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The Last Straw?

Eliminating Plastics Has Become Focus For Many Eco-Friendly Hotels

Friday, June 01, 2018
Steve Pike
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Earth Day was this past April 22, but many hotels and resorts have begun thinking environmentally forward 365 days a year. One way they are doing that is by going “plastics free” when it comes to items such as straws and cups.

However, the 1 Hotel South Beach takes the initiative even farther. Its building is completely LEED certified. Wood is re-purposed to save trees, wine bottles are re-purposed to recycle glass, paper is re-purposed to create hangers, and “Do Not Disturb” signs and triple-filtered water are used throughout the property to eliminate single-use plastic and provide the purest of water on tap.

“One underlying value of 1 Hotel South Beach—and the overall 1 Hotels brand—is to provide a second life, meaning that everything we produce and use is either given a re-purposed life or can have one in the future,” said Jacqueline VanderMale, director of marketing at 1 Hotel South Beach. “Our sustainable initiatives are at the core of our brand and are an important differentiator from all other luxury hotels in Miami. 1 Hotel South Beach draws on people’s desires, commitment to the environment and causes they care about.

“There is a young, affluent and aware demographic that is growing in the travel market, and 1 Hotel South Beach is able to drive business and rates through this conscious group of individuals,” she added.

Many Hilton hotels have done away with plastic straws as a first step to broader discussions about the problems of plastic waste.

“We’re seeing two big impacts,” said Caitrin O’Brien, senior manager, corporate sustainability for Hilton. “By going straw-free, our hotels are able to significantly reduce the number of plastic straws that might end up in our oceans, where they pollute water and harm sea life. Secondly, the straw-free initiatives offer a great opportunity for our team members to connect with our guests around our efforts to preserve the environment.”

Most of the participating Hilton hotels, O’Brien said, were quickly able to make the transition away from plastic straws.

“It usually only takes a month or two to substitute plastic straws for an environmentally-friendly alternative option,” O’Brien said. “We also make sure to train our team members on why the switch is being made. Most of our hotels are switching to non-plastic straws available only upon request, so there is some training involved in this behavioral shift for our servers and bartenders.”

The Hilton hotels that are plastic straw-free, O’Brien said, each are offering biodegradable paper straws as substitutes for plastic straws. Usually these straws are offered only upon request.
“We also have some hotels experimenting with edible straws or straws made of bamboo or other natural materials,” she said. “It’s been really fun to see our bartenders’ creativity in using these alternative straws.

“Our properties have been taking on some really incredible regional initiatives, too, including all of our hotels in China eliminating plastic water bottles from meetings, events, gyms and spas—saving over 13 million plastic water bottles per year. Our hotels in Malaysia have also recently opted to ‘say no to plastic,’ down to replacing plastic pens with pencils, and replacing plastic laundry bags with fabric options. We’re incorporating learnings from those initiatives as we build out our global plastics reduction strategy.”

The cost of switching from something as simple as plastic straws?
“We are finding this initiative to be cost neutral,” O’Brien said. “Biodegradable paper straws are generally more expensive than plastic straws, but this is offset by them being provided only upon request. Our data is showing that only 10 to 20 percent of guests request straws, so we’re seeing a significant reduction in the total number of straws being used.”

For Tito Rodriguez, executive director of food and beverage at Eau Palm Beach Resort & Spa in Manalapan, FL, cost is secondary to preserving the environment and the hundreds of Loggerhead turtles that nest on the resort’s beach from every March through October. The turtles can die by ingesting items such as plastic straws and plastic bags—the latter of which they often confuse for jellyfish.

“When I came here in 2013, we were constantly serving on the beach and leaving wrappers and straws,” Rodriguez said. “So, I stopped doing food on the beach. People thought sales would go down. Actually, I’ve had no decrease in sales whatsoever. If anything, we’re seeing a lot more people coming through the doors than ever before because they’re able to experience the beach for what is.

“Paper straws are a little bit more expensive, but to me, that’s okay. We're connected to the water—it’s our home. In the end, it’s all about doing the right thing.”

Steve Pike
Hotel Interactive® Editorial Division

Bio: Steve Pike is an award-winning golf writer and author who helped define golf business reporting in the early 1990s as the first Golf Business Editor for Golfweek magazine and later at Golf World and Golf Shop Operations magazines for Golf Digest. Pike further pioneered this genre at the PGA of America and Time Warner as the golf business writer and editor for PGA.com. He started in newspapers more than ...
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