Hotel shampoo bottles are latest victims in effort to curb plastic waste

Love those dainty little bottles of shampoo, conditioner and hand lotion in hotel bathrooms? Do you take them home, use them for guests or donate them to the local homeless shelter? You won’t be able to for much longer — states, localities and some hotel chains are scrapping the tiny amenities.

The bottle bans follow recent efforts to curb other single-use plastic products, including shopping bags, eating utensils, straws and balloons. Supporters say the moves will reduce the amount of plastic waste filling landfills and polluting the seas.

California enacted a law earlier this year, set to take effect in 2023, banning the mostly 1- to 2-ounce bottles. New York state is considering a similar measure, and local jurisdictions such as Fulton County (Atlanta), Georgia, also are getting into the act.

Even without legislation, Marriott International, Hyatt Hotels and the company that owns Holiday Inn plan to replace the single-use bottles with large pump dispensers. Marriott said eliminating 500 million small bottles a year will save 1.7 million pounds of plastic.

But opponents worry about the economic hit to the personal product and plastics industries, and many see meddling by the state in personal choices. The plastics industry opposes the bills because “product bans are not a long-term solution to the plastic waste issue,” said Shannon Crawford, spokeswoman for the Plastics Industry Association. “Expanding and enhancing our current recycling infrastructure is.”

Also: Hyatt takes steps to become more environmentally friendly

Plus: Holiday Inn hotels are ditching mini shampoos

Is banning plastics driven by saving the environment or saving money? 

Travel industry analysts say hotels — with the possible exception of very high-end lodging where luxury amenities are part of the experience — should welcome the bans as a money-saver. They also will help hotels appeal to environmentally conscious customers.

“I see what’s going on with hotels as part of this larger trend,” said Henry Harteveldt, president of Atmosphere Research Group, a travel analytics firm. “None of these small actions will save our planet individually. But collectively, if we can reduce waste, it’s good.”

But he pointed out that the hotels’ actions are not completely selfless.

“It’s what I call a ‘greenwashing’ move,” he said. “The hotels are wrapping a sustainability message around a move that will help them save money on toiletries. There’s nothing wrong with saving money on toiletries, and it will reduce some waste.”

Many hotels already post signs urging guests to reuse their towels as a way to save water — an environmentally friendly move that also happens to reduce laundering costs.

What are the details of the California ban?

The California law will prohibit a container of 12 ounces or fewer from being set out in hotels unless a customer asks for one. In general, hotels plan to replace the small bottles with multi-use dispensers mounted on shower walls. Hotels with more than 50 rooms must comply by 2023 and smaller hotels by 2024. The bill does not apply to Airbnb or other short-term rental platforms.

“This bill is a win-win [for industry],” said California Assemblyman Ash Kalra, a Democrat from San Jose. “It does force the issue by putting in a timeline when they have to phase out [the bottles]. Ultimately they save money, but you have to have this instigation to get them moving. Just because it’s a cost savings doesn’t mean hotels are going to do it, because there’s an upfront cost for dispensers.”

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