A welcome sign: Hotels adopt reuse and recycling

At most hotels, waste is created at upwards of 1 kg per guest per night - a large amount when multiplied by the number of hotels and guests around the world.

At most hotels, waste is created at upwards of 1 kg per guest per night - a large amount when multiplied by the number of hotels and guests around the world. But many hoteliers are responding to the waste challenge.

by Claire Baker

Whether a hotel is situated in a busy city centre or in a remote and pristine beach resort, there are a number of environmental and social issues to contend with, not least of them being how to deal with the waste created by daily operations. Since, generally speaking, waste has to be paid for twice - once in the form of packaging and again for disposal - it makes good business sense to create as little as possible in the first place. Aside from the costs of waste disposal, there are other headaches for hotels. In most hotel buildings, as much space as possible is usually allocated to front-of-house areas such as the reception, lobby, restaurant and banqueting facilities. This leaves minimal space back-of-house for waste to be stored and sorted. There are also other factors to take into account, such as health and safety and the noise created by waste compaction and collection.

Much of the waste created in hotels stems from either food- and beverage-handling (generating materials such as packaging and food waste, aluminium cans, glass bottles, corks and cooking oils), or from the housekeeping department (creating waste such as cleaning materials and plastic packaging). Waste is not only created in guest rooms but also in public areas, hotel gardens (anything from engine oils, pesticides, paints and preservatives to grass and hedge trimmings) and offices (toner cartridges, paper and cardboard waste). Regular refurbishment adds TVs, minibars, carpets, towels and linens, and much else into the equation.

Reduce, reuse and recycle

Wherever possible, waste elimination at source must be a hotel’s number-one priority. This involves decisions such as whether to provide soap and other guest amenities in dispensers rather than as individually wrapped items, whether to purchase food items and cleaning chemicals in bulk containers, and how to serve butter and jam at the breakfast table. A major way in which many hotels reduce waste at source is by running towel and linen reuse programmes. Inviting guests to hang their towels back on the rack for reuse, or not to have their bed linen changed every day, can save enormous quantities of water, energy, detergent and, of course, the detergent packaging that ends up as waste.


Executive Chef John Cordeaux at the Fairmont Royal York in Toronto harvests organic basil from the rooftop herb garden. The herbs are fertilized with compost made from the hotel’s kitchen food waste Click here to enlarge image

Providing soap and shampoo in dispensers is common practice within international hotels and also smaller establishments. In Swaffham, Norfolk, UK, Strattons Hotel found that when it used 25 ml luxury miniature guest bathroom amenities, only 30% of the product was used and the rest was consigned to waste. As a result, the hotel now supplies soap and shampoo in dispensers. On the catering front, the Grecotel chain in Greece has successfully eliminated much of its packaging waste. As far back as 1997, their use of individually packaged portions of jam and butter at breakfast buffets was reduced by 90% over 1993 levels. They also eliminated the need to dispose of plastic water bottles by switching to returnable and reusable glass bottles. Increasingly, hotels are also working with their suppliers and persuading them to take packaging away with them on delivery.


Compactors in use at the hotels of Hilton UK and Ireland. photo: environmental waste controls Click here to enlarge image

Having addressed waste at source, the next step is to put appropriate systems in place to identify how the remaining waste can be redeployed. Many properties within Carlson Hotels Worldwide and Radisson Hotels & Resorts, Marriott International and Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, for example, donate untouched food from catering displays and trolleys, unwanted bed linens, mending kits and bathroom amenities to community projects including homeless or women’s shelters, orphanages, homes for the elderly and drug rehabilitation centres, working directly or through charitable organizations. Other beneficiaries include armed forces overseas and victims of hurricanes and other natural disasters. At Taj Hotels and Resorts, unwanted linen, toiletries, uniforms, crockery, carpets and blankets - even kitchen and computer equipment and unclaimed articles from ‘lost and found’ - are all donated to charitable organizations.


Divided waste baskets in use at Hilton International properties. Waste from guest rooms can be sorted at source into divided housekeeping trolleys Click here to enlarge image

Any waste that cannot be reused needs to be sorted into its component fractions so that as much as possible can be recovered for recycling. Some hotel groups, such as Hilton International and Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, include divided waste baskets at source so that the separation process can start in the room. Housekeeping trolleys are similarly divided to speed up the process. Overall, Fairmont has a target to reduce its landfill waste by 50% and paper use by 20%. Many of the company’s North American properties, such as the Fairmont Vancouver Airport and Toronto’s Fairmont Royal York Hotel, are already exceeding that landfill diversion goal by 72% and 67%, respectively. All the company’s hotels that have access to commercial recycling divert glass, aluminium, plastic, newspaper and cardboard, while used soaps and amenities are sent to shelter programmes or to companies making niche laundry and car-wash products. Disposable products are also being phased out of all the company’s food and beverage outlets.

Organic waste

Many resort-based hotels, and those with sufficient space outside, compost their organic waste. For food safety and hygiene issues, it is essential that collections of putrescible waste, which cannot be composted, are carried out at least on a daily basis. Composting of organic kitchen waste is widespread throughout the Taj Group in India and within Fairmont Hotels in Canada, where several establishments now compost up to 12% of their organic waste. The Fairmont Royal York, for example, home of Canada’s largest hotel kitchen, composts coffee grounds and vegetable waste for use in the hotel’s rooftop herb garden - one of eight organic kitchen gardens across the company. Over 1000 kg of food waste is collected daily from the hotel by Turtle Island Recycling, which sterilizes it to make fertilizer.

Another way of dealing with kitchen and garden waste is using it as feed for biogas plants. Interested guests at Taj Hotels’ Jai Mahal Palace in Jaipur, Rajasthan in India, are actually taken on a tour of the biogas plant which is fed by their kitchen and garden waste. In Sweden, the Hilton Stockholm Slussen sends its organic waste to a biogas plant, and an increasing number of Hilton and Scandic company cars are run on biogas. ‘To change from fossil to renewable fuel is crucial for mankind and for us. It is important to act as we speak,’ says Jan Peter Bergkvist, Director of Environmental Sustainability at Hilton and Scandic, who himself drives a Volvo V 70 Bi-fuel.

Good practice by large and small establishments

Waste management is not new to the operating agenda of hotels, and for many it is part of their overall environmental management system (EMS). In 1992, some of the world’s leading international hotel groups joined forces to form the International Hotels Environment Initiative (IHEI), with the aim of sharing expertise and resources to address environmental issues such as energy and water consumption and waste disposal. Their efforts continue today through the Tourism Partnership, a programme of The Prince of Wales International Business Leaders Forum (IBLF). Groups such as Hilton International, Rezidor SAS Hospitality, Taj Hotels and Marriott International all have sophisticated waste management programmes in place as part of their EMS programmes. For example, in April 2005, Hilton UK & Ireland announced a £7 million (€10 million) long-term agreement with specialist provider Environmental Waste Controls (EWC) to enhance its waste management and recycling programme across all of its UK and Irish hotels. The programme creates a single point of management for all waste and recycling activities across the Group.

It is not only the large international groups that are focused on good practice when it comes to waste management. In the Stellenbosch-Winelands of South Africa, Spier Leisure and Winecorp SA (a 155-room hotel and property development with six restaurants, conference facilities, golf course and retail outfits, along with a winery with vineyards and a bottling plant) operate an on-site waste-recycling programme. Solid waste - including vegetable matter, paper, plastic, tins, bottles and other rubbish - is sorted into separate bins for recycling. Food-based waste is given to a local pig-farming co-operative for feed and all other recyclable material is resold to commercial recycling companies. In addition, all Spier Leisure’s used cooking oil is collected and recycled. Over the last fiscal year, Spier Leisure and Winecorp SA generated 381,164 kg of solid waste. Of this, 229,143 kg - or 60% - was recycled.

At Lovat and Queens Hotels in Perth, Scotland, staff pride themselves on never sending anything to landfill. Menus are reused as scrap paper, and cloths and curtains are all recycled. Partially used guest soaps and shampoos, together with used plastic cups, are donated to the Salvation Army in Perth. The Tayside Furniture Project collects unwanted quality furniture and passes the items to needy families in the area. Also in Scotland, at the Poole House Hotel in Poolewe, Scotland, old newspapers are pulped and made into ‘logs’ to burn in winter.

Global good practice

Although waste is clearly a big issue for hoteliers, examples of good waste management practice can be found across the hospitality industry. They range from environmentally enlightened individuals at small establishments ‘doing their bit’, to well orchestrated systems within international groups. What many of them share is the knowledge that landfill capacity around the world is diminishing as rapidly as the costs are escalating, that incineration is not always an option, and that waste legislation is becoming increasingly tough. In addition, many items that are thrown away can have an afterlife when reused or recycled into something else. Let’s hope that the industry can continue to be adept at finding solutions to its waste problems, and that these areas of good practice can be consolidated throughout the world.

Claire Baker is Editor of the international Green Hotelier magazine, a quarterly publication on environmentally and socially responsible practice within the hotel and wider tourism industry.
e-mail: cjb@atlas.co.uk
web: www.greenhotelier.org

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Hilton Tokyo Bay, Japan

Since the Hilton Tokyo Bay began its solid waste management recycling programme, it has saved more than Y50 million (€365,900) - despite an 8% rise in disposal costs over the period. In 1998, the recycling rate was 45%; the hotel has improved this each year to a current rate of 48.9% by constantly looking for new items to recycle. Associates even found a company to recycle the used wooden chopsticks from the hotel’s Chinese and Japanese restaurants. Composting is practised, and waste is separated into 15 separate categories for recycling.


A special device made by staff enables toilet tissue from rolls too small to be used in guest rooms to be wound together for reuse Click here to enlarge image

In order to improve the recycling rate from guest rooms, the engineering department designed a special ‘Hilton’ recycling container for housekeeping. It has been so successful that the company that manufactured the containers now offers them to other hotel companies. The department also worked with housekeeping to design and make a device for winding together unused toilet tissue from rolls too small to use in guest rooms so that it would not be wasted.


Even used wooden chopsticks from the hotel’s restaurants are collected for recycling Click here to enlarge image

Cardboard has been eliminated wherever possible and replaced with plastic reusable boxes. In many cases, the hotel has purchased its own boxes for its suppliers to use.
More information: Chris Bannister
e-mail: chris.bannister@hilton.com

Dealing with waste glass bottles, UK

Handling thousands of empty glass bottles a day can be hazardous for hotel and restaurant staff. Some of London’s premier hotels, pubs and clubs are separating their waste glass containers safely and quickly at source, and crushing them on site with the Silipaktor glass compactor from Glass Compaction Services Ltd (GCS), a company specializing in the compaction, collection and recycling of glass.


The Silipaktor’s 240-litre bins each hold 290 kg of cullet, which equates to approximately 650 wine bottles of 750ml Click here to enlarge image

Putting glass through a general waste compactor reduces its efficiency by as much as half. This also usually means that the material will not be recycled, because once waste is mixed at source, recycling is no longer an option. Ordinary compactors are not designed to compact glass, which can be a robust material when surrounded by, for example, paper and cardboard. The Silipaktor enables an existing compactor to operate more efficiently, reducing general waste costs.

Bottles of any colour can be poured into the machine straight from the container in which they were collected without the need to sort them. This saves staff time and cuts the risk of accidents, as there is no need to handle the bottles. It also saves money by reducing the number of bins emptied - and therefore the number of collections - and by ensuring that the glass collected is sent for recycling rather than to landfill. Other benefits include a reduction in noise levels as it is considerably quieter to remove compacted glass cullet than dealing with whole bottles.

GCS provides a waste collection service either through the local authority or through its waste management contractor, which empties the special GCS bins. Claridge’s, The Dorchester, the Mandarin Oriental Hyde Park, The Ritz and Lloyds of London are all users.
More information: Andrew Mackenzie
e-mail: amackenzie@glasscompactionservices.co.uk

Improving waste management in Side, Turkey

Tour operators and their local partners bring around 300,000 tourists to Side on the southern coast of Turkey each year. In 2002, Side, which had been having a waste problem for the previous decade, was the first destination in which members of the Tour Operators Initiative (TOI) for Sustainable Development forged a partnership with local stakeholders.


The landfill site outside Side during construction Click here to enlarge image

After interviewing local stakeholders and TOI members about what they perceived to be the threats to sustainability in Side, a multi-stakeholder workshop was organized with the support of VASCO Travel, and the local hotel association TUDER. Among the priority actions agreed was waste management - with a focus on waste separation and recycling - combined with education and training on sustainable tourism in hotels, bars and restaurants.

A detailed plan of action was developed at follow-up meetings and a locally based co-ordinator was appointed, financed by the Side administration and TUDER. Over the next three years, a waste separation scheme (including organic and recyclable waste) was implemented for the entire Side municipality involving around 100 hotels, shops in the old town, local schools, residents and tourists. Training sessions were held for hotel and apartment hotel staff, sanitation workers, the bar and members of the restaurant association. Hotels, restaurants and bars promote the scheme with signs, and the local recycling company carries them on its vehicles.

A new landfill area 30 km from Side commenced operation in 2004. This replaced the previous dumping site in the Side sand dune area, which was considered to be too near the archaeological sites and the hotel zone. The new landfill has an expected life of 35 years, and includes waste separation and composting areas as well as facilities for treating leaking wastewater.
More information: Stefanos Fotiou
web: www.toinitiative.org