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Rob Perkins Writer
How hotels can keep plastic out of the oceans



It’s been predicted that by 2050 the amount of plastic in the oceans will outweigh the fish. Plastic pollution is without question one of the predominant environmental issues of our time, and we all have a role to play in combating it.


Plastic in the oceans and on beaches is a dangerous hazard for marine life such as fish, birds and turtles, but it also has an impact on humans (beyond ruining the scenery). Microscopic bits of plastic that have broken down over years are already finding their way into our food chain.


How hotels can reduce plastic waste

Plastic waste in Singapore; image source


Given that so many businesses in the travel industry rely on the selling of destinations as pristine and attractive, and how plastic waste can seriously affect that, it’s clear that these companies have an interest in dealing with the issue. In this article I’d like to look specifically at hotels as this is an obvious area where a substantial difference could be made with relatively few changes.


But first, a personal anecdote from my vast memory…


A few years ago my family and I were travelling through the USA, and we would regularly stay in budget chain hotels. We were shocked to find that at almost all of them, breakfast was served every morning with plastic plates, cups and cutlery, most of which was shovelled into the waste bin afterwards. There may be other reasons beyond ignorance of waste and recycling issues at play, such as cost and space limitations, but it was still shocking to encounter this kind of thing at big-name American hotels. It made me think of Don Draper’s family picnic in Mad Men, and what it will take to shift this mindset.


Beyond that experience, most hotels do seem to be pretty switched-on environmentally nowadays, or at least claim to be. Some will do the bare minimum, such as requesting guests reuse towels, while others have put sustainability right at the heart of their ethos.


If you’re operating a hotel and want to reduce your use of plastic, the following advice may be of help.


Leading from the top


For a sustainability initiative to succeed, it needs to be top-down. Management must be involved, and drive the process throughout by creating strategy, setting targets, evaluating results and rewarding success. If this is not the case, and that crucial support is not there, then hotel staff may not truly appreciate the need for their efforts.


Raising awareness with guests


Management and staff can only do so much. The other half of the equation in any hotel sustainability scheme is the guests. You can raise awareness among your clients at every stage of their stay, from time of booking throughout their holiday. A good approach is to have clear signage in communal areas and bedrooms about why you need to reduce disposable plastics and how they can contribute to your own efforts, such as by using any recycling points you have on your premises.


Identifying and reducing disposable plastic use


There are any number of ways in which hotels can use disposable plastics, often unnecessarily. In many cases, these can easily be substantially reduced. Just a few examples include:


  • Using multi-use plastic cups at poolside or beach bars instead of single-use
  • Instructing staff to provide straws for drinks only when requested
  • Placing milk on tables in jugs rather than disposable sachets
  • Only replacing plastic bin-liners in rooms when really necessary
  • Replacing single-use toiletries in rooms with refillable containers (Microbeads are a major cause for concern at the moment. You can identify which products containing them that your hotel uses, and replace them with others)
  • Using linen or canvas bags for dry-cleaning instead of plastic bags
  • Providing reusable containers for use in kitchens
  • Supplying guests with paper bags for lunches or picnics


A careful review of your operations, noting where and when plastics are used, is the best way to cut your usage effectively.


Community Involvement


It’s possible that you can either support a local initiative to improve the environment, or develop your own. Examples might include requesting volunteers from your staff to spend a day clearing plastic waste from nearby beaches, woods and other beauty spots, helping out at recycling centres, or raising awareness among visitors.


Sea Turtle

Plastic waste is a major hazard to wildlife; image source


Reducing bottled water


Bottled water is one of the main sources of plastic waste. In destinations where it is safe to drink water directly from the tap, you can offer your guests free refills to reduce bottle use. Of course in some parts of the world it is not yet safe to drink tapwater, in which case you might consider for a small deposit lending your guests reusable metallic bottles that can be filled from larger bottles.


In the UK, several regions and cities such as Cornwall, Bristol and Bath are working with the Refill scheme to help locals and visitors find places where they can refill their bottles on the move. UK hotels can advise their guests on how to use the app.


Working with suppliers


A busy hotel will have a wide supply chain, and there are going to be various companies that will also have scope to reduce their own plastic use. By communicating with your suppliers, perhaps alongside other hotels that they work with, you can try and influence their operations in line with your own.



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