Hotels and Plastics: Threat Or Savior?

By Jan Peter Bergkvist Owner, SleepwellAB | May 27, 2018

Plastic is a great material and is, as we all know, used in billions of different applications, many of which are linked to the hotel sector. However, only 14 percent of all plastic packaging is collected for recycling after use, and vast quantities of the rest escape into the environment.

Almost all kinds of plastic degrade slowly. This tells us that we shall avoid it as packaging for foodstuffs and frequently used products such as bags and straws.

During the last decade, it has become obvious that far too much plastic ends up in the natural environment and remains there as litter. The role of plastics in society has increasingly become one of the major environmental sustainability challenges alongside climate, water-and biodiversity challenges, to name a few.

The problem with visible litter has been obvious to us for decades, especially in low-income countries with poor waste handling procedures. But a more recently acknowledged catastrophe is the molecular waste that occurs when plastics in our oceans are partly degraded and consumed by fish and other sea creatures. Not only can this result in starvation, (as fish stomachs become full but without the intake of nutrients); but also cause hormonal disorders as degraded and micro-plastics have the capacity to carry toxic chemical compounds.

From a climate perspective, we know that a vast majority of all plastic today is made from crude oil, and when incinerated adds to climate change through the fossil CO2 emissions.

The perception of plastics has changed rapidly among politicians and consumers. China has recently stopped the import of plastic waste from Europe; and even more importantly, retailers' bans of plastic bags in many countries reflect growing consumer concern. This, together with increasing unease about molecular waste from sources such as synthetic fibers in clothes or plastic football turfs, (that eventually ends up in our seas and oceans), suggests that we are seeing a rapid change in our attitudes to plastic.

Swedish authorities promote tap water as the obvious better choice with the slogan: Clean Water - No transport - No waste!
Child observing an ecological disaster on a beach
Know where your plastic waste ends up? It takes thousands of years for plastic to biodegrade...
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Eco-Friendly Practices: Corporate Social Responsibility

The hotel industry has undertaken a long-term effort to build more responsible and socially conscious businesses. What began with small efforts to reduce waste - such as paperless checkouts and refillable soap dispensers - has evolved into an international movement toward implementing sustainable development practices. In addition to establishing themselves as good corporate citizens, adopting eco-friendly practices is sound business for hotels. According to a recent report from Deloitte, 95% of business travelers believe the hotel industry should be undertaking “green” initiatives, and Millennials are twice as likely to support brands with strong management of environmental and social issues. Given these conclusions, hotels are continuing to innovate in the areas of environmental sustainability. For example, one leading hotel chain has designed special elevators that collect kinetic energy from the moving lift and in the process, they have reduced their energy consumption by 50%  over conventional elevators. Also, they installed an advanced air conditioning system which employs a magnetic mechanical system that makes them more energy efficient. Other hotels are installing Intelligent Building Systems which monitor and control temperatures in rooms, common areas and swimming pools, as well as ventilation and cold water systems. Some hotels are installing Electric Vehicle charging stations, planting rooftop gardens, implementing stringent recycling programs, and insisting on the use of biodegradable materials. Another trend is the creation of Green Teams within a hotel's operation that are tasked to implement earth-friendly practices and manage budgets for green projects. Some hotels have even gone so far as to curtail or eliminate room service, believing that keeping the kitchen open 24/7 isn't terribly sustainable. The May issue of the Hotel Business Review will document what some hotels are doing to integrate sustainable practices into their operations and how they are benefiting from them.