Sparks

A plastic-free room

 By Sara Sangermani

Plastic is such a central feature of our everyday lives, and we are so used to using it that we don’t even realise it’s there any more. Various legislative standards have been introduced in an attempt to limit our excessive use of plastic and some sectors, such as the hotel industry, are becoming increasingly aware of the key role that they play in making the transition to a plastic-free world…

How much plastic does a hotel room get through every day?

We are all becoming increasingly aware of the impact of indiscriminate use of plastics, and this has led to various sectors completely rethinking what have become established practices for them over the years. Following on from the carrier bag, for example, even fruit and vegetable bags are now biodegradable throughout Italy, mostly thanks to a European standard that prohibited the use of plastic bags, forcing players in the mass retail sector to find a more sustainable alternative.
Despite these various efforts, however, plastic is still a big part of our day-to-day lives and there are some sectors that have really taken their time when it has come to implementing measures designed to reduce the use of plastic, including the hotel industry.

How much plastic is there in a hotel room?

A lot, and you won’t struggle to find it in every corner of the room, from the miniature toiletries in the bathroom to the individual plastic wrapping on the cups, which, incidentally, are also made of plastic. It is also used to wrap clean and ironed laundry, which will then be used to remake the beds, in separate bags.
If we step outside of this room full of single-use plastic products and head down to the bar for a drink, we will once again find ourselves surrounded by disposable plastic items. Straws are undoubtedly the main culprit, particularly as they are often used two at a time. Back up in the room, meanwhile, the minibar is another example of just how much plastic we are surrounded by in hotels, which begs the question: is all this plastic really necessary? Obviously not, which is why many hoteliers are trying to increasingly limit its use.

hotel-free-plastic sector
In addition to the miniature toiletries provided for guests, the use of plastic bottles and cups is another factor that contributes to the unsustainable amount of plastic found in hotel rooms (Glowimages)

The cost of plastic in the tourism industry

The use of alternative solutions has significant economic consequences where hoteliers are concerned, which explains why they have failed to adopt them to date. Plastic is the most widely used material because it is a much cheaper alternative to other biodegradable products. The higher costs associated with making environmentally friendly choices are therefore discouraging hoteliers from switching to eco-friendly solutions.
That said, it is important that the hotel industry also take into account the environmental cost of its actions. The use of plastic has a massive impact on the planet, with tourists holidaying in the most remote of locations increasingly likely to find discarded plastic waste in such places, and even waste that is not discarded presents the usual problem of having to be recycled appropriately. The low cost of plastic, however, should not be allowed to mask the higher cost that the environment and therefore the sector is paying.

What solutions are hoteliers adopting?

Research has shown that the hotel industry in the United Kingdom alone generates almost 300 tonnes of waste, including plastic, with the same study also revealing that 40% of the hoteliers questioned said they were aware of the problem and already working to identify a plastic-free solution.
While there is no secret surrounding the steps we can take to help remedy the situation, unfortunately, very few are actually being taken. An increasing number of disposable products, such as cutlery and cups, are, in fact, being made from biodegradable materials, whilst the use of dispensers offers a very simple alternative to providing miniature toiletries for hotel guests, not to mention the fact that they also save time where housekeeping staff are concerned since they do not need filling or replacing on a daily basis. The use of dispensers also helps avoid another form of waste that is costly in terms of both the environment and the hotel’s finances, since staff otherwise have to throw away products that have only been partly used, such as bars of hand soap.
There are, of course, plenty of other products that can be replaced with more environmentally sustainable materials, such as the shower caps that are now being made of bio-compostable materials and the cotton buds that are now replacing plastic with bamboo.

hotel-free-plastic sector
Personal care products dispenser in a hotel in Tokyo (Antonio Tajuelo, Flickr)

A helping hand from tourists and legislation

In order for our hotel rooms to become plastic-free, of course, it is important that the people staying there also send out a strong message, and starting to refrain from using miniature toiletries and plastic straws is the first step towards sending out a clear message to those hoteliers who are still underestimating the major impact that they are having on the planet’s fragile ecosystem.
As well as being driven by greater awareness, such choices should also be based on the fact that plastic is ruining parts of the Earth and consequently damaging the tourism industry and the hotelier’s source of income.
In order for such changes to be effectively implemented, however, action must also be taken on a legal level, and what we need now is laws that increasingly push hoteliers to adopt plastic-free solutions, as was the case with bags in supermarkets. Many single-use plastic products, such as cutlery, will be banned from sale as of 2021, indicating that things are already moving in this direction at European level.
Many hoteliers around the world are, of course, already very much aware of the role that they play in this war on plastic, with many hotels, including some very well-known chains with establishments in several countries, having already taken steps to reverse the trend and move closer towards offering definitively plastic-free rooms. It is important, however, that certain decisions be adopted by all parties if they are to have any real effect and that they also be extended to all other sectors linked to the hotel industry, such as the catering industry and indeed the tourism industry as a whole.

READ MORE: The new plastic is circular  by Paola Arpino

about the author
Sara Sangermani