Make hotels environmentally-friendly

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Hotels have long been notorious for producing huge amounts of waste. From the little shampoo bottles, to individually-packaged soap, to bedsheets and towels washed on a daily basis, hotels are constantly sacrificing the environment in return for convenience enjoyed by their guests. Below, we have included our full investigation into the environmental problems at hotels, and our proposed solutions.

Once we gain enough following, we will begin speaking to hotels to encourage them to adopt more environmentally-friendly policies in order to help benefit the environment.

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The Environmental Impact of Travel

Christopher O’Sullivan and Paul Boneu

Each year, American hotels alone are responsible for 862 million kilograms of waste and 60 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually as a result of their wasteful practices. A reduction in 10%, or 6 million tonnes, of carbon dioxide emissions would have the same effect as planting 1.1 million pine trees (McCormick). A hotel in China’s Jiaxing was observed wrapping single-use paper cups in plastic, alongside all towels, which were individually wrapped. While some hotels, such as South America’s Cayuga Collection, have imposed a full ban on plastic (Guzmán), there is still a long way to go with regards to environmentally-friendly practices.

Many hotels provide numerous plastic bottles on a daily basis, containing shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and body lotion. The Peninsula Shanghai was observed providing a total of 12 bottles every day, while the Four Seasons Hangzhou provided eight. Some hotels, such as the Park Hyatt Hangzhou, have given up on the use of plastic, and, instead, provide bottles made of biodegradable paper-based materials (Wang). While it is much easier, and more convenient to throw away a plastic shampoo bottle and replace it with a new one, there are much more environmentally-friendly methods to provide guests with these amenities. Hotels have also been observed providing guests with single-use amenities individually wrapped in plastic, and then put into separate cardboard boxes. Every year, seven million tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s waterways, seas, and oceans, where, due to its durable properties, it photodegrades into smaller and smaller plastic, eventually becoming microplastics. Microplastics eventually find their way into the the mouths of marine life, with an estimated 24,000 tonnes of plastic being consumed by fish in the north Atlantic annually. Due to oceans being in international territory, governmental organisations are not responsible for removing the plastic, thus, it is left to non-governmental organisations to do so (Wassener). Plastic produced as a waste product of hotels is a great contributor to the ocean’s plastic issues.

While many non-governmental organisations are attempting to clean the planet’s oceans, the best course of action is to eliminate plastic at the source. Recycling is not an acceptable alternative; Recycling is not 100% efficient, and, with each cycle of recycling, the item loses a portion of its quality. Sorting is complicated, and many plastics aren’t recyclable at all, rendering most plastic recycling plants unprofitable. It is best to reduce, then to reuse, and then to recycle (Cain). There are numerous alternatives to providing plastic shampoo bottles: a shampoo dispenser, for one thing, is an alternative. However, it can be seen as a very low-cost alternative, and not the most luxurious, hence, it may not be in place in a luxury hotel. To offer an alternative to luxury brands, a ceramic jar with a sealed lid filled with shampoo is acceptable. Such containers can be refilled out of a much larger jar of which can be bought in bulk by the hotel. With regards to single-use amenities, they could be provided on demand by the hotel, or in paper packaging, which is biodegradable. While these solutions do reduce convenience, the environment should not be sacrificed to avoid an extra 30 seconds of work per room.

Cleaning products contain similar pollutants to those that contribute to smog, reducing the quality of drinking water, and leading to health problems in animals. Phosphorus, nitrogen, and ammonia are among the most problematic chemicals in cleaning fluids, with dishwasher fluids containing as much as 40% phosphorus. Ammonia can be used to degrease, sanitise, and remove allergens, though when it is released into waterways via household drains, it does not get stopped by filters at waste treatment plants, thus, it is released into larger lakes, rivers, and oceans. Being used in fertilisers, these chemicals accelerate plant growth, and, when they are in such high concentrations, they accelerate growth of marine plant life at uncontrollable levels. The dense vegetation eventually clogs waterways, crowding out animals and other marine-based plants. As their accelerated lives come to an untimely death, they die in masses, depriving the water of oxygen, allowing algae to grow, and killing shellfish, fish, and other marine life. This leads to even further decay, and, eventually, the water is no longer suitable for regular use (Davis). Hotels frequently use excessive levels of cleaning products to keep the hotel looking clean and smelling nice (Aldrichs). As these cleaning fluids get ejected from the hotel through drains, they begin to cause problems for the environment around them.

Hotels such as the Park Hyatt Hangzhou have already switched to using cleaning products from OSHA-certified Ecolab. Their cleaning products last for a long time, thus minimising resource use (Wang). Cleaning products are single-use products, and when they are used in hotels they cause problems for the environment (Aldrichs). At South America’s luxury hotel chain Cayuga Collection, all chlorine is banned from cleaning products, and all cleaning products are biodegradable (Guzmán). In order to become more environmentally-friendly, hotels should switch to cleaning products with limited or no phosphorus, nitrogen, chlorine, and ammonia, and should use biodegradable cleaning products. In doing so, the environment will see great benefits, and the hotel will no longer be harming the environment through cleaning.

Washing towels and linen everyday uses large quantities of water and cleaning products (Aldrichs). A lot of water and cleaning fluids are required to clean linens and towels, as many hotels do not give customers the option of keeping their towels. For instance, in the Peninsula Shanghai, there isn’t even an option to reuse towels and linens. This is primarily due to the fact that most hotels believe that guest convenience and comfort is the most important element of the hotel, meaning that the environment is sacrificed in order to allow towels and linen to be cleaned on a daily basis. Laundry services consist of 16% of all water usage in hotels, which translates into energy costs. Another related problem is the light switches in the room, in a hotel, a conducted survey by the Madison Gas and Electric company stated that 12% of all electricity used in a hotel was from lighting and 25% from cooling and ventilation (“Managing Energy”). This is mainly due to the fact that many guests at hotels are not conscious of their impact on the environment. For example, when leaving the room, most people would not even bother to go around the room turning the lights and air conditioning off to save the planet.

Although guest convenience and comfort is one of the most important elements for hotels, there are ways to keep this factor whilst protecting the environment. A simple way to help the environment by saving water would be to give guests an option of whether or not they would like to keep their own linens and towels (Aldrichs). A simple door sign to signify the cleaner that could benefit both clients and the environment. In addition, for electricity, an electromagnetic card reader could help save a significant amount of energy. When the customer would walk into the room, they could put the card into the reader and the lights would turn on, this way, when the guest leaves and takes the card, all lights and air-conditioning is turned off, saving electricity. Another way could be to have a master light switch by the door, as observed in the Peninsula Shanghai, for guests to be able to turn off all their light and air conditioning from one place as they are leaving.

Environmentally-friendly hotels create good PR, with awards and accreditations affirming a hotel’s environmental standpoint. “It’s just another area in which to shine when looking for positive press, persuasive logos for your promotional literature and a few impressive trophies for your hotel lobby” says Karelle Lamouche, vice president of multi-brand Marketing Services at Accor UK & Ireland, a multinational hotel group operating 4200 hotels in 95 countries. Environmentally-friendly hotel reduces cost of electricity, water bills and cleaning materials. For example, after Crete’s Lato Boutique Hotel underwent modernisations, carbon emissions were reduced by 46,000kg per year, energy costs decreased by 38%, and water costs were down by 15%. Stricter environmental policies may be mandated in the future, and when they become standard, there will be no added benefits to meeting those requirements. If hotels are currently meeting those regulations, then they will already be enjoying the benefits of being environmentally-friendly. If such policies do get mandated, then the price of environmentally-friendly equipment will rise, meaning that if a hotel already has the mandated equipment, they will not have to pay the increased rates (EyeforTravel).

Currently, hotels are great contributors to carbon dioxide emissions, and waste. Aside from the financial benefits, becoming environmentally-friendly would create good PR, and would put an end to the current wasteful culture of hotels. If regulations ever get mandated by local governments, being a step ahead of the game will come with great benefits.

For questions, comments, or concerns, contact us on Twitter at @envirohotels or by e-mail at

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