by Annabel Fenwick Elliott, The Telegraph, April 17, 2019
Imagine if supermarket-bought shampoo only existed in miniature bottles, and that every single morning after your shower you chucked the bottle away (empty or not) and replaced it with a new one. Or that spaghetti came in single-use, one-serving packages. Or that wine could only be sold in plastic thimbles.
How absurdly wasteful, costly and impractical.
Yet each year, hotels all over the world toss millions of half-full mini toiletry bottles into the bin. This not only contributes to the very serious issue of what to do with all our excess plastic, but laughs in the face of another problem: that there are plenty of people on this planet in desperate need of the soap we're throwing in landfills.
It’s encouraging to see, therefore, that California is considering a statewide ban on mini toiletries in a bid to tackle plastic waste. The bill was introduced in February and approved by the State Assembly, leaving it up to Governor Gavin Newsom to decide whether to pass it as a new law.
If so, hotels and other “lodging establishments” in the Golden State would be prohibited from offering amenities in plastic bottles sized 340ml or under, or face a fine of up to $2,000. The legislation, if approved, would come into play at the start of 2023.
The best replacement, in lieu of personal-sized products, would be refillable bulk dispensers, the likes of which you'll often find in gyms and spas.
For hotels, a cheaper and easier option.
For guests, of course, that means no more suitcase-stashing of tiny, fancy bathroom goods - an act enduringly irresistible to the best of us. I say an act, not a crime, because though it might feel surreptitious, it’s no loss to the hotel given half-empties are destined for the bin regardless.
I myself have a small arsenal of teeny lotions and potions stowed under my sink at home; soapy souvenirs from various resorts over the years, all of which I was sure would come in handy someday.
I only recently questioned exactly what it was I was preparing for (a four-day sojourn to a place where showers exist but not soap?) before deciding to stop buying shampoo at home for a while and use up my stash instead.
The aforementioned bulk dispensers are one solution several major hotel brands have indeed taken up in recent years. Again, encouraging.
Marriott made the switch from miniature toiletries to refillable wall-fixed dispensers in 2018 across more than 450 properties after revealing that an average hotel gets through upwards of 23,000 small bottles a year. The Hoxton, which has properties in Shoreditch, Holborn and Amsterdam, has followed suit.
There are other initiatives underway too, which seek to redistribute half-used bathroom products to those in need. Clean the World is one such organisation. Its founder Shawn Seipler told Telegraph Travel: “I once called the front desk of a hotel and asked them what happened to the soap when I was done with it. Of course they said ‘well we throw it away’.”
Seipler concluded that more than 2 million half-used bars of soap were being sent to landfill daily across the planet; and that poor sanitation was killing millions of people in the developing world.
In 2009, he started collecting, sterilising and recycling leftover toiletries from Florida hotels and shipping them off to hospitals and care centres in countries that needed them. Thus far, hotel partners include Hilton, Disney and IHG - and more than 48 million bars of soap have been sent to 127 countries, and counting. Closer to home, Beauty Banks re-distributes unneeded bathroom products to homeless shelters around the UK.
As for you, the consumer, if you’ve ever felt bad about squirrelling free holiday miniatures, don’t: take them home and either use or donate them. And to hotels: the time has surely come to break this particular bad habit. Bring in the big bottles.