As the world becomes ecologically sensitive, an increasing number of conscientious luxury hotels are going the no plastic route.
By: Bindu Gopal Rao
Posted on: March 20, 2023
The pandemic afforded us a lot of time to relax, indulge, reignite hobbies, and more importantly, think. Think about where we are, what are we doing, and why. With travel at a complete halt, luxury hotels did the same. They renovated, reassessed their strategies, and realigned themselves to the planet. They are taking the ‘rush’ out of travel, and replacing it with slow, continuous learning. Taking care of their surrounding ecology is one aspect in that strategy. The first step? Banning single use plastics.
The gardens and lawns of The Anam are watered with recycled laundry water.
When The Anam Mui Ne opened in Vietnam in January this year, they did it with a ban on single-use plastics. They implemented the same policy at their older property - The Anam Cam Ranh. Recycled glass bottles have replaced plastic water bottles, rice flour straws are served instead of plastic straws, and bamboo amenities - such as bamboo toothbrushes and bamboo bags - are offered for daily tasks.
“Our straws, bags, and amenities are all biodegradable. The Anam Cam Ranh’s water filtration plant supplies water for 240 recycled glass bottles per day, thus eliminating the use of an estimated 87,600 single-use plastic bottles annually,” says Laurent Myter, General Manager, The Anam Group. He continues, “At both The Anam Cam Ranh and The Anam Mui Ne, we have rolled out an eco-friendly key card, made of wood sourced from sustainably managed forests, that its guests use to access their accommodations. The wooden key cards are non-toxic and biodegrade easily, they look much more high-end than the old plastic cards, and the chip inside is stronger; you only have to hold the wooden key card near the door for the door to open whereas with the old plastic cards you had to actually touch the door with the card to open the door.”
Bathroom amenities at Anam are presented in ceramic bottles.
Tourism, like any other industry, receives criticism for its perceived threat to the environment, as it ‘intrudes’ into ecologically sensitive regions and biodiversity hotspots, consumes local resources, and generates undesirable waste. CGH Earth, on the other hand, sees tourism as a tool for creating awareness about the environmental principles of recycling, reusing, and reducing; waste, water, and sewage management, reducing single-use plastic and energy conservation among other things.
A water bottling plant by CGH.
“Our greatest achievement in reducing plastic has been in reducing packaged plastic bottles for drinking water. We have been one of the first to have started providing treated water in sterilized glass bottles in 2013. By what we were able to achieve in this regard, we have also been able to influence others to take this step. Today more than 300,000 packaged plastic bottles have been replaced annually with sterilised glass bottles of drinking water across the group. Plastic packaging by supply vendors is discouraged, instead, they are encouraged to package material in reusable containers/jars, and where they have not been able to convert to jars they are advised to use larger packaging vs smaller single-use plastics. CGH Earth has taken a brand-level decision to not use small plastic containers to keep toiletries like shampoo and shower gel, and instead uses clay and ceramic ware reusable containers. By doing so, we have been able to remove 50,400 plastic bottles of 35 ml size annually,” says Mridula Jose, Vice President, Marketing & Product Development, CGH Earth.
Paper and bamboo straws, and wooden skewers and stirrers at CGH Earth properties.
Pimalai Resort and Spa in Koh Lanta, Thailand, has taken similar steps, where they have eliminated plastic straws, plastic toothbrushes, plastic cotton buds, plastic bags, plastic water bottles, plastic amenities bottles and replaced them with sugar cane straws, bamboo toothbrush, paper cotton buds, paper bags, glass water bottles, ceramic amenities bottles.
Big hotel groups such as Marriott, Taj, Hilton and Hyatt have also started moving in the direction – although it’s a slower transition for them due to the sheer number of properties they operate.
Pimalai Resort & Spa in Thailand has also eliminated plastic amenities and replaced them with sugar cane, bamboo, paper, glass and ceramic materials.
According to Earth.org, the world generates 300 million tonnes of plastic waste a year. More than eight million tonnes of this plastic finds its way to the ocean – covering 40% of its surface. This further leads to the death of 100,000 marine animals each year due to plastic entanglement. If this doesn’t scare you, then know that humans, that is you and me, ingest about five grams of plastic every week – which is equivalent to half a bowl of rice in weight.
It’s imperative that the world, and travel players, need to eliminate plastic use. The tricky part is finding conscientious vendors that follow sustainability standards. CGH Earth – which has hyperlocal high-end resorts in the interiors of India – has associated with local villagers, vendors, and experts in varying capacities across all properties and has been able to build a mutually beneficial ecosystem that protects the environment, benefits the community, and makes good business sense.
Hiran Cooray, Chairman of Jetwing Symphony PLC, and The Lighthouse Hotel PLC says, “We work with several suppliers to obtain our sustainable plastic alternatives, ranging from large to small-scale enterprises. While the glass bottles are all purchased centrally for the group, wooden cocktail stirrers are mostly purchased by our resorts from local suppliers. Jetwing Hotels has also partnered with artists and artisans where possible to provide them a platform to showcase their sustainable products such as vibrant table mats and coasters made from old newspapers.” Jetwings and Lighthouse operate multiple hotels in Sri Lanka.
“Reducing single-use items in operations is not only good for the environment but also good for the financial bottom line."
Jetwing Hotels use local suppliers for sustainable plastic alternatives.
Doing the Math
The approach to reducing plastic use at African Bush Camps is based on a simple calculation. On a single day, one guest consumes about four 500 ml of plastic bottled water (or two litres a day). “With an average stay in our camps of six nights per guest (50,000 bed nights a year), this is 200,000 plastic bottles per year. We have replaced single-use plastic bottles by providing guests with a reusable metal water bottle upon arrival which we refill when they need drinking water. We have moved to canned sparkling water instead of plastic bottled water and these cans are recycled after use. We are using biodegradable foam packing for takeaway meals. Our approach and commitment to having plastic-free camps and a zero plastic bottle policy is contributing to 200,000 fewer plastic bottles making their way to landfills and, in some areas, the national parks,” says Koinonia Baloyi, Communications and Fundraising Officer of the African Bush Camps Foundation (ABCF).
The idea that sustainability is expensive is a common misconception and an oversimplification. While some sustainability initiatives, including the elimination of single-use plastics and finding new suppliers, can incur an initial capital, there is a pay off in being able to reuse material and not simply discard after each use. Ibrahim Nawaf, Cluster CSR & Sustainability Manager, JOALI Maldives and JOALI BEING explains, “Reducing single-use items in operations is not only good for the environment but also good for the financial bottom line. Whilst the cost of items might be slightly higher to have single-use plastic free items, over the long run, reusable items have a better return on investment. Also, less waste leads to less cost.”
“We are already seeing the benefits of reusing plastic at one of our schools in Zimbabwe where we have built a kitchen using plastic bottles filled with river sand.”
Consumers are becoming increasingly conscious of their choices and are willing to take steps to reduce their carbon footprint. “They are willing to pay a little extra for eco-friendly options, recognizing the impact of their actions on the environment. However, it is important to note that in some cases, accessibility and availability of sustainable alternatives may pose a challenge, which may impact the financial bottom line in the short term,” says Akash Garg, CMD, Moksha Himalaya Spa Resort. However, he went on to reiterate the resort’s commitment to sustainability and environmental responsibility, recognizing the potential long-term benefits for both the business and the planet. “Our goal is to be carbon positive and sustainable in all our operations,” Mr. Garg said.
Reduce, Recycle & Reuse
It is not possible to completely reverse a century-old habit of using plastic. For example, Charintip Tiyaphorn, owner of Pimalai Resort and Spa, says, “We eliminated all single use plastics - except cling film wrap and plastic food bags, which is the best way to preserve food. Switching to natural food storage materials will result in more food wastes.” So when plastic has to be used, the travel industry is trying to recycle and reuse plastic for further benefits.
Upcycled festive decor at a CGH property.
ABCF, for instance, is in the process of compacting plastic into bricks that can be used to build schools and classrooms. “We are already seeing the benefits of reusing plastic at one of our schools in Zimbabwe where we have built a kitchen using plastic bottles filled with river sand,” admits Ms. Baloyi.
CGH Earth resorts upcycle waste material to create festive décor for use in their properties. It replaces plastic ornaments and other decorative materials that one would otherwise buy from the market. Reusable cloth bags are used as bin liners in guest rooms.
At the end of the day, switching gears towards a no plastic policy has a threefold benefit – people, planet, and prosperity – that is impossible to argue against. Plastic, when invented in 1907, revolutionised the world with its ease of use and manufacture. The world craved it then. However, it’s time to declutter the globe of plastic. And it starts with one straw at a time.