Hotel chains had been making big plastic-free commitments before the pandemic brought most travel playbooks to a screeching halt. As Asia's hospitality sector looks to crisis recovery, it bears repeating why plastic-free commitments still have a place in the industry.
There is no running away from plastic elimination with regulatory changes underway. The EU trade bloc in July announced a ban on certain plastic products including cutlery, plates, straws, stirrers, food packaging and containers made of expanded polystyrene, and all oxo-degradable plastic products.
Vietnam on July 22 approved a project on managing plastic waste that included a pledge have all tourism complexes, hotels and other lodging facilities eliminate use of non-biodegradable plastic bags and single-use plastic products by 2025.
The conversation about reducing single-use plastics (SUP) is going strong in the travel industry. The Global Tourism Plastics Initiative (GTPI) recently welcomed 32 new signatories including TUI Group, AC Hotels by Marriott and Palladium Hotel Group. This brought the total number of signatories to 93, a 50% increase.
Six Senses, which joined the GTPI in 2020, had already set its own goal to rid its properties of all plastics by the year 2022.
Six Senses’ Vice President Sustainability, Jeffery Smith, told Travel Weekly Asia: “Studies show less than one-third of recyclable plastics actually get recycled. This creates an increasingly relevant problem for the tourism industry, as plastic pollution shows up on our beaches, in our communities, and negatively impacts our travel experiences. It’s a global system and as responsible operators we must play our part to eliminate the flow of unnecessary plastics.”
It took six years for the two-Michelin-star restaurant at The Landmark, Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong (pictured), to be rid of single-use plastics including cling wrap. Photo Credit: Mandarin Oriental
Walking the talk
Pandemic or not, the reality is that eliminating SUP is not an overnight change for large chains. Deliberate steps to set targets, evaluate and hold oneself accountable are of chief importance to walk the talk on sustainability commitments.
Christoph Mares, COO at Mandarin Oriental Hotel Group, said: “We understand that change is not always the easiest journey, but we aim to be transparent about the challenges we face.”
In October 2019, the chain had originally set a target to eliminate all single-use plastics across its portfolio of luxury hotels by the end of March 2021. But slower usage of existing single-use supplies due to the low business levels caused by the pandemic pushed out its goal.
Despite setbacks to this goal, the group is making a valiant effort to track, audit and report their progress.
By Q1 2021, the group had achieved nearly 70% reduction in this annual plastic footprint. Based on estimated plastic stock depletion timelines and supplier delivery commitments, it is expected that all hotels will eliminate single-use plastics by the end of Q1 2022, avoiding 930 tonnes of plastic waste each year.
Indian Hotels Company Limited will replace all plastic bottles (which typically amount to 6 million annually) with reusable glass bottles. Pictured: Taj Samudra Colombo Grand Luxury Suite Photo Credit: Indian Hotels Company Limited
Luxury can be plastic-free
And as hotels court guests in the more immediate term, it is worth noting that eliminating single-use plastics can go hand in hand with top-notch service delivery.
Examples are many within the Mandarin Oriental portfolio in APAC.
Mandarin Oriental, Singapore has partnered with bottled water distributor, DR. WHO, turning progressively to water refining technologies to provide guests with filtered water in sustainable glass bottles. The hotel no longer uses plastic straws or bottles.
Guests can indulge in the Michelin experience free of single-use plastics. It has taken six years, but the team at Amber — The Landmark Mandarin Oriental, Hong Kong’s two‐Michelin‐star restaurant — is now rid of single-use plastics, even managing to replace cling film.
Meanwhile, South Asia's largest hospitality company this year announced that it was introducing bottling plants across its hotels in India as well as the Maldives and Sri Lanka.
According to Indian Hotels Company Limited, its initiative to replace all plastic water bottles from the hotels with reusable glass water bottles, bottled with treated water, will avoid the use of 6 million plastic bottles per year.
Source: M&C Asia