How to make an informed decision when considering alternatives to single-use plastic products

February 17, 2021

Despite the challenging times we all find ourselves in, it’s encouraging for us to hear from businesses that are still keen to start or accelerate their work on reducing unnecessary single-use plastic products from their operations.

One of the most common questions we are asked is around the suitability of alternatives, and it’s easy to see why this can be a confusing topic.

There are so many different ways for marketers to sell their products, often tapping into the use of terminology that sounds great but might often be greenwash. So, as a hotelier, how do you know what is right for you?

We’ve collated our top tips that we believe will help you to make a more informed decision.

1. Don’t buy products unnecessarily

This might not be what you immediately want to hear, nor might you expect to get this advice from a B2B marketplace, but we honestly believe that one of the best ways to eliminate waste, not just single-use plastic waste is to reduce the number of consumable items you purchase in the first place.

Before you think about replacing single-use plastic with an alternative made from different materials, take the time to think about whether the product really adds value to the guest experience or whether it is something you buy out of habit or due to brand standards.

Discuss this amongst your team, if you had to re-think your brand standards and habits using a ‘waste reduction’ lens, what could you go without? Then try it, back up your changes with good communications that explain to your guests WHY you are making changes. It might take some time for the changes to embed but don’t give up at the first hurdle.

Reducing the number of consumable products passing through your business will reduce costs, reduce carbon emissions associated with consistent deliveries, reduce waste and even save staff time.

2. Replace products with services

This is not possible with all products but in some cases, replacing a product with a service not only reduces waste but it enhances the guest experience. Can you offer a repair service rather than a sewing kit or room service rather than plastic packaged mini bar items? Can you create an app that enables people to request bathroom amenities rather than providing them automatically in the guest room?

3. Make a concerted effort to replace single-use products with reusable alternatives

Replacing single-use products with reusable alternatives doesn’t have to be as challenging as it might initially seem, although of course not everything is replaceable in this way. The important thing with this approach is to think logically. Often, the argument for avoiding reusable alternatives is centred around safety, hygiene and guest perception, this can usually be overcome by using good communications.

For example, we often hear that hoteliers think that reusable straws are unhygienic, but they would go through the same dishwashing programmes as stainless-steel knives, forks and spoons, all of which guests use regularly without any concern for hygiene.

Another example is refillable toiletries, the perception being that the dispensing mechanism has been touched by hundreds of previous guests and is therefore not clean, yet it is cleaned in the same way as the taps and the shower faucet that no-one bats an eyelid about using.

It is important that we question the logic we apply to things that we are not accustomed to. Just because they are different to business as usual does not make them unsafe or unsanitary.

Check our blogs on how to keep reusable straws and refillable amenities hygienic.

4. Make a purchase with waste disposal in mind

Inevitably, unless you have gone completely zero waste, you are likely to need to use some single-use products at some point in time. One of the reasons we can’t tell you what alternative materials are best for your business is because the waste infrastructures in destinations, and even in neighbouring municipalities are often very different.

By making a conscious effort to understand what can truly be responsibly disposed of in your area, this means looking past the marketing claims on products and packaging and really getting to the bottom of what happens to them when they make it to the waste management facility.

Speak with you waste collection contractor, they might already have the answers, and ask suppliers to provide you with the technical specifications so that you can check out what products are really made from. It’s surprising how many people are still unaware that most paper cups are lined with thin layer of plastic and that they need to be disposed of with general waste as neither paper nor plastic recycling bins are suitable for them.

Take care to question the meaning of claims such as biodegradable – the degradability of a product very much depends on what it is made of and how it is disposed of. It’s not unheard of to find 50 year old newspapers that were still readable after spending all of that time in landfill. Not all of the alternatives are as green as they seem. We ask all of our suppliers to be really clear about responsible disposal, you’ll find the information in the product and packaging disposal sections on each product page so that you can make a more informed choice.

For help in planning processes and changes that don’t compromise safety and hygiene, why not download our FREE Standard Operating Procedures.

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Jo Hendrickx
Jo Hendrickx
Jo is a sustainability professional living in Gran Canaria with over 20 years of experience in the global tourism industry. She has worked extensively with hotels and accommodation providers around the world since 2001 helping managers to navigate the health, safety, quality and sustainability expectations of tour operators. Increasingly concerned with the impacts of unnecessary plastics, Jo was motivated to create Travel Without Plastic to support those hotels that want to make a difference.
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