Bulk Amenities to Replace Bathroom Miniature Packages Across All Brands of InterContinental Hotels Group
As part of its overall efforts to reduce plastic waste, InterContinental Hotels Group has announced that the miniature bottles and tubes provided in the bathrooms of almost 843,000 guest rooms across greater than 5,600 hotel and resort properties will be replaced with what it calls “bulk-size bathroom amenities”, with completion of this initiative expected sometime during the year 2021.
Bulk Amenities to Replace Bathroom Miniature Packages Across All Brands of InterContinental Hotels Group
This “pledge makes IHG the first global hotel company to commit all brands to removing bathroom miniatures in favour of bulk-size amenities”, according to this official press release from InterContinental Hotels Group. “IHG currently has an average of 200 million bathroom miniatures in use across its entire hotel estate every year. As the new brand standard is adopted between now and 2021, the company expects to see a significant reduction in plastic waste. This commitment builds on IHG’s pledge to remove plastic straws from its hotels by the end of 2019, and a number of broader waste reduction initiatives already in place.”
Keith Barr — who is the current chief executive officer of InterContinental Hotels Group — claims in the aforementioned press release that “It’s more important than ever that companies challenge themselves to operate responsibly — we know it’s what our guests, owners, colleagues, investors and suppliers rightly expect. Switching to larger-size amenities across more than 5,600 hotels around the world is a big step in the right direction and will allow us to significantly reduce our waste footprint and environmental impact as we make the change.”
Really? I do not expect bulk containers of amenities in the bathrooms of the guest rooms in which I stay. I prefer the miniature individual containers for a variety of reasons — and I believe that is possible to do without harming the environment, as outlined later in this article.
Single Use Plastic Toiletry Bottles at Hotels to Become Illegal in California?
Personal care products in the form of miniature plastic toiletry bottles — which contain fewer than 12 ounces of liquid product — became one step closer to be banned from lodging establishments in California effective as of Sunday, January 1, 2023, as members of the State Assembly of California voted 50-24 on Wednesday, May 29, 2019 to pass the bill into law, according to this article which I wrote here at The Gate back on Thursday, June 6, 2019.
The bill — which is an amendment to the California Integrated Waste Management Act of 1989, as administered by the Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery — would require a state agency or “local agency with authority to inspect sleeping accommodations in a lodging establishment to notify lodging establishments of this requirement no less than one year before the requirement would become operative.”
Lodging establishments which are found in violation of the law by an authorized state or local authority would be issued a citation:
- Written warning upon a first violation
- $500.00 for a second or subsequent violation — not to exceed $2,000.00 annually
Other Plastic Reduction Initiatives From InterContinental Hotels Group
A press release from InterContinental Hotels Group announced on Thursday, October 11, 2018 the removal of single-use plastic straws from its hotel and resort properties globally by the end of the year 2019. The new brand standard represents an average of 50 million straws removed from the hotel estate of InterContinental Hotels Group each year — which is enough to stretch approximately 10,500 kilometers all the way from New York to Tokyo if those straws were laid end-to-end…
…but that press released never addressed what specifically will replace those single-use plastic straws — if they even will be replaced — other than hinting at “biodegradable alternatives” to be available.
Meanwhile, the new voco Hotels brand works with suppliers to provide duvets and pillows that are filled with 100 percent recycled materials, which equates to 150 plastic bottles per guest room diverted from landfills.
Why not continue this initiative to provide duvets and pillows that are filled with 100 percent recycled materials? Better yet, how about expanding this initiative from not only voco Hotels but also to all of the other 13 brands of InterContinental Hotels Group? Would that not help address the miniature plastic amenity container problem?
Is Plastic Waste Really an Issue?
A recent study by the University of Newcastle, Australia suggests that an average person could be ingesting approximately five grams of plastic every week — which is the equivalent of a credit card’s worth of micro plastics — according to this article which I wrote here at The Gate back on Tuesday, June 18, 2019…
…but in response to that article, WR2 — who is a reader of The Gate — posted this rebuttal:
Sorry, but there’s so much misinformation in this post. First off, there are no “garbage patches” in the oceans. I assume you are referring to the “garbage island” meme, which is a complete lie. If you go there you will see nothing. There is an increase in the ppm in that area of the ocean, but most of the particles are tiny.
Second, relying on one “study” is dubious at best, so I would bet my life that the real number of amount of plastic ingested is much lower. However, it doesn’t really matter, because it’s pretty much harmless. It passes right through your system. It is a non-problem. That should be obvious given how much plastic we supposedly consume and yet we are doing just fine thank you.
Finally, the majority of plastic entering the oceans comes from Asia. Specifically, China, Thailand and Vietnam. If you go to Thailand you will see this firsthand. We are not the problem. We don’t dump our garbage into the ocean. So what we do here makes zero difference.
Is WR2 correct about the infamous “great garbage patch” in the Pacific Ocean being merely a myth? Could a “little skepticism would go a long way towards wasting money, emotional energy and political capital towards fighting non problems, and instead addressing real world problems” as WR2 claims?
Recycling Should Be the Answer
Take a look underneath that miniature plastic toiletry bottles when you are in the bathroom of your room at a hotel or resort property…
…and you will likely see that familiar triangular arrows symbol of the Resin Identification Coding System, which is a standard as specified by the American Society for Testing and Materials pertaining to recycling. For both of the bottles shown in the above photograph, the resin code is for polyethylene terephthalate, which is nicknamed by the more familiar acronym known as PETE.
All miniature plastic toiletry bottles for personal care products — such as shampoo, conditioner, body lotion and mouthwash as four examples — should be required to be manufactured by one recyclable material which had already been recycled. Perhaps that material can be based from a plant to be even more friendly to the environment.
Lodging establishments should then be required to provide a receptacle in guest rooms especially for recyclable materials. Once the guest is finished using the product, he or she then properly disposes of that bottle into the appropriate receptacle.
Many hotel and resort properties around the world already have a similar system in place — such as the Delta Hotels Banff Royal Canadian Lodge, at which I stayed.
Some people who are concerned about the environment would suggest that most — if not all toiletries — should be in solid form instead of as liquids in order to eliminate the need for small plastic bottles. For example, soap is still supplied in the form of solid bars at many lodging establishments instead of body wash in miniature plastic bottles; and they usually are packaged in cardboard boxes, which are easy to recycle.
One problem is solid products which come wrapped in plastic, which usually cannot be recycled — but plastic wrap arguably better protects the product which is contained in it. If possible, a happy compromise would be to seal solid toiletries in a material that gives as much protection to the product as plastic, but can be easily recycled like cardboard.
Not everyone likes them, but certain shampoos and other products which are usually liquid in nature come in powdered form. Package them similarly in a recyclable material could also be another solution.
Are Bulk Dispensers The Answer?
You may check into your room and notice that the familiar miniature plastic toiletry bottles are missing. Rather, bulk dispensers are installed on the walls in the bathroom.
Because there is only so much room on the walls of the bathroom — as well as for aesthetic reasons — instead of separate products for the shampoo and conditioner or for shampoo, liquid soap and body wash, they are combined as one product in a single dispenser.
Another issue is that bulk dispensers are not always replenished — especially if the dispenser is manufactured out of a translucent or opaque material with no clear indicator. This has happened to me more than once over the years whenever I attempted to take a shower. For example, once was at the Park Inn by Radisson Budapest hotel property, at which the dispenser mounted on the wall was clearly empty — unlike the other time at a Holiday Inn hotel property in Munich, at which a dispenser mounted on the wall was empty; but one could not determine whether it was full or empty due to the fact that it was opaque with no indicator.
The last thing I want to do is call housekeeping and wait until a member of the staff is good and ready to provide the product which I need to clean myself. I do not want to have to check if a wall dispenser has enough product whenever I want or need to use it.
Some wall dispensers are not easy to use at all — such as those at the Tru by Hilton Oklahoma City Airport, at which I stayed. Among other issues, I did not like how the product came out of the containers, as you have to squeeze both sides of the container itself for it to come out. Squeeze gently as instructed, and nothing happens; but too much came out when squeezing slightly less gently. Despite multiple attempts, I could not find a happy medium. The container is poorly designed overall.
Other potential issues with bulk dispensers include — but are not limited to — the following, as bulk dispensers:
- May be empty when you attempt to use them, as they may not be refilled properly and in a timely manner
- Can eventually malfunction — such as product not dispensing when pushing a button as one of many examples
- May be more difficult to use due to inefficient or dysfunctional design — such as having to squeeze them hard simply to release product
- May be more likely to contain counterfeit products as a way for hotel and resort properties to save money
- Could potentially be breeding grounds for germs if they are not cleaned properly, as multiple people must touch them to use or refill them
- May be filled with undesirable foreign ingredients by other guests — even where locks are in place but the wall dispensers are left unlocked anyway
Advantage: Bulk Dispensers Versus Small Bottles and Tubes
The advantages of bulk dispensers versus small bottles and tubes of toiletries and amenities include:
- Less liquid product is wasted — guests can use as much or as little as desired
- Reduced amount of trash in terms of the number of used plastic bottles, tubes and boxes which are disposed
- Significantly more economical for each hotel and resort property as a measure of saving money
- Less time for housekeeping to prepare the room
- Small bottles and tubes already used by other people may not be replaced with fresh product; whereas the product inside of bulk dispensers can be considered untouched by other people
- More counter and sink space for guests
- Bulk dispensers contain more product for guests with long hair; while small bottles and tubes may not contain enough product
Advantage: Small Bottles and Tubes Versus Bulk Dispensers
The advantages of small bottles and tubes of toiletries and amenities versus bulk dispensers include:
- Wall dispenser could be rendered useless if it falls off of the wall; is broken; or is simply not functional due to lack of proper maintenance
- Dispensing product can be more difficult than necessary — such as pumping numerous times just to use enough product
- Housekeeping staff must be called if bulk dispenser was never refilled
- Guests can potentially tamper with wall dispensers, depending on their designs
- Potential contamination of germs with the number of people who use wall dispensers if they are not cleaned or disinfected properly
- Guests can take small bottles or tubes of unused products with them, as they are convenient for traveling
- Greater than ten million people benefited from the Clean the World Foundation, which integrates used soap — which would otherwise be discarded — and integrates it with a comprehensive water, sanitation and hygiene program
- As with other environmental measures, bulk dispensers are touted to guests as environmentally friendly when really the main focus may be to save the hotel or resort property money
Just Another Way to Reduce Costs For the Good of the Environment?
Marriott International, Incorporated already started switching to larger bottles situated in racks mounted on the walls of rooms in 450 hotel and resort properties at five different brands; and intended to expand to 1,500 hotel and resort properties in North America by January of 2019 — while InterContinental Hotels Group introduced bulk dispensers mounted on walls in the rooms of hotel and resort properties at four different brands last year.
As I first noted in this article which I wrote on Sunday, May 6, 2018 with regard to the initiative to save plastic as part of the Serve 360: Doing Good in Every Direction of Marriott to refresh sustainability and social impact efforts by 2025, “Environmentally, the program is expected to save an average of 250 lbs. of plastic per year for a 140-room hotel — approximately 23,000 plastic bottles.”, according to this article written by Robin McLaughlin of Lodging Magazine. “Replacing small plastic bottles with the dispenser also positively impacts owners’ bottom lines, saving between $1,000 to $2,000 per year.”
Are these lodging companies truly concerned about the environment — or are they using these initiatives simply to improve their financial bottom line? Perhaps the answer is both are true — and if so, is that wrong?
Although no definitive evidence is obvious, I keep thinking that this seemingly overzealous initiative by InterContinental Hotels Group is more about saving money than it is about being passionate pertaining to sustainability, as there are ways to continue to offer guests the miniature packages of amenities without impacting the environment in a negative way.
Most of the bulk dispensers I have found in the bathrooms at hotel properties are manufactured from a material known as — you guessed it — plastic. My personal experience with plastics suggests to me that although plastic may take many decades to break down biologically, its useful life is significantly shorter. What do you think management at a hotel or resort property will do once a bulk dispenser malfunctions and is no longer functional?
I am a believer in a number of issues: reducing the amount of intervention by governments whenever possible without reducing the efficacy of protecting consumers; ensuring that we conserve the consumption of products so that there is enough to go around for everyone; and protecting the environment as much as reasonably possible…
…but although bulk dispensers attached to walls in the bathrooms of lodging establishments could work in some cases, I am opposed to that being the norm for the aforementioned reasons described in this article.
Once implemented, some people will choose to ignore the recycling options which I have proposed in this article; and that is to be expected. All I know is that I recycle whenever possible; and if lodging establishments put forth an effort to help recycling be as easy as throwing something in a trash can, then the majority of guests should theoretically use them with no problem.
As for toiletries in solid form: if a guest uses the product and likes it enough to keep it, that person can easily transport it home aboard an airplane, as it would not be subject to the limitations of liquids imposed at airport security checkpoints. Protecting them in a recyclable product which is both sealed and resistant to water would be a winning solution.
As I reported in this article on Earth Day, Sunday, April 22, 2018, thousands of bars of used soap — as well as small plastic bottles of toiletries such as shampoo, conditioner, body lotion, mouthwash and skin cream — can be discarded from one single hotel property daily; and wall dispensers could help to significantly reduce that waste. I also like the idea of helping people to whom cleanliness is considered a luxury, which is where the aforementioned Clean the World Foundation comes in.
Regardless of whether a hotel property uses bulk dispensers or small bottles and tubes of amenities is not going to significantly affect my trip either way. All I care about when I am a guest in a hotel room is that I am clean, comfortable, relaxed and refreshed while I am traveling.
My preference is to have the choice of whether or not I want the small containers of toiletries — as long as those containers are constructed of recyclable materials so that I may dispose of them properly when I am finished with them — but I am likely in the minority regarding that opinion.
All photographs ©2014, ©2015, ©2017, ©2018 and ©2019 by Brian Cohen.