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Stay in plastic, it's fantastic?
Zero Waste Hotel Room

by Paula Reuber

Ecoistic ambassadors: Wooden door hangers announce your zero-waste mission to your guests as soon as they enter the hotel room.

For ecoistic travellers, staying in a hotel can be contrary to their own values and attitudes. Checking in, the electronic room card made of hard plastic is handed out to the guest in order to access the hotel room. In the room, the guest is then welcomed with some refreshments from the minibar filled with 200ml PET bottles, a huge collection of tiny plastic bottles in the bathroom (in hotels from 4*) and not to forget the cardboard box draped on the bed with the obligatory plastic shower cap shrink-wrapped in plastic. Yes, ecoists feel at home here! But let's be honest: Does a room with plenty of plastic and disposable products really raise the level of comfort and well-being of the guests? Of course not.

Current studies (FUR, 2019) have shown: The importance of sustainability while travelling is growing. According to the travel analysis of the Kieler Forschungsgemeinschaft Urlaub und Reisen e.V., 57% of the German population aged 14 and older value holiday travels being as socially compatible, resource-saving and environmentally friendly as possible (FUR, 2019). Yes, hosts should use this to show quality, to stand out from competitors and to take global responsibility. The best place to start for you as a hotel owner? For example, with the sustainable, zero waste transformation of the core business: the overnight stay. Are you starting to wonder, how your hotel room can tell stories of restful nights, climate protection, healthy skin, fair trade and appreciation for people and the environment? We'll be happy to show you.

Relevance & Background
But firstly, we give you some background information that will help you to better understand the relevance and urgency of a sustainable transformation. The impact reports of the European Commission (Styles et al., 2013), the United Nations Environment Programme (Rivera et al., 2011) and the published environmental, health and safety guidelines for hotels and restaurants of the World Bank Group (IFC, 2007) show the importance of waste avoidance and reduction for a sustainable and future-proof hotel industry. 

The tourism sector accounts for 6.7% of the total waste generated by the EU service sector (Styles et al., 2013). Seems little? Well, this relatively low percentage can be explained due to the dominant share of construction waste in the construction industry. However, in contrast to the latter, the composition of waste from the hotel sector is similar to that of private households. Being composed of rather small bits and pieces, the components enter the environment more quickly, circulate with velocity and can consequential, cause ecological damage. In addition, tourist waste is often generated in areas that are very sensitive to waste pollution (Muñoz & Navia, 2015). Resorts and spa hotels in particular, which are situated in near-natural recreation areas and often close to the beach, can often not benefit from the well-developed urban infrastructure for waste management (ibid.). Here there is an increased risk potential for the penetration of waste into surrounding ecosystems.

The average European guest of a medium-sized hotel produces about one kilogram of garbage per night. About twice as much compared to the amount produced in a normal household at the same time (IFC, 2007; Rivera et al., 2011). In addition to recyclable materials such as organic waste (31%), glass (6%), paper (12%), plastic and metal (2%), almost half (49%) of the waste from hotels consists of residual waste (Ecotrans, 2006).

Garbage volume in hotel rooms
According to the criteria catalogue for hotel certifications (2020-2025), hotels are obliged to provide their guests with various cosmetic articles (shampoo, toothbrush & tooth mug, etc.) in their hotel rooms. In most cases, the travel-size packaging is made of plastic, which is disposed after the guest's (short) stay, including all the remaining product.

EU environmental statistics confirm that hotels contribute to increased packaging waste (Eurostat, 2010). However, concrete measurements of common outer packaging materials such as plastic and metal generated in the hotel industry, only show a small share of 2% (Ecotrans, 2006). In fact, many studies (see Conservation International, 2005; Ecotrans, 2006; IFC, 2007) point out that hotels often lack careful separation of recyclable materials (such as plastic, metal or paper). According to the catalogue of criteria, the provision of just one waste bin per hotel room is sufficient. Although many hoteliers argue that waste separation is guaranteed by the hotel staff, the statistics speak a different language.

Hence, many valuable raw materials escape recycling being returned to the resource cycle, and end up in residual waste instead. In addition to environmental and resource-saving aspects, as waste disposal fees rise with the increasing volume of residual waste, it can be argued that a waste avoidance strategy also has decisive economic significance for the company.

Tell stories with good products and partners
Communicating sustainability can be a challenging task. A zero waste concept in your hotel room speaks for itself, tells stories through products and communicates the host's sustainability ambitions to guests firsthand. Already with small changes and low investment costs hosts can differentiate their offer and show that they share worries and wishes of their guests. Authentic sustainability communication makes the offer even more attractive for sustainability-conscious travelers and ensures their loyalty and support in the long run.

Here’s what we suggest:
First things first!

  • The electronic key card: has found its way into many hotels. Cards made of wood fibres offer an ecological alternative to the usual ones made from hard plastic.
  • Announce the welcome message on a wooden door hanger. This not only saves paper but can also be reused and shows your innovative spirit.

In a hotel room

  • Ecoistic welcome present: Not only is the obligatory mini chocolate bar wrapped in aluminium foil, but usually only a provides short pleasure. We think it's much nicer to give ecoistic gifts to guests with purpose: For example a handmade worry doll, produced in Guatemala using a traditional weaving technieque.
  • Hotel slippers for warm feet: Yes, but please unpacked and washable from organic cotton, linen or recycled PET.
  • Bed linen: Fairtrade-certified bed linen made from organic cotton not only meet environmental and social standards, but also your quality requirements.
  • Refreshing: Get rid of packed plastic cups and water from plastic bottles. Much nicer and waste-free are upcycled glasses and carafes or refillable glass drinking bottles.
  • Minibar: Share x TUTAKA Minibar: Together with the social company Share we have developed our own minibar. The Share x TUTAKA Minibar works according to the 1 + 1 principle. Meaning that one bar provides one meal, one water one day drinking water. All products are made from organic ingredients. You want to know more about 'Minibars'? We offer Zero Waste Minibar workshops.
  • Snack machine: Instead of a minibar in every room, one snack machine per floor or extended opening hours of the house bar might be sufficient.

Shelves & cupboards

In the bathroom

  • Use Fairtrade certified hand and bath towels here as well.
  • Shampoo & Soaps: A cheer for our principle: Eco not ego. Get rid of individual mini packages for shampoo and use refillable soap and shampoo dispensers instead. For example, our dry soap dispenser filled with certified organic soap pieces.
  • For the shower and each guests' very own wellness treatment we recommend organic certified hotel cosmetics in sustainable dispensers. On the marketplace you can find a variety of cosmetic lines - whether it is a sports or wellness hotel, each one will find its fit.
  • Bamboo toothbrushes are resource-saving and compostable and are available on request at the reception.
  • Use toothbrush cups made of (recycled) glass or porcelain and not from plastic.
  • Use cotton swabs with bamboo or wooden shafts and with organic cotton.
  • Do not use a shower cap, comb, nail care sets, shavers, etc. or only provide it on request at the reception.
  • Small zero-waste exception: Guest bathrooms have to meet the highest standards of privacy and hygiene in addition to well-being. Therefore provide a small selection oftampons made of organic cotton.
  • Give guests the opportunity to renounce housekeeping service and towel change, and offer them a free drink at the hotel bar as a thank-you.

Last but not least: Hygiene

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Bibliography
Conservation International (2005): Linking Communities, Tourism & Conservation: A Tourism Assessment Process. In: Conservation International, Washington DC.
Ecotrans (2006): Environmental initiatives by European tourism businesses: Instruments, indicators and practical examples. Ecotrans, Saarbrücken.
Styles, D., Schönberger, H., Galvez Martos, J.L. (2013): Best Environmental Management Practice in the Tourism Sector. EUR Scientific and Technical Research Reports.
Eurostat (2010): Environmental statistics and accounts in Europe. Eurostat, Luxembourg.
IFC (2007): Environmental, Health, and Safety Guidelines for Tourism and Hospitality Development. IFC, Washington D.C.
FUR Forschungsgemeinschaft Urlaub und Reisen e.V. (2019): Reiseanalyse 2019: Erste ausgewählte Ergebnisse der 49. Reiseanalyse zur ITB 2019.
Muñoz, E. & Navia, R. (2015): Waste management in touristic regions. In: Waste Management & Research, vol. 33, no. 7, pp. 593 –594.
Rivera, L., Pratt, L., Bien, A. (2011): Tourism. In: UNEP (2011): Towards a Green Economy: Pathways to Sustainable Development and Poverty Eradication.

Summary:

  • For eco-friendly travelers, staying in a hotel often conflicts with their own values and attitudes.
  • In our blog article, we describe how to create stories of restful nights, climate protection, healthy skin, fair trade and appreciation for people and the environment.
  • A zero waste concept in your hotel room speaks for itself, tells stories with its products and conveys to guests first-hand the sustainability ambitions of the host.
  • After reading, you are armed with a lot of background knowledge, arguments for a zero waste strategy and practical tips!

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The dry soap dispenser in the bathroom is refillable with - surprise - dry soap. This saves valuable resources, is hygienic and communicates your sustainability ambitions to your guests firsthand.