Why reduce waste?
It is increasingly difficult and expensive to dispose of waste
A hotel guest generates about 1kg (2lb) of waste per night, more than half of it in paper, plastic and cardboard. In addition to negative environmental impact, as landfill capacity diminishes, so the cost of waste disposal becomes more expensive. In the UK, for example, landfilling costs are now £48 per tonne (1.1 tons) compared to £18 a tonne in 2005.
It creates huge environmental problems
Landfilling not only takes up valuable land space but causes air, water and soil pollution, discharging carbon dioxide (CO2) and methane into the atmosphere and chemicals and pesticides into the earth and groundwater. In addition, waste often has to travel long distances to the landfill site, consuming fuel and contributing to greenhouse gas emissions.
To meet tougher government legislation
National and local governments are introducing more stringent requirements with regards to waste disposal to landfill and recycling, and the hotel industry must respond to these high green standards.
It is an inefficient resource use
Often it is more resource-efficient to make new products by recycling rather than starting from scratch. For example, recycling used aluminium tins into new tins requires 95% less energy than processing bauxite ore into aluminium. Many discarded materials, such as furniture and food, also have value.
It makes good business sense
- When supplies are used more efficiently, it saves money on raw materials.
- Income can be generated by selling old equipment and reusing or recycling valuable waste materials.
- Waste disposal costs fall as the amount of waste you produce decreases.
Pat Maher, a former hotel executive now serving as an environmental consultant to the American Hotel and Lodging Association, says that good waste management and recycling is an effective public relations tool, because it shows a dedication to corporate responsibility with environmental policy. “Doing in-room recycling is important because the guest sees that,” he says. Also, by removing paper, plastic and other recyclables from their waste, hotels can trim their disposal bill by as much as 50% — a significant savings in cities where waste removal is expensive. “In New York City, it’s not unusual to have a $100,000-a-year waste bill,” says Maher, “and if you can cut that by $50,000, that’s a big deal to the operator of a hotel.”
Food waste specialist Biogen Greenfinch recently ran a trial with UK hotel and restaurant group Whitbread, which estimated that food waste made up a quarter of the waste stream from its restaurants in 2008/2009. Twelve outlets – mainly Whitbread’s Table Table brand – were chosen for the trial. Staff were trained to segregate food waste from the general waste stream, and the collected food waste was taken to an anaerobic digester for recycling. By the end of 2010, food waste from approximately 300 Whitbread outlets will have been diverted from landfill, saving over 3 million kilograms of carbon emissions.
Managing your waste in a sustainable manner
There are several options for managing your waste in a more sustainable manner and the waste hierarchy, outlined in the EU Waste Directive, provides a very useful routemap to encourage better practice:
- preparing for reuse;
- recycling (including composting);
- other recovery (including energy recovery); and
Business waste disposal is usually subject to different rules to household waste and you may not be able to use public amenity sites. Make sure you comply with waste legislation, including correctly handling waste, keeping the right documentation and only using licensed contractors.
Considerations when using a waste contractor
- Waste contractor costs can vary significantly so shop around.
- A good waste contractor will understand the complexities of waste management and be able to offer advice on the most environmentally friendly and cost-efficient methods of disposal.
- Compacting waste will reduce the number of collections required and may make storing easier so find out if it is sensible for your types of waste.
- Make sure you are charged for the weight of waste, not the number of collections.
- Ask about market fluctuations for certain waste types and the policy adopted when price falls.
- Find out whether the contractor will give you a percentage of the recycling profit.
1. Carry out a waste audit
Identify where the hotel is creating waste and quantify the recyclable materials that are currently discarded. For each department, list all the items you dispose of, the disposal method, the cost and the quantities involved.
2. Set priorities and goals
Once you’ve identified where to focus your efforts, set priorities and goals, such as ordering fewer supplies, reducing disposal costs or generating revenue from waste materials.
3. Implement the programme
Include staff at all stages so that they understand and support the scheme. Provide incentives and rewards to individuals who offer waste-saving ideas or make a significant contribution to the programme. Educate guests about your recycling and environmental policies and communicate your priorities to suppliers.
4. Monitor, evaluate and fine-tune
Set criteria for monitoring and evaluating the programme, and decide how frequently to measure progress. Areas you may want to evaluate include:
- savings in purchases;
- reduction in operating costs;
- reduction in disposal and recycling costs;
- increase in recycled-content purchases;
- increase in productivity; and
- reduction in total waste and recyclable materials.
Install recycling bins in guest rooms
Put two bins in guestrooms, one for general waste and one for recycling. The recycling one should be larger and specify which products can be placed in it. Housekeeping trolleys must be fitted with separate bins for collecting recyclable material.
Reuse old linen, towels and robes
Turn old linen into linen bags or aprons, and stained towels or robes into cleaning cloths, or donate these items to local charities. One UK company, Sleeping Bags Social Enterprise Ltd, uses retired linen from a Marriott hotel in London to make reusable shopping bags.
Reduce newspaper distribution
Provide newspapers in central areas, such as the lobby, and ask guests to request one at check-in if they want it delivered to their room. Last year, Marriott International stopped delivering newspapers to every guest room, and this environmental policy is saving an estimated 8m newspapers annually.
Buy in bulk and use eco-friendly alternatives
Buy non-toxic cleaning products in concentrate and in bulk to reduce packaging and costs, and choose suppliers who use reusable and refillable containers.
For toiletries, switch to dispensers and purchase bulk containers. The Scandic hotel chain found that only 15% of its soaps, shampoos and conditioners were used, with the balance thrown away. By replacing traditional amenities with bulk items, Scandic has reduced its waste volume by 40% and packaging waste by 11 tonnes annually. If individual toiletries are offered, encourage guests to take away their half-used soap, or donate toiletries to local shelters; there may be tax benefits available, too. Combining social and environmental responsibility with sustainable and responsible tourism, US foundation Clean the World picks up soap and shampoo from hotels, recycling them to distribute around the world.
Always buy environmentally friendly products. Room Service Amenities offers bottles made primarily from plastarch, a biodegradable corn-based material, while Green Suites International packages its toiletries in collapsible paper bottles. Vegware makes biodegradable products from plant materials, including tableware and takeaway packaging.
Reduce paper use
Replace tissues in bathrooms only when dispensers are almost empty. If the policy is to replace half toilet rolls, save them for use in employee restrooms or donate to shelters. Consider using double rolls, which provide twice as much paper per roll. Install handdryers in place of paper towels in toilets in public areas. In the office, recycle file folders and inter-office envelopes, use both sides of paper when copying, and send emails not letters.
Avoid hazardous and toxic waste
Avoid purchasing hazardous products in the first place. If you cannot, you are responsible for the safe and correct disposal of it so ensure you employ a licensed contractor. Fluorescent lights, for example, can be disposed of in a special crushing machine that recovers the glass for reuse in loft insulation and the mercury for pure mercury production. In the US, Marriott has teamed up with Air Cycle Corporation to recycle its fluorescent lamps using the Bulb Eater, a machine that crushes the lamps, packing them into an enclosed drum ready to be picked up.
Furniture and mattresses
Hotel refurbishment generates huge amounts of bulky waste, much of which can be recycled. Furniture can be sold to staff, donated to charity or taken to a furniture-recycling scheme. Alternatively, an experienced furniture refinishing company can reupholster and repurpose your furniture. Many companies collect and recycle old beds, mattresses and furniture.
At Whitbread’s Premier Inn hotels, mattresses are replaced every six years. Now, instead of sending 6,000 mattresses annually to landfill, Premier Inn has developed a new environmental policy and teamed up with bed manufacturer Hypnos, which has developed a machine to shred and separate mattress materials. Metal hinges and springs are recycled back into steel products, foam is reused in carpet underlay and textiles are recycled into insulation products or briquettes for industrial heating.
Flooring Ceramic and stone tiles can be crushed to make paths or used as an aggregate by the construction industry, while carpet and other flooring can be reused by a charity or returned to the supplier for recycling. US hotel group La Quinta Inns & Suites recently lowered its environmental impact by recycling 27 tonnes of carpet by working with Shaw Industries, a company that reclaims the fibres to make other carpet products.
Electronic waste (e-waste)
This is the fastest-growing waste stream in the developed world and includes tvs, computers, telephones, fridges and mobile phones. Governments are making ever more stringent guidelines about its disposal. Check whether you can part-exchange or return “old’ equipment to your supplier or sell or donate them to schools, charities or companies that specialise in refurbishing these items. This year, Waste Management and LG Electronics are launching WM Recycle in the US, a TV and computer monitor recycling scheme for hotels. This is significant, at a time when many hotels are expected to upgrade their rooms with LG flat-panel digital TVs.
In the UK, 3m tonnes of food waste from hotels, restaurants and bars alone ends up in landfill sites every year, says the Waste & Resources Action Programme (WRAP). Once on the landfill site, it rots and releases methane, which is 23 times as potent a greenhouse gas as CO2. According to a 2008 University of Surrey report, Cooking up a Storm, the food system as a whole contributes about 19% of the UK’s greenhouse gases. If food waste was eliminated, it is estimated it would be the same in terms of lessening environmental impact as taking one in five cars off the UK roads.
Apart from making good environmental and business sense, it seems reducing food waste is what customers want too. A recent survey carried out by UK waste management business Cawleys found:
- 78% of diners believe that where food waste ends up is as important as the provenance of ingredients;
- 44% of diners would be willing to pay more in a restaurant with exceptional environmental credentials.
- The report concluded that restaurateurs have an opportunity to attract new customers and build a loyal customer base by demonstrating that their treatment of food and waste was reflective of a sense of environmental responsibility.
- Options for reducing food waste include:
- Edible leftovers Be creative. For example, turn leftover chicken into soup and fish into pâté. Alternatively, use leftovers in the employee canteen or donate it to a local food bank or a homeless shelter. Unused food scraps may also be given to a local farm for animal feed.
- Non-edible leftovers See Composting section. There are also other technologies that use combinations of microorganisms to convert food waste into a non-toxic liquid, which is safe for drains and sewage systems. For example, Mechline Developments Ltd manufactures GohBio, a rapid food waste decomposition system, which it claims turns food waste into a non-toxic liquid within 24 hours.
- Fats, oils and grease Check national and local regulations on the disposal of cooking oil first, but never dispose of cooking oils down drains or sewers — this can lead to blockages, odour and vermin problems as well as polluting local rivers and streams — nor with your other waste. Fairmont Hotels & Resorts is converting its cooking oils into biodiesel at more than 22 of its properties worldwide. The Fairmont Scottsdale, for example, has teamed up with an outside firm to transform leftover oil into fuel and has recycled enough biodiesel to supply the annual fuel consumption of about five cars. The latest use for used cooking oil is on our roads. UK-based Aggregate Industries has discovered that used chip fat is a good alternative to bitumen, which is expensive and uses valuable crude oil supplies. The new system, which is awaiting a patent, is currently being tested on several road-surfacing projects.
- Avoid pre-bottled water and eliminate the problem of plastic or glass water bottle disposal. Scandic has stopped offering bottled water altogether, providing guests with chilled and filtered water, still and carbonated, from taps. It calculates it has cut CO2 emissions by 160 tonnes per year. The Hotel Rafayel in London is using a mains-fed bottled water system from Vivreau to dispense purified and filtered mains water, eliminating an estimated 205 tonnes of glass bottle waste over five years, and thus greatly lowering its environmental impact.
- The latest findings from a new report entitled Food Management in Tourism: Reducing Tourism’s Carbon Foodprint, co-authored by several academics involved in sustainable tourism (see below*), has found that, as some foodstuffs contribute higher greenhouse gas emissions than others, managing their use could make a significant contribution to climate change mitigation. This includes more careful planning of food purchases to avoid waste.
- It suggests analysing statistics on the amounts of different foods served to different types of guests. “For instance, if it were known that the guests for the coming evening are to include a group of pensioners rather than a teenage sports team, the kitchen could be instructed to vary the quantity of the dishes to be prepared.”
- It refers to the use of social marketing in reducing food waste, citing the case of Maritim proArte Hotel in Berlin, which has used this technique for buffets, encouraging guests only to take the amount of food they wish to consume. It offers an alternative organic breakfast buffet with 52 food components (the conventional buffet has about 100 food components), marketed as a healthier, higher-quality choice. It also provides smaller plates to avoid “overloading”.
*Stefan Gössling, Brian Garrod, Carlo Aall, John Hille, Paul Peeters
Composting not only reduces the cost of disposal by significantly reducing the volume for collection, it also produces an end product that can be used to improve soil quality in hotel grounds or gardens, thus doubly ensuring environmental sustainability.
When deciding which technology to use, make sure it is compliant with national regulations. For example, composting will most likely be required to take place in closed containers and meet stringent temperatures to kill bacteria if meat and fish waste are being treated.
- In-vessel composting refers to the enclosed equipment, such as a drum, silo or concrete-lined trench, where the organic material is placed, mixed, shredded and aerated. Some systems are fully automated with sensors to monitor temperature, moisture and oxygen, and biofilters to reduce or eliminate odours. They can process large amounts of waste, take virtually any organic waste, including raw meat, fish and grease, and the composting process can take as little as a few weeks. UK-based Tidy Planet, for example, produces the Rocket Composter, which comes in a size to suit the business and composts food in 14 days. “The cost savings we are seeing now as the waste disposal charges are rising are significant,” says Huw Crampton, Sales Director, Tidy Planet. “Composting has become not just environmentally the most sensible approach but one of the most financially sensible approaches, too.”
- Biomass energy and anaerobic digestion (AD) Biomass refers to organic materials, such as food, which can be used to generate electricity, heat and power. The energy from biomass can be released by conversion processes, such as combustion and fermentation. As part of its carbon reduction strategy, London’s The Savoy, managed by Fairmont Hotels & Resorts, is turning its food waste into renewable energy this way with the help of PDM Group. PDM is recycling all unused food preparation and plate scrapings from its Simpson’s-in-the-Strand restaurant at its facility in Silvertown, London, where it is bulked up with other commercial, catering waste. It is then taken to PDM’s organic biomass-to-energy renewable power plant to produce electricity, which is supplied to the national grid. Anaerobic digestion is another way of converting biomass. This a process that breaks down organic waste in an oxygen-free environment under controlled conditions in order to produce a biogas that can be burned as a renewable energy to produce electricity and heat, or used as a fuel. This method also produces solid and liquid digestate, which is nutrient rich and can potentially be used as a soil conditioner. In the UK, food-recycling specialist PDM Group has joined forces with European food-to-energy company SARIA Bio-Industries to build a network of AD plants across the country to process food into electricity.
- Worm-composting uses earthworms to speed up the process of breaking down kitchen and garden waste, but cannot accept meat or dairy products (see case study).
- Aerated static pile arranges waste in long rows and is aerated either mechanically or automatically. This system can take large quantities but cannot accommodate large amounts of meat or grease without frequent turning and careful temperature and moisture control.
- Unaerated static pile relies on organic waste being mixed with bulking material. This method cannot take meat or grease and is best suited for small businesses.
If the waste is to be removed by a contractor to be used for composting or the production of biogas, then hoteliers must check that carriers are registered and that contractors hold appropriate permits/licences and authorisation for composting or other biodegradation processing.
Waste management legislation is changing fast and while municipal (“household”) waste has often been the primary focus, policy-makers are increasingly turning their attention to commercial and industrial waste. The push to divert material from landfill will continue, and certain materials are being banned from landfill altogether in some countries. This trend, coupled with the rising cost of landfill, will certainly help businesses make an economic case for separating and recycling more waste.
In Europe, the new EU Waste Framework Directive has clarified and rationalised EU legislation on waste, applying a new waste hierarchy, and expanding the “polluter pays” principle by emphasising producer responsibility. It also lays down requirements for national waste prevention plans. Other key EU directives likely to affect the hotel industry are those governing Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) and batteries.
While Europe-wide legislation has created a more consistent playing field, outside Europe many international hotel groups find that company-wide environmental policies on waste management are not possible because waste facilities and regulations can differ so much from country to country. The best approach is to ensure compliance with all the relevant national legislation and then develop a flexible strategy that sets out key principles and aspirational targets in such as way as to allow businesses in individual countries to work towards these in the most appropriate way, while still working towards environmental sustainability as a whole.
In the future, we are likely to see an increasing focus on waste prevention for municipal, commercial and industrial waste. This is likely to bring issues such as life-cycle impacts, eco-design and sustainable procurement to the fore. The push for greater levels of reuse, recycling and energy recovery is encouraging the public and private sector to work more closely together to achieve economies of scale and cost benefits. This is particularly the case with biowaste, where local authorities and retail and catering companies have co-operated to develop composting and AD facilities.
Did you know?
- Up to 60% of the rubbish that ends up in the dustbin can be recycled.
- A recycled plastic bottle saves enough energy to power a 60-watt light bulb for three hours.
- 70% less energy is required to recycle paper compared with making it from raw materials.
- Plastic can take up to 500 years to decompose.
- Recycled paper produces 73% less air pollution than if it was made from raw materials.
- The energy saved from recycling one glass bottle will power a 100-watt light bulb for almost an hour
From www.recyclingguide.org.uk 
Resources and Further Reading
Clean the World
Cumbria Green Business Forum
Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra)
Environmental Protection Agency
Green Lodging News
Florida Green Lodging Program
Low Carbon Economy
Association for Organics Recycling
The Center for Hospitality Research, Cornell University
Chartered Institution of Wastes Management
The Green House
Juniper Food Waste
Mechline Developments Limited
Resource Recovery Forum
Tony Team Waste Compactors
Veolia Environmental Services
Vertal Organic & Food Waste Management
Zero Waste Alliance