohibited single-use hotel toiletries weighing less than six ounces. The law will go into effect in 2023.
What are the main changes happening in most businesses? They use larger bottles and are often mounted on the wall, just like Marriott. Trisha Perez Kennealy is the owner of the At Hastings Park in Lexington, Massachusetts. She explains that the bottles are part of their housekeeping routine. This adds time to our housekeeping staff because you need to clean all the bottles and refill them. We think it is the right thing.
The process at the Surfjack is slightly different. Guests will find 16-ounce bottles Of Byrd Hair Products. We swap out the one that is running low when it gets too full. Eastman explains that the product is filled up with new product. Then, the bottle is left to sit and wait, until the replacement arrives. They’re gallon-sized bottles that go into funnels that then go into the [16-ounce] bottles.
Hotels all over the globe are working fast to achieve their plastic reduction goals by 2020. This means that they have to change other industries. We are currently looking at solutions with Le Labo because we want to continue using Le Labo products. Robert-Jan Woltering is the general manager of the Fairmont Mayakoba, Riviera Maya. “But, we need to roll it out in 80 Fairmont Hotels around the globe. So what type of material will these products be in?” Crystal? Stone? Is there a sign in silver-gray, for Mexico? For Asia, in gold
Perez Kennealy, along with her team from the Inn At Hastings Park, wanted bulkier toiletries to look more elegant, just like in a spa. We tried to imagine what it would look like in a beautiful home. She says that we didn’t want it industrial. “We did put in beautiful fixtures to match the shower so they could stand alone…not mount.”
If you feel guilty about how you have lived your life up until now, and are still tempted to use a lot of body washes, many hotels already have programs that allow them to dispose of single-use plastics responsibly. Perez Kennealy mentioned that the Inn would partner with a local team and melt together unused soaps as well as donate products for local shelters. Fairmont Mayakoba also donated leftovers from their excellent-smelling Le Labo products.
Even though you are aware of the problems, there are still ways to be responsible travelers and to choose sustainable hotels. Naguib from Marriott points out that there is a variety of third-party certifications for sustainability. She says that they will list it on the hotel page, which is a great way for travelers to quickly find out. Do they have sustainability programs? What kind of activities are they involved in? Are they offering linen towel reuse programs? Do they offer alternative water options in their hotels? Even when looking at the menus, are they responsible in sourcing organic and Fair Trade?
If you find yourself in a hotel that still uses small containers, you might want to take them with you. Cronberg says that regardless of whether someone actually used the bottles, they were thrown out by staff who replaced them with newer ones. You finally have full permission.