Last week, it was announced that hotels in the European Union might soon be banned from supplying miniature bottles of shampoo, body lotion and shower gel. But how much of a difference to the planet will the change make? And when will Australia follow suit?
The plan would mean that either EU hotels would swap their mini toiletry bottles for large, refillable bottles or that guests would source their own toiletries. The move is part of the European Green Deal’s Circular Economy Action Plan, which aims to make all packaging recyclable by 2030.
“Packaging is one of the main users of virgin materials as 40% of plastics and 50% of paper used in the EU is destined for packaging,” a report from the Commission states.
“Without action, the EU would see a further 19% increase in packaging waste by 2030, and for plastic packaging waste even a 46% increase. The new rules aim to stop this trend. For consumers, they will ensure reusable packaging options, get rid of unnecessary packaging, limit overpackaging, and provide clear labels to support correct recycling.”
The report goes on to say that for the industry, the new rules will create new business opportunities, particularly for smaller companies, as well as decrease the need for virgin materials, boosting Europe’s recycling capacity and making countries in the EU less dependent on primary resources and external suppliers.
The proposal will be considered by the European Parliament and the Council before it’s implemented, should it be approved.
The US state of California passed the same proposed law in 2019, with the ban applying to hotels with more than 50 rooms, starting from 2023, and those with fewer than 50 rooms in 2024. Violators would be fined USD $500 for a first offence and USD $2000 for subsequent violations.
Marriott International announced it planned to stop using small plastic bottles in its hotel rooms by December 2020 and IHG, which owns Holiday Inn, Kimpton and other brands, said it would eliminate about 200 million small bottles by 2021.
So, how much of a difference will the change make to our planet, anyway? Well, it depends. In an article for The Conversation published in 2019, Professor of Engineering at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), Yossi Sheffi, pointed out that net reduction in discarded plastic could be minimal at best if the larger containers are filled from single-use plastic pouches.
“Also, we do not yet know if the larger containers are recyclable, nor the cost and environmental impacts of making, transporting, installing and maintaining them,” he wrote.
“Even if replacing miniature toiletries does reduce waste somewhat — as other hotel chains join the movement and California moves to ban them — a transition to bulk products will barely put a dent in the plastic waste that now clogs the planet’s rivers and oceans.”
Sheffi parallels the banning of single-use hotel toiletries with the banning of plastic straws, which, he says, has virtually no impact on the global accumulation of plastic garbage.
It’s worth noting that Sheffi’s comments are on individual hotels or hotel chains making the decision to ban the products — this proposal would make the change applicable to a lot more hotels, which would undoubtedly make more of a dent in the world’s plastic waste. Here’s to hoping, anyway.