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Call the front desk for recycling

Our team typically stays at more than 50 different hotels every year. The past year has been notably quiet, of course, but with new dates announced for physical conferences and trade shows, I’m sure we’ll be able to set a new high.

While everyone is eager to go back on the road again to ‘normal’ business life, I’ve been thinking about what hotels actually do for recycling. And, no, I’m not talking about those notices plastered on the bathroom wall enthusiastically stating that reusing towels saves the planet.

The global hotel market boasts around four million rooms worldwide and it’s a profitable industry. Marriott International tops the list with an annual revenue of more than US$ 10.5 billion (EUR 8.8 billon) with the Hilton second on about US$ 4.5 billion (EUR 3.7 billion) per year.

It stands to reason that launching a take-back scheme for used sheets, bathrobes and electronics should certainly be possible. Where do all those flatscreens go once they start to flicker, for example? I know that LG Electronics has partnered with Hilton in a corporate-wide recycling scheme to handle TVs considered ‘out of date’. The pilot project kicked off at its 378-room Newark Airport hotel in late 2018 and has enabled LG to recycle approximately 25 000 tonnes of used electronics annually in the US alone.

Other parties getting involved include major producers such as Samsung (which launched a buy-back scheme in 2015) and Philips. Most hotels tend to rely on well established regional collection services to pick up e-scrap and other items.

Meanwhile, plastics recycling at hotels has been gaining momentum. Earlier this month, cosmetics brand Molton Brown launched a recycling scheme for its hotel amenities. Its new ‘Collect To Recycle’ initiative provides branded bins for used shampoo and soap bottles. These are then collected by a recycling company which cleans and recycles the bottles, pumps and caps into plastic resin.

Even small personal hygiene products such as soap can be given a new lease of life. US firm Clean The World has taken it upon itself to collect used bars of soap from hotels across the country with significant results: it has recycled 63 million bars over the last 11 years. ‘Renewed’ soap bars have served 50 million citizens in more than 127 countries with many sent to homeless shelters, refugee camps and emergency healthcare facilities during the pandemic. 

These days, I make most reservations online, as do millions of travellers. A recent study by Booking.com found that demand for sustainable accommodation is growing: 83% of global travellers think sustainable travel is ‘vital’ with 61% saying the pandemic has made them want to travel more sustainably in the future. 

I’m curious to see how major hotels, producers and waste management services will put their heads together to make recycling a top priority, just like room service!

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