The dirty secret of the Hospitality industry: Single Use Plastics

Jul 25, 2022

On a holiday in my beloved Spain, in the northern city of Bilbao I was delighted to see the hotel I had booked did not offer single use toiletries.. Amazing! I was thrilled. 

I know for the majority of people this might seem an insignificant or trivial thing to get excited about, but when you work in the world of environmentalism, and you see the figures I see on a weekly basis regarding discarded mini toiletries alone, this is significant.

Single use plastics in hotels are a far larger issue than most people would like to believe. To a customer, opening a mini bottle of shampoo, or an individually wrapped ketchup sachet, or a mini jam at their breakfast seems like a very small thing. It is just one item, isn’t it? What harm can it do?

The tip of the iceberg

According to STR Global (American based company that tracks global data), there are nearly 200,000 hotels in the world. This number does not include guest houses, B&B’s or hostels so the real number is much larger.

Hypothetically, let's say that every hotel accommodates an average of 100 people per night. This is not science but just an example, I suspect that the average could be far more than that.

Now let’s imagine that each customer during their stay uses just 3 single use items from their room or breakfast buffet.

This estimation would mean that in one day, hotels around the world discard 60,000,000 pieces of plastic into the environment. 60 million in just one day, and that is a very low estimate.

Apart from the fact that this amount of plastic, daily, is totally unsustainable to deal with, we also have a further two more problems:

1. Most of those items are not recyclable, as they may still contain residue of shampoo, soap, sauce, etc.          and so potentially these can end up in landfill waste.

2. Even those items that are recyclable, the reality is recycling as such is not working with our current waste      management systems.

"Currently Ireland recycles approximately 30% of all plastics in use in the country. Recycling targets for packaging are very challenging, by 2025 the target set by the EU is to recycle 50% of all plastic and by 2030 55%. All of us play a part in helping Ireland achieve the EU and national targets. You can play your part by ensuring all soft plastic is now placed in the recycling bin clean, dry and loose." (


A worldwide problem

The reality is, that only 30% of all the plastic created since 1950 is still in use, and out of the 8.3 billion metric tonnes of plastic that has been created in the last 60 years, only 9% of it has been recycled.

Statistics like this are not to place blame or shame on the Hospitality industry. Tourism has played an integral part in all of the lives of the team of Fifty Shades Greener. For Raquel alone, it has been her for the past 20 years. However, it doesn't take away from the fact that these figures need to be highlighted, they need to be talked about so people can start realising that what seems like a small action, like using or providing mini toiletries and other single use items, have enormous consequences for our environment.

Hotels need to change their mindset

Back to the hotel room in Bilbao. Unfortunately upon further inspection of her room Raquel found a tray containing at least 20 single use plastic items.

The tray contained a number of amenities that she personally had not seen in hotels in Ireland for a long, long time. There were plastic razors, tooth brushes, cotton buds, a sewing kit and even a hair comb! Located next to the tray she also found that the glasses provided for brushing your teeth were plastic. Each item, came wrapped in another layer of plastic, which is not recyclable at all!

To say this collection of items was heart breaking, will be an exaggeration for most people, but for Raquel and the FSG team, it really was shocking to find that hotels are still promoting the use of these items.

Raquel posted a picture of these single use plastics on Facebook, mainly because she was quite disturbed by it and she wanted to raise awareness. We normally do not post negative comments about places we visit; we would rather take the approach to champion those that do well, rather than highlight those that don’t.

But on this occasion, she felt she had no choice.

The response from the hotel came a day later, and here are the reasons they gave for having these amenities:

  1. Clients keep asking for these items and therefore they feel they need to provide them
  2. Providing plastic glasses is better for them as they experience less breakages.
  3. They also use less water and soap by not having to clean real glasses daily... but the best one of them all....
  4. Hygiene reasons - 'Who knows how many people have previously drank from these real glasses'  was their actual response.....!

We were more flabbergasted by their answer than from the issue itself! For us, it seems like a range of invalid excuses. To say it is more hygienic to provide plastics glasses is an out right lie, if that was the case, should we expect plastic glasses to be used in restaurants and pubs?

So if your business is in a similar situation, and you really want to start making a change and reduce your production of plastic here are some things you can do:

  • ALWAYS provide real glasses and crockery (for tea/coffee) in your bedrooms. Washing them daily is easy, is do-able, and in-excusable not to.
  • If you feel the need to provide extra amenities like tooth brushes or combs, place a card in your bedrooms explaining to your customers that these extra amenities are available at reception. Explain you are trying to abolish plastic in your hotel to protect the environment and that bamboo tooth brushes and combs are available to be purchased or on request. You can even get your logo printed on these durable items and people can keep them and bring them home to be reused.
  • Replace individually package breakfast items with ramekins or small bowls containing sugar, butter, jam, etc
  • Look at everything you put in front of your clients, from the offerings in your bedrooms, to your reception area, breakfast, bar & restaurant. Make a list of all those things that are single use plastics, go at your own pace, and start phasing them out one by one, replacing them with durable re-usable products.

Change is possible.

Change is doable.

But WE, as Hospitality managers and owners, need to lead the change from within.

If you are interested in starting your own green journey at your business then check out our Green Business programme, which is fully funded in Ireland by the Kildare & Wicklow educational training board and therefore free to ALL Irish hospitality businesses!

Is your business outside of Ireland? Not to worry, get in touch with me on [email protected]

Thank you for reading today!

 The FSG Team 💚



50% Complete

Two Step

Lorem ipsum dolor sit amet, consectetur adipiscing elit, sed do eiusmod tempor incididunt ut labore et dolore magna aliqua.