Eliminating Single-Use Plastics (SUPs) from the Hotel Industry
As new EU directives ban the use of single-use plastics, in the next two decades, several sectors will be impacted, including the hotel industry in France.
Captain Forest interviewed Manon Sennechael to understand how to eliminate single-use plastics from the hotel industry. Based on her experience leading such a pilot with a Hotel in France, Manon shared her learnings.
Q: Can you explain how do hotels contribute to plastic pollution?
The world is now producing roughly 300 million tons of plastic each year. Globally, there are about 8.3 billion tons of plastic in the world – around 6.3 billion tons of that is trash (1).
The international hotel industry uses large quantities of plastic. To give you a more tangible example, one 200-room hotel can generate around 300,000 single-use pieces in a month at full capacity (2).
Thus, the hotel industry plays a significant role in plastic consumption, which makes it a major contributor to the global plastic crisis problem. The hotel industry is now obliged to progressively phase-out plastics, in line with the current European ban on single-use plastics by 2040.
Q: Which SUPs can hotels eliminate or reduce?
SUPs are usually considered problematic and unnecessary and can be eliminated without compromising the tourist experience.
All SUPs used by hotels can be eliminated, reduced, or replaced in the rooms, including bathrooms, restaurants, spas, room service, front and back offices, and even during events.
These plastics concern products and packaging used by hotels, such as water bottles, amenities like toothbrushes or razors, tea, coffee, sugar and milk doses, food packaging or cleaning products.
Q: Can you give us some examples of non-plastic alternatives that can be put in place at the hotel?
Our pilot targeted eighteen of the most impactful products and packaging, either eliminated, reduced, or replaced. For example:
- We eliminated cotton buds and candies in children’s kits,
- We reduced bathroom products and amenities that were only available on demand,
- We replaced several products, including:
- Plastic bottles – replaced with water fountains and reusable glass bottles during events and in the spa,
- Sugar and tea plastic doses – replaced with paper-packaging doses in rooms and by bulk options in the restaurant,
- Chocolate and milk doses – replaced with home-made hot chocolate and fresh milk prepared by the restaurant and delivered via room service on-demand,
- The hotel’s wooden toys and a physical treasure hunt – replaced with children’s gifts in plastic.
Q: What are the incentives for hotels to reduce SUPs?
There are several incentives for hotels to transition away from SUPs:
Complying with legal compliance
Hotels will need to comply with current and upcoming legislation that are expected to progressively ban the use of SUPs in the sector.
Reducing environmental footprint
If hotels reduce their plastic waste, they vastly decrease their footprint on local ecosystems. Moreover, they play a positive role in protecting coastlines and surrounding areas and ensuring the long-term sustainability of their activities.
Intercontinental Marseille reduced by half a ton its plastic footprint throughout the pilot, which represents a 78% reduction in plastic waste generation.
Meeting consumer expectations
Consumers have growing expectations that hotels reduce their plastic footprint, and hotels have a fantastic opportunity to improve customer experience by providing more qualitative products.
Improving employer branding
Hotels differentiate themselves and are much more attractive to employees.
A common misconception is that existing alternatives to SUPs are more expensive than their equivalent in SUPs. Whereas if we analyze the cost lifecycle of alternatives (including savings), we realize that it is actually not the case.
For example, shifting to bulk alternatives for tea, sugar, and milk enabled savings of 60-90% compared to their equivalent SUPs. Moreover, putting the amenities on demand enabled 50% savings, even when some alternatives were more expensive than the SUP products.
In our example, Intercontinental Marseille made 5,000€ in net savings during its experimentation phase, representing 16,100€ over the year and 42% of savings compared to the baseline year.
Q: What are some of the best practices to transition to a SUP-free hotel?
First and foremost, the hotel’s management teams and employees must embrace the transition process. If teams are onboarded, the change will be effective and long lasting.
To ensure the successful replacement of SUPs with better alternatives, we implemented the following steps, hand-in-hand with the hotel’s management team:
- Diagnosis of all SUPs used in current operations (front and back office)
- Prioritization of the most impactful SUPs (matrix: high volumes, recyclability, environmental leakage risk)
- Benchmarking of all possible alternatives and their relevant suppliers
- Suppliers selection based on an analysis of costs and environmental impacts
- New logistical protocol set up to support the hotel in its operational transition
- Hotel staff training to become the first ambassadors of this transition
- Communication material for clients preparation
- Client feedback collection to improve and implement better solutions
- Replicable toolkit preparation for the industry
- Media partnership to communicate key learnings from the pilot
- Measurement of the project’s impacts during the pilot phase (operational, economic, environmental, and social-consumer and employee experience)
Q: What are the main challenges for hotels when implementing these steps?
First, for some products, hotels sometimes may need help finding a viable alternative to meet their requirements for safety or luxury standards reasons. In this case, co-creation solutions with suppliers can help overcome this challenge.
Then, some alternatives entail significant logistical changes. It was the case, for example, with the staff’s reusable glass bottles that needed to be collected, cleaned, and filled daily.
Also, staff turnover might be an issue (short-term contracts are often used in restaurants and events) as it requires the hotel to constantly train its employees on the new procedures and protocols.
A key success factor for the last two challenges involves the head of staff supporting their teams throughout the change.
Q: How did customers react to the transition?
Hotel clientele reacted very positively. The communication materials were straightforward enough for them to understand the hotel’s new approach and the changes made in each area of service.
This echoes the sustainability reports showing that 68% of clients are interested in finding eco-friendly hotels, and 87% of traveler’s worldwide state that they want to travel sustainably. (3)
Q: To conclude, can you share your top five tips for hotels to reduce plastic waste?
Here are my top five tips for hotels who want to reduce or eliminate plastic:
- Start by identifying your most impactful SUPs
- Think SUPs elimination, then reduction and finally replacement with less impactful alternatives
- Be sure to build the new protocols with a long-term perspective for the change to be sustainable in time
- Embark your management team and the head of staffs in this transition
- Clearly communicate changes to your clientele