Are Mini Shampoo Bottles the New Plastic Straw?

Now that the hotel industry has largely embraced bans on plastic straws, one major hotel group aims to eliminate the next set of plastic targets: mini bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotion and the like.

On Tuesday, July 30, IHG will announce it plans to replace all “bathroom miniatures” with bulk supplies across all of its 17 brands, including Holiday Inn Hotels and Resorts and InterContinental Hotels & Resorts. The decision will affect 843,000 guest rooms in more than 5,600 hotels during 2021.

“Today’s customers and colleagues expect us to have less impact on the environment,” said Keith Barr, the chief executive of IHG. He called the company’s plastic straw ban, which was announced in October 2018, to be a first step in a wider sustainability program. “This, to me, was the next logical step.”

While IHG is the first company to issue the brand-wide ban, many hotels already use refillable dispensers of personal care products, often associated with affordable hotels, rather than single-use items.

“Budget hotels have always been more likely to have bulk shampoo and conditioner dispensers in the shower, and some also have them by the sink. The reason is cost,” said Henry H. Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst and the president of Atmosphere Research Group. “It costs them less to install and service these bulk dispensers than providing individual cakes of soap and bottles of shampoo, conditioner and the like.”

Mr. Barr acknowledge the savings in costs to hotel operations, but framed it as a win-win that, “makes environmental and commercial sense,” he said.

The hurdle may be convincing an InterContinental guest to accept a bulk dispenser in the bath as better than the mini bottle of high-end shampoo. Some luxury travel companies have been moving in that direction. The luxury cruise line Lindblad Expeditions uses refillable dispensers for soap, shampoo and other liquid products on all of its ships, including the upcoming National Geographic Endurance, launching in April 2020. The Waldorf Astoria Maldives Ithaafushi, which opened July 1, offers Salvatore Ferragamo bathroom amenities in refillable marble containers. In Namibia, the Beyond Sossusvlei Desert Lodge, opening in October, plans to put bath products in bulk glass bottles.

Several IHG brands already offer bulk bathroom amenities, including the high-end Six Senses Hotels Resorts Spas, which IHG acquired earlier this year, where bathrooms are fitted with refillable ceramic dispensers. It also furnishes bathroom products in bulk at its wellness-centered Even, mid-scale Avid and new upscale Voco hotels.

The mini bottle ban is the latest salvo in an escalating battle against plastic waste. Municipalities and companies are making moves — like San Francisco’s initiative to ban the sale of plastic water bottles on city property and IKEA’s commitment to ditch single-use plastic plates, cups and cutlery in its houseware lines and in-store cafes. In the travel industry, major hotel groups, including Marriott International and Hilton, have pledged to rid their properties of plastic straws. Airlines including American, Delta and United have done the same in their airplanes.

Following IHG’s move to ban personal products in mini plastic bottles, others may be forced to follow. The California Legislature is currently considering Assembly Bill 1162, which would prohibit hotels, beginning in 2023, from providing miniature plastic bottles of personal care products.

According to the World Bank, some 242 million tons of plastic waste was produced in 2016 and this waste is projected to grow to 3.4 billion tons in 2050. The World Economic Forum found at least 8 million tons of plastics end up in the ocean annually, and that only 14 percent of plastic packaging material globally is collected for recycling.

To Mr. Barr, the green swap is worth any disappointment on the part of travelers who may miss taking home their freebie bottles of Agraria shampoo from an InterContinental resort or Beekman 1802 lotion from a Crowne Plaza hotel.

“I’m sure I will get some emails from some customers, but I’m betting I’ll get more thank you’s for taking a step forward and having a positive effect on the environment,” he said.

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