Travelling zero waste is a little tricky, but there are some simple ways to make your hotel stay low or zero waste and ecofriendly. From what you eat and drink to room service and housekeeping, here are some things I'm doing to keep the trash and impact to a minimum.
Unless you are able to specifically find a zero waste hotel or one that is very eco friendly and environmentally responsible, then it could prove difficult. You can certainly look up services and facilities of hotels but it is pretty hard to discover what recycling programs they may have for example, or what ecofriendly, low waste options exist by default. Accommodation websites don't exactly say if they provide glasses or plastic cups, and as a first time visitor it will be a mystery until you arrive.
Travelling within your home country may be a little simpler as it is far easier to call ahead and ask questions.
Here are some key areas to consider and plan for when staying in hotel accommodation and trying to keep low or zero waste.
Zero Waste Coffee and Tea in Your Hotel Room
I'm travelling in Europe with my mum at the moment and we both have a serious love (or addiction) of coffee and from experience, we knew hotels would provide single serve sachets of coffee.
This is pretty standard practice and frustrating in two ways;
1. They usually only provide enough for one or two coffees, and
2. It creates quite a bit of unnecessary trash.
To avoid this, we both packed the coffee we usually drink from home and it is of course a little cheaper to make more of your own coffee than to buy them out. We opted for instant coffee for simplicity although you could bring your own tea bags or coffee grinds and a reusable coffee bag too.
If you love a bit of sugar, pack that too in a container you already have, just count how many spoons you are likely to have a day and multiply by the days of your trip and add a little extra.
I'd also recommend bringing a tea spoon as these are not always provided and it is far better than using disposable stirrers.
For milk, you can avoid the long life single serve punnets by locating a supermarket or convenience store and purchasing a carton of your own especially if you're staying several nights. I brought soy milk in my suitcase purely to avoid having to find a supermarket everywhere and I'm glad I did as I didn't find any in Venice. Our final destination is Paris where it will be readily available.
The first hotel we stayed in boasted coffee making facilities in the rooms and on arrival there was absolutely nothing there. We used hot tap water and our keep cups to make our first cuppa! I did head down to reception and ask for a kettle which they were happy to give me, so it always pays to ask as the staff usually want happy customers.
Keep in mind, some hotels only provide disposable coffee cups in your room. Bring a keep cup, ask reception for china cups or just sneak off with a cup from the buffet breakfast if they don't deliver.
Zero Waste Drinking Water
I am a little frustrated and surprised that every hotel we have visited provides disposable drinking cups that are individually wrapped in plastic. One hotel did provide reusable plastic cups, however they were also individually wrapped in plastic. Do not use these and skip the complimentary water bottles.
I brought a reusable water bottle with me, but a glass would be nice sometimes. If you have a keep cup you can use that as a substitute. Most places you visit on holiday are likely to have safe drinking water like Australia and many european countries. Other locations you may be advised to boil it first such as Bali. Just check ahead so you know, as some places it isn't advisable including on cruise ships. I have a super sensitive tummy and am always the first to get a tummy bug, but drinking tap water still works great for me and doesn't make me ill.
Hotel Bed Linen and Towels It is lovely to have fresh clean towels and crisp linen on the bed, but is it really necessary every day? Towels, providing they are hung up and not thrown on the floor, are good for several uses and really do not need laundering after one use.
The same goes for bed linen which probably lasts longer than towels, so opt to not have it changed daily or perhaps not at all during your stay. Many hotels now provide a sign to encourage reusing towels. I have additional motivation in that I am super sensitive to laundry products so I really don't want the towels and linen coated in fabric softener or constantly washed in heavy duty products.
At one hotel, the towels for each person come wrapped in more plastic and include a soap, shower gel and shampoo.
I'm not using these and brought my own soap and I hope the unused containers get redistributed, not thrown away. I'm skipping shampoo completely, but you don't need to as a shampoo bar is ideal for travelling. Not only do you avoid disposable bottles, but you won't have to worry about it leaking in your bag or being over your onboard liquids allowance.
We ended up needing an extra bath towel and requested ONLY the towel which was simple to do and came plastic free. In hindsight, we could have left the bagged towels and just requested single towels from the first day.
Unfortunately, the blankets provided had all been plastic wrapped and I can't see a way to avoid this. It's not something I've ever experienced in Australia, but I haven't been a frequent hotel guest since kids entered my world.
Hand Wash and Skip the Hotel Laundry Service
Holidaying for 2 weeks generally requires some laundry, but if it's only a few days then you won't need to bother. Typically, Hotel laundry services ask you to place any washing into a single use plastic bag, fill out some forms and it is then returned to you in more disposable plastic with the bill.
It is super easy to hand wash in the bathroom sink or shower and I'm going to write a short post very soon on the best way to do this for convenience and quick drying when travelling. Pack a laundry soap or use your regular body soap and you can do any laundry practically zero waste.
Here's my laundry soap, which can also be used for washing dishes and looks far more attractive with Venice in the background!
Do Not Disturb Sign on Your Hotel Room Door Helps You Be Zero Waste
To be zero waste, I strongly recommend putting the Do Not Disturb sign up. This prevents towels and bedding being replaced daily, along with any other disposables. It also means they won't be emptying the bins and replacing bin liners daily or spraying surfaces with chemical cleaners. One housekeeper even threw out a hand soap that had only been used once!
This does depend on the length of your stay, and if you are travelling with kids this might not be possible the entire time, but even if you do this most of the time it will make a difference.
Be Energy Efficient and Water Smart in Your Hotel Room
Turning off lights and power is often really easy in hotels rooms with a single switch near the door as you leave for the day. Make sure you don't fall into the habit of having all appliances and lights switched on and check how to adjust the thermostat.
Quick two minute showers will help save water along with not leaving the tap running while you brush your teeth.
I recently discovered that the amount of water used to make a block of chocolate equates to something like a 90 minute shower. So the difference between me having a 5 or 10 minute shower seems a little irrelevant given my level of chocolate consumption!
I can't help feeling that some hotels with eco friendly intentions are failing on so many levels and completely miss the point. One major hotel chain we stayed at boasts it plants a tree each minute, yet still provided single use disposable cups that were such poor quality actually split and broke when we moved them out of the way. Their corporate website gives the impression they are very ecofriendly, but the reality is a little different.
Take any claims with a grain of salt and DO consider if the hotel really cares about waste or if they are simply giving lip service and perhaps just focussed on cost savings.
Have you had similar experiences? I'd love to hear some zero waste wins or fails when staying in hotels.