Imagine saving US$2 million a year on your operating costs. That’s what one hotel brand has saved by cutting out single-use plastics. Did that get your attention? Good. Because we’ve all seen plenty of images of strangled birds and poisoned whales, so perhaps now is the time to hit hard with raw numbers.
Plastic waste: the scale of the problem
We all know that plastic pollution has reached crisis point. Watching Blue Planet II, we were united in our horror at the images of what plastic is doing to our oceans. The stats, of course, are shocking:
One full garbage truck of plastic enters the ocean every minute.
We use one million plastic bottles worldwide every minute – and one plastic bottle takes 450 years to break down.
One million sea birds and 100,000 marine mammals are killed annually from plastic in our oceans.
I could go on, but you get the picture.
But the change in public opinion in the last year has been nothing short of extraordinary. From the banning of plastic bags in Kenya and microbeads in beauty products in the UK, to the campaign against plastic straws in London, consumers are realising that their actions have consequences, and are demanding change. They’re waging war on the ‘plastic problem’ – and they expect brands to do the same.
So what is the travel industry – specifically hotels, with their fondness for single-use water and amenity bottles, doing to tackle the plastic problem? The answer, cheeringly, is a lot. (The answer is also not enough – but more on that later.)
5 Hotels Waging War on Single-Use Plastic
1. 1 Hotels
The first brand that really made an impact in terms of its approach to plastic waste was 1 Hotels in the US. They were the first urban hotels we’d seen that combined stylish, sexy design with a strong sustainability message. Key to that were the drinking taps – one in every bedroom, piping in triple-filtered water, with stylish recycled glass bottles and glasses so guests could go effortlessly plastic-free. So simple. If someone can explain to me why every urban hotel doesn’t do this, I’d love to hear about it.
2. Six Senses
Eco-heroes Six Senses have pledged to go entirely plastic-free by 2020 and have already made significant savings, finding that the installation cost of glass water-bottling stations is gained back in less than two years, through savings seen in not purchasing (plastic) bottled water. The company saved an astonishing $1,460,712 in 2017. With attention-grabbing savings like that, once operational issues are tackled, it seems hard to justify not switching to alternatives.
3. EDITION Hotels
This luxury boutique powerhouse recently announced a new ‘Stay Plastic Free‘ initiative, which includes a 90 per cent reduction of single-use plastic by the end of this year, with a view to eliminate it entirely by 2019.
The world’s largest hotel group is tackling plastic waste on a local level. The brand has banned plastic straws in their UK hotels, saving 300,000 straws a year, and are rolling out the replacement of plastic amenity bottles with refillable dispensers in the bathrooms of five of its North American brands, estimating that this will save around 34.5 million bottles per year. What’s more, Marriott has proven that even small savings on single-use plastic can add up: since replacing their plastic bathroom amenities, the company has saved around $2,000 each year per hotel.
Hilton has announced that it will remove plastic water bottles from meeting and event spaces and remove plastic straws from their 650 managed properties by the end of 2018, eliminating 20 million plastic bottles and five million plastic straws globally.
Still not sure you can justify going plastic-free?
From a hotelier’s point of view, I’ve heard all sorts of excuses. “Customers want plastic bottles”; “switching is too expensive”; or even “plastic bottles are unhygienic”.
Nonsense. Pioneering hotels have long realised that only the tiniest number of travellers will make a fuss about things like wanting their ‘favourite’ bottled water on holiday. Plus, when it comes to hygiene, that’s a very easy problem to solve. As one leading hotelier in the Seychelles told me, it’s incredibly easy – and cheap – to clean reusable amenity bottles, or simply hygiene-seal them and refill them.
When it comes to the bottom line, eliminating plastic saves money in the long-term. Even just small steps, like Marriott’s replacement of plastic bathroom amenities, is saving the company around $2,000 each year per hotel. Not a fortune; but not a loss, either.
So, what comes next?
Tackling plastic is just one piece of the puzzle, and needs to be part of a holistic approach to sustainability – not just paying kneejerk lip-service to the Blue Planet effect. A hotel that pledges to go plastic-free, while ignoring issues such as saving water, reducing energy usage and engaging the local community, would be making an irritatingly meaningless gesture. And customers are cleverer than that; they’re well-versed in greenwashing, and know that simply getting rid of plastic straws isn’t nearly enough.
So it’s time for the industry to step up. It’s time for hotels and travel brands to address the sea change in consumers’ attitudes and deal with the Blue Planet effect. No more excuses.