Reducing plastic consumption

Written in collaboration with Travel Without Plastic

Glass bottles

Since plastic started being mass-produced in the 1950s, around 6,300 million tonnes of it has been thrown away. And with just 9% of global plastic waste recycled, these items are rapidly building up in landfill sites and oceans.

Up until recent years, it might’ve been difficult to imagine running a property without single-use plastic. After all, single-use items like water bottles, mini toiletries and straws have been part of the standard set-up for decades. Both guests and staff have become accustomed to the convenience. However, more and more countries are now implementing legislation to limit the availability of certain single-use plastic items such as cutlery, bags, cups, takeaway packaging and even small toiletries.

It’s becoming increasingly common for properties of all shapes and sizes to eliminate unnecessary items completely, switching to multi-use alternatives or making the switch to more sustainable alternatives – and it’s working. From implementing water filtration on-site to finding suppliers that will take back packaging for reuse, new solutions are changing the hospitality industry’s old habits, proving it is possible for guests and partners to adapt.

In this section, we’ll discuss the environmental, social and financial benefits of reducing your property’s plastic consumption. We’ll also share practical advice on how to start making changes, with help from the experts at Travel Without Plastic.

Single-use plastic items you might be using at your property

Water or drinks bottles
Drinking straws and stirrers
Plastic and polystyrene cups
Miniature toiletry bottles and toothpicks and other single-use plastic room amenities
Disposable plates, cutlery and toothpicks
Food packaging (such as yoghurt pots and individual condiment packets)
Plastic-sealed tea bags, coffee pods and minibar stock
Plastic wrapping (around clean glasses or other items)

Four benefits of reducing your plastic consumption

1. Plastic takes up to 1,000 years to break down 

We may use, dispose of and forget about our single-use plastic items, but most of them will long outlive all of us - from straws and stirrers with a lifespan of 200 years, to plastic bottles at 450 years and all the way up to plastic bags at a huge 1,000 years. This harms wildlife, damages the earth’s ecosystems and puts microplastics into the food chain.

2. Production is still growing – and so are our carbon emissions 

300 million tonnes of new plastic is produced each year. And if we continue with our current habits, that number is expected to quadruple by 2050. The carbon emissions generated from producing these volumes of plastic actively contribute to climate change. We’re rapidly using up our global carbon budget.

3. It can save your business money 

A trial by Travel Without Plastic found that a hotel of 150 rooms saved an average of €5,000 over a 6-month period in which they cut out all single-use plastic guest room amenities. Savings vary based on the size of your property, the plastics you use now, and the solutions you choose, but these statistics show that making a change can benefit your business in the long run. 

4. Plastic pollution = lost revenue 

As of 2015, California communities are estimated to spend more than $428 million annually to clean up and control plastic pollution. For an even more extreme example, in 2018, Boracay Island in the Philippines was completely closed to visitors for a 6-month clean-up. Since reopening, single-use plastic has been banned completely. 

Water bottle

How to reduce your plastic consumption

Take an inventory

In order to cut your plastic usage, you first need to understand what your current consumption is. Take an inventory of the single-use plastic items you stock at your property, noting down amounts and costs. By doing so, you’ll be able to see at a glance where the big opportunities are at a glance.

Consider the essentials

With a full inventory gathered, you might be surprised at the volume of plastic items you use across your property. Look critically at this list and consider if everything on there is really necessary or if it’s used out of habit. Can you forgo some of these items altogether, or can you look at multi-use alternatives instead, such as bamboo cutlery or glass bottles?

Research the swaps you can make

There’s no one-size-fits-all solution for cutting out single-use plastic. The actions you take might vary depending on the type of property you run, the facilities you have and the guests you attract.

Researching the many sustainable alternatives on the market can help you decide what works for your property, but it’s also important to think about how these items will be disposed of when they have been used. Make sure that you purchase items made from materials that can actually be recycled in your geographical area. To return money back to the local economy and keep your carbon footprint low, you can also look into which products are available to source in your surrounding area. 

Here are our suggestions for a few simple plastic swaps:

Use refillable dispensers for toiletries, instead of individual bottles
Change plastic or polystyrene cups for durable, multi-use ones
Replace bottled water with water dispensers – or, if your tap water is drinkable, clearly label it so guests know this and are happy to drink it.
If you have water dispensers, make sure you tell your guests to bring a reusable water bottle in pre-travel communications (or via your social media accounts) or make them available to use during their stay.
When they are necessary, provide metal or bamboo straws rather than single-use plastic ones.
Avoid over-using plastic wrapping, and help guests to feel confident about cleanliness and hygiene by communicating your cleaning protocols instead of using unnecessary products and packaging.
In apartments or rooms with kitchens for guest use, refill dishwashing liquids, provide cleaning cloths that can be laundered and reused time and again, and scourers that are made from natural materials such as coconut husks that can be composted.
Switch from plastic washing detergent to washing powders in boxes.
Switch single-use bin bags for reusable and washable liners.
Provide a directory of more sustainable products and services nearby, such as package-free shops, plastic-free takeaway or meal delivery companies, and coffee shops that offer free water refills and discounts for using a reusable cup.
Provide reusable food containers and encourage guests to use them in package-free shops if such places are available close by.

Involve your team

Whether you’re a team of two or 200, it’s important that everybody feels motivated about the changes you’re planning. One way to achieve this is to hold a workshop or group discussion with your peers. In this session, you can discuss why cutting single-use plastic is important and ask team members to share their own ideas. 

If your team are enthusiastic and engaged, they’ll be committed to making sure your new solutions are a success. They’ll also feel more empowered to talk about the topic with your guests – passing that enthusiasm onto them. 

Tell guests about your initiatives

Research shows more sustainable travel is becoming a priority for travellers, with 66% more determined to make more sustainable choices than they were a year ago. This means your guests are more likely to be happy with your commitment than they are to feel inconvenienced. But in order for that to happen, they need to know about your efforts.

To begin with, make sure you update your practices in the extranet. This will help guests engaged with the topic find and book your property.

Next, make sure you’re educating and encouraging guests during their stay. Think about placing information around the property. Ideally, this information should:

  • Tell guests what you’re doing
    E.g. “We’re reducing the amount of plastic we use at our property.”
  • Share the impact 
    E.g. “Going plastic-free has saved x% of water bottles from going to landfill so far.”
  • Provide some social proof
    E.g. “x% of guests take their reusable bottles home. If you’d like to keep yours, just let us know.”
  • Tell guests how to support your initiatives

    E.g. tell them to come prepared with their reusable bottles and let them know about any local refill apps that they could download before travel or on arrival.

  • Help them to recycle

    E.g. provide information on what’s recyclable at your destination; it’s likely to be different from the systems they have at home.

The information you give your guests can influence them long beyond check-out. If they adopt your initiatives during their stay, that’s already a great result. If they go home and change their habits, you can be proud that your property is creating long-lasting impact as well.

Look for trusted labels

Not all alternatives to single-use plastic are as helpful to the environment as they may seem. Don’t take labels and claims at face value. You must dig a little deeper so that you can distinguish between substantiated claims and greenwashing. For example, just because something is recyclable doesn’t mean it will actually be recycled in practice. That all depends on the waste infrastructure in your area.  

Even more, products described as ‘compostable’ can also cause confusion: there are two types of compostables - home compostable and industrial compostable. Very few countries have industrial compostable facilities, so often, these products just end up in landfills or are incinerated. 

However, it is also useful to remember that not all plastic is bad. Reusable plastic items are great alternatives to single-use plastic as they will have been designed to be used for multiple uses, often many hundreds of times.  Many of these reusable plastic items are also recyclable - make sure to check for that.  

If you’re in doubt about how to dispose of products, ask the supplier for more detailed information until you are satisfied. 

Show travellers what you’re doing

Once you start to implement measures to reduce single-use plastic consumption – or if you’ve already got some in place – you can communicate this to travellers through our platform. 

Tell us if you’ve removed (or never offered) any of the following plastic products:

Miniature shampoo, conditioner and body wash bottles
Water bottles
Bottles for other drinks
Cutlery and tableware

Want to learn more?

Take the next step on your sustainability journey with our free online courses: A more sustainable approach to tourism and hospitality. Developed in partnership with UN Tourism, the courses are packed with expert insights and practical tips you can use to integrate more sustainability-related practices into your business. 

Sign up to the course

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