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Alternatives to Single-Use Plastics in Hotels

Updated: May 25, 2022

How The Hospitality Industry Is Tackling The Global Plastic Crisis By Going Completely Plastic-Free

Alternatives to single-use plastics in hotels are a hot topic for global accommodation providers wanting to be a part of green hospitality.

As the world is slowly transitioning away from the linear economy towards sustainability and circularity, world-renowned hotel chains are leading the way in how they deal with plastic waste generated from their operational day-to-day activities. You can see some of these hotels on our list of the world’s most sustainable hotels.

Elimination of single-use plastics in hotels and its replacement with reusable alternatives have become a number one goal for many stakeholders across the hospitality industry globally.

This urgency is well explained. It is estimated that in its full capacity, a single four-star hotel with 200 rooms can use around 300,000 pieces of single-use plastic in just a month. To understand the scale of the problem we only need to multiply this number by 700,000 - a recent estimate of how many hotels and resorts is there worldwide.

Luckily, the world is changing its take-make-waste mentality. Recently, 61 leading organisations in hospitality united in their fight against single-use plastic pollution by signing the Global Tourism Plastics Initiative that require all the participants to make an actionable plan for eliminating unnecessary single-use plastic items and transitioning to reusable alternatives by 2025. The implementation of the Initiative is supervised by The World Tourism Organization (UNWTO) and UN Environment Program (UNEP) in collaboration with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation.

The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative seems to be a much-awaited tectonic shift that will hopefully cause tidal plastic reduction waves across the globe. For now, let’s explore exactly how hotels and accommodation providers are achieving their “zero plastic” goals.

Want to become a plastic-free hotel? Say bye-bye to plastic bottles first

Alternatives to Single-Use Plastics in Hotels
Hotels are switching to bottling water in glass onsite

According to Harvard University, the entire life cycle of bottled water - from raw material extraction and manufacturing to its end of life - uses fossil fuels, causes pollution, and contributes to global warming. Over 17 million barrels of oil are required to produce enough plastic water bottles to meet America’s annual demand for bottled water.

Most of plastic bottles are made from virgin polyethylene terephthalate (PET) - in other words non-renewable fossil fuels. In addition, most plastic bottles rely on fossil fuels as an energy source to be produced, cleaned, filled, sealed, labelled and refrigerated. Finally, energy is required to deliver beverages in plastic bottles to retailers, and then to consumers. It is estimated, that the total energy consumption associated with bottled water is 5.6-10.2 MJ per litre. In comparison, 1 litre of tap water requires only 0.005 MJ of energy in treatment and distribution.

Apart from being bad for the environment, drinking water from plastic bottles might be hazardous to human health. A recent research study found out that on average 1 liter of water in plastic bottles contains 325 pieces of microplastic including nylon, polypropylene, and polyethylene terephthalate.

Environmental impacts and implications to human health are good enough reasons to ditch single-use plastic bottles. Reusable alternatives such as stainless steel or glass bottles are not only healthier for hotel guests, but might also improve hotels bottom line.

Hotels around the world are already making it happen.

In Phuket, the Anantara Resort have completely removed all plastic bottles from their gymnasiums and their rooms.

The independently run Casa Pueblo Tulum in Mexico have done the same thing, and now stock pure filtered water in glass bottles across all their rooms.

International hotel chain Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas have actually made extensive efforts to bottle their water on site, completely removing the need to have any plastic bottles.

The AKARYN Hotel Group, based in Thailand, also uses glass bottles across all their bars and restaurants and give stainless steel water bottles to all their guests.

There is so much opportunity for hotels to ditch single-use plastic bottles and adopt alternatives that are an incredibly easy way to reduce plastic waste.

Single-use hotel laundry bags to be replaced by reusable options

It’s time to air out some dirty laundry.

Alternatives to Single-Use Plastics in Hotels
100% Cotton Laundry Bag by Hotel ICON

A 2019 survey in the United Kingdom found that 85% of hotel guests surveyed wanted hotels to replace plastic bags with reusable carrier bags, and that 61% of them wanted to be provided with a reusable cotton or linen laundry bag, rather than a plastic one.

Single-use laundry bags are therefore unsurprisingly on the list of many accommodation providers wanting to eliminate single-use plastics across their properties. Similarly to single-use plastic shopping bags, single-use laundry bags take centuries to degrade - a big price the environment pays for just minutes of usage.

Many signatories on the list of the Global Tourism Plastics Initiatives have pledged to substitute single-use plastic laundry bags with a reusable alternative such as cotton or linen laundry bags.

Among them is Accor - a hospitality group with more than 5,000 hotels and residences across 110 destinations. As a part of its strategy how to become plastic-free Accor committed to replace single-use plastic laundry bags with reusable alternatives by 2025. The Group plans to substitute this unnecessary plastic item with either a reusable or paper alternatives.

Other hotels have adopted the practice too. TAJ Hotels in India removed the single-use laundry bag and have replaced them with jute bags and cotton laundry bags. Angama Mara, a Kenyan-based luxury safari lodge, has been plastic-free for several years now and have completely removed their plastic laundry bags – replacing them only with linen ones.

Hotels reduce plastic waste by ditching single-use plastic packaging & toiletries

Alternatives to Single-Use Plastics in Hotels
Hotels are getting rid of plastic packaging & toiletries

You don’t tend to think about it often, but entering a typical hotel room bathroom is like entering a single-use plastic kingdom.

Think about it - plastic packaging is everywhere you look. Around your (also plastic) toothbrush, cotton buds, dental and manicure sets, shaving kits, shower caps, combs, bath salts, pumice stones, toiletry bags - the list goes on and on!

Thanks to the efforts of the major players in the hospitality industry these unnecessary plastic items might be the thing of the past very soon. Using single-use plastics like packaging and toiletries have given hotels a “toxic image, according to GlobalData analyst Ralph Hollister. In April 2019, global hotel chain Marriot announced that it would eliminate single-use toiletries in all of its hotels by the end of that year. The alternative? Large refillable bottles that use pump dispensers. Marriot state that their efforts to remove 500 million small bottles every year would save approximately 1.7 million pounds of plastic. Hyatt announced similar plans, with the aim to remove single-use plastics from its hotels by 2021 at the earliest.

Legislators have begun to take note. In California, a state law (known as A.B 1162) was passed to specifically ban hotels using those small plastic bottles full of soap and shampoo. They’re only allowed to provide them if requested and is set to take effect in 2023 for lodging establishments that have over 50 rooms. After that year, the ban will apply to all lodging establishments (no matter how many rooms they have).

If you’re interested in this, check out our blog on reusable alternatives to single-use plastics, as there’s so much more where this came from.

The pen is mightier than the plastic: choosing sustainable alternatives to plastic pens

Alternatives to Single-Use Plastics in Hotels
Out with the plastic pens and notebooks

They say the pen is mightier than the sword – so it’s not surprising that hotels are beginning to reduce single-use plastic even further by completely removing the traditional plastic pen.

It’s estimated that in the United States alone, people throw away 1.6 billion pens every single year. These pens often end up in landfill, litter on a public sidewalk or in waterways, harming the world’s ocean life. Hotels across the world are beginning to realise this and are now switching to reusable alternatives to your ordinary pen.

International hotel chain Radisson Hotels in its Minneapolis plaza have now stocked their meeting rooms with recycled notepads and pens. Ibis Singapore on Bencoolen (part of the Accor Group of Hotels) has introduced their Eco-Pen, a pen crafted from recycled newspaper that was set to completely replace all traditional pens used throughout the hotel.

The Hilton Garden Inn at Toronto Airport have also introduced recycled pens and pencils in all their guest and conference rooms. They’ve introduced the concept of a “Green Meeting”:

All our meeting rooms were designed and built with sustainability at the forefront. Jugs of ice water, biodegradable pens, pencils and 100% recycled content note pads are just the beginning.

Eliminating single-use garbage bags: the next step hotels must make

The next step for hotels to go plastic-free is to eliminate the use of single-use garbage bags.

Many businesses (including hotels) seem to think that biodegradable plastic bags and compostable plastic bags do good for the environment – but this just isn’t the case.

Biodegradable garbage bags do not dissolve into organic material (like, say, an apple core or a banana peel would). They’ll still break down into microplastics – it’ll just take longer for them to do so.

Compostable garbage bags also still pollute our natural environment such as landfills, waterways and oceans – just like your run-of-the-mill plastic bag.

Check out also our blog on the biodegradable plastic bag – where we explode the notion that these bags are apparently ‘good for the environment’.

Reusable garbage bags are the best alternative to adopt across the hospitality industry, but when looking around – you can’t really find any.

So we decided to invent one.

Introducing the TOMbag: the new alternative to single-use plastic in hotels

The TOMbag is the world’s first ever reusable bin liner. It’s a creative and affordable sustainability initiative that can be used in hotels across the world to fast-track goals of going plastic-free.

It’s also incredibly simple to use.

All you have to do is line your bin with a TOMbag, fill it with whatever rubbish you need to, tip your garbage in your main bin and reuse it again and again (and again).

It’s super easy to wash in your washing machine (using cold water and line dry is the ideal way to do it) and is a cost-effective alternative for all hotels serious about switching to reusable alternatives.

For all hotels seeking to find substitutes for plastic, look no further than your garbage bins.

Ditch the plastic bag. Put in a TOMbag.


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