It is estimated that millions of miniature plastic containers, used by hotels to dispense shampoo and conditioner, end up in landfills every year. Millions of these mini containers are discarded in South Africa every year. These miniature bottles could remain in landfills for hundreds of years, taking up valuable space and having a detrimental effect on the environment, if they are not recycled.
An announcement by InterContinental Hotels Group that they will be replacing mini shampoos and conditioners with potentially more efficient alternatives by 2021 sparked some hope for the planet. The InterContinental announcement was followed by Marriott Hotels, who pledged to stop the use of mini toiletries by 2020.
Big savings for hotel groups doing away with mini shampoo bottles
InterContinental Hotels Group has stated that replacing miniature bathroom items will allow them to “significantly reduce our waste footprint and environmental impact” at their hotel chains, which include InterContinental, Holiday Inn and Crowne Plaza.
With 5600 hotels in their portfolio, InterContinental Hotels Group can save up to US$11-million (~R165-million) annually by doing away with mini shampoo bottles and toiletries. Additionally, studies conducted at MIT and other institutions have indicated that evaluations of a product’s impact on the environment can mislead consumers if economists don’t take the entire supply chain management process into account. The cost and the environmental impacts of producing, transporting, installing and maintaining these miniature bottles are also unclear at this point.
Public relations exercises with no real benefit to the environment
Environmental activists should remain cautiously optimistic for now. Vague, future corporate commitments and false sustainability claims can be damaging. These announcements seem to, once again, be more like public relations exercises rather than authentic measures towards effective sustainability.
In his book, Balancing Green: When to Embrace Sustainability in a Business (And When Not To), Yossi Sheffi, a professor of engineering and the director of the MIT Center of Transportation and Logistics, argues that “announcements of these kinds distract us from legitimate – and more challenging – measures we need to put in place to avoid environmental catastrophe.”
Net reduction in discarded plastic could be minimal
It is important to note that the net reduction in discarded plastic could be minimal at best – if the shampoo bottles are filled from larger single-use plastic containers. Replacing miniature toiletries might reduce waste a bit. However, transitioning to bulk items instead will hardly impact the volumes of plastic waste polluting our planet’s rivers and oceans.
A more effective way for hotels to contribute to a green economy and environmental sustainability would be to restrict the use of energy-consuming air conditioners. Some hotels have started to charge customers for not reusing their towels. Measures such as these could boost the environmental benefits of the hospitality industry. However, removing miniature shampoo bottles is a start, at least.
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