by Julie White, chief operating officer, Hospitality New Zealand

"This month is “plastic-free July”, a month where consumers are challenged to rid their daily routines from single-use plastic items such as water bottles and takeaway containers.

For some time now, hoteliers have been caught on the one hand by the pressure to be more sustainable, and on the other by an awareness of how cost, efficiency and guest perceptions could make this a challenge.

In the meantime, a number of local and central governments around the world are beginning to legislate on sustainable practises, particularly in relation to single-use plastics, and in ways that can directly affect the hospitality industry. In New Zealand for example, plastic bags were banned nationally from 1 July 2019. In China, in a bid to limit single-use plastic waste, Shanghai municipality has introduced new rules that prevent hotels and lodging houses from providing items such as toothbrushes, combs and razors. In the USA, the state of California is in the process of passing a bill that will prohibit accommodation providers from using small plastic amenities bottles. In the US there are also a number of other states and counties that have banned single-use plastic straws and single-use plastic bags.

Whether we are currently ready for it or not: the writing is on the wall. As a global society, we are slowly trying to move towards a plastic-free, sustainable landscape. It is well worth hoteliers and moteliers making the decision now to move with the eco-friendly times at their own achievable and affordable pace before we find legislation on the topic forces our hand.

Making that move is, of course, not quite as simple as a single step. For example, accommodation providers that want to make their business model more sustainable by removing small single-use plastic amenities from rooms should consider what alternative they will opt for.

Last year Hospitality New Zealand encouraged our members to ban single-use plastic straws in a bid to protect our environment. We were pleased to see a number of our members take up this challenge. To do so, it was important that each individual operator worked out and decided what alternative was right for their business, their margins, and their guests. For example, as a replacement, would they offer guests paper straws, reusable stainless-steel straws, straws made out of natural grasses, or no straw at all?

In the same way, in the case of in-room amenities, operators must consider what alternatives are available to them, and which ones work for their business. For example, some hotel operators have had great success with using large dispensers which can be cleaned and refilled. Some operators have also made this something that continues to be “on-brand” by using decorated or ceramic options. Other operators have continued to offer guests individually packaged amenities, but contained in recyclable or biodegradable packaging.

At this juncture, if we as an industry want to make more sustainable choices, it is crucial that we challenge our suppliers to come on that journey with us. If we are currently concerned that there are not enough environmentally-friendly options on the market, we must create that supply, by first creating the demand for a product that will meet environmental concerns, alongside guest concerns regarding hygiene.

We are pleased to see some suppliers are already working on solutions to this issue, such as the new Ecostik biodegradable packaging for individual hotel room amenities developed by Hospitality New Zealand affiliates HealthPak. Most products described as being biodegradable rely on light and oxygen to decompose, which cannot be guaranteed if the product ends up knee-deep in a landfill. The interesting difference with Ecostik is that it not only uses around five percent of the packaging weight of a plastic bottle, but is also primarily paper-based packaging, which can decompose in a landfill, without oxygen, in around ten years (as opposed to 1,000 years for a plastic bottle). According to HealthPak, Hospitality New Zealand members the James Cook Hotel Grand Chancellor have already eliminated approximately 90,000 single-use plastic bottles by changing their guest amenities to Ecosticks.

Finally, having worked out what the right path is for your venue to make a move towards being a more sustainable operator, it is paramount that you educate your guests as to why this small change, or small perceived inconvenience to them, is in fact extremely important. Listen to any concerns your guests may have regarding hygiene or convenience. Explain the wider ramifications the changes you are asking them to make with you. By educating your guests, you will have a more successful shot at getting them to work with you, and even prefer you for, your commitment to sustainable goals."