Hotels require a vast amount of energy and resources in order to run, and with this comes an equally vast amount of waste generated. Having strategies in place to manage, reduce or eliminate waste is essential. This article exposes the flawed system of waste management within hotels and provides practical solutions for reducing three prominent hotel wastes: food, water and plastic waste.

Minimize Food Waste

Food waste is a global issue, releasing toxic ammonia-filled leachate and planet-warming methane into the environment. Hotel owners looking to minimize the impact of food waste should consider launching a food waste reduction program. Food waste reduction programs can be organized into four steps:

Conduct A Food Waste Audit

Start by characterizing and quantifying waste. Ask yourself, “What are my largest sources of food waste?” Create a food waste log to keep track of where your food waste comes from, how much and at what frequency. Identify and resolve inefficiencies in your operations such as cutting down on orders of items that spoil too soon or go uneaten.

Improve Kitchen Practices and Staff Habits

Train your staff on conservation practices when preparing food to avoid unnecessary waste and to conserve other resources such as water. Opt out of garnishes; while they add a culinary flare to a dish, they are most often thrown into the trash.

Serve by the order or get an estimate of how many guests you will be serving per mealtime. Ensure menus are as detailed and clear as possible to minimize guests from ordering misinformed and sending dishes back.

Develop A Food Recovery Plan

Locate local food banks and other nonprofits accepting food donations. Feeding America is a well known nonprofit working to end hunger across the U.S. but there are several national and international groups combating food waste and food scarcity.

Another way to save food from entering landfills is by starting a composting program to turn food waste into useful, nutrient-rich soil. Use EPA’s Composting Basics to learn about the different types of composting and understanding the process.

Monitor and Evaluate Waste Management Programs Regularly

This will let management officers know if the program is working effectively and where improvements still need to be made. Take advantage of online resources like a hospitality waste management toolkit developed by the American Hotel and Lodging Association (AHLA) and World Wildlife Fund (WWF). The toolkit provides full-service hotels the opportunity to track, prevent donate and divert food waste.

Implement the 4-R’s for Plastic Waste Reduction

To alleviate the tremendous amount of plastic waste that enters landfills every day and to preserve the fossil fuels used to make new plastic, hotels should reduce, reuse, replace and recycle plastics.

Whenever possible, reduce ordering plastic products, especially those that are single-use and cannot be recycled. If you need clarification on which types of plastics can be recycled, read page 7 of the Plastic Reduction Guidelines For Hotels. Pages 10-13 also provide alternatives to single-use plastics found throughout the different areas of your hotel.

Now more than ever companies are starting to think about the entire lifespan of their products making it easier for consumers to find biodegradable, recyclable and reusable products and packaging. With some research, hotels can find eco-friendly packaging alternatives for items such as toiletries.

Preferably, reuse instead of continuing to buy single-use products. Invest in durable and reusable plates and cutlery. Provide refillable water stations to encourage guests to use their own bottles.

Replace plastic straws with reusable alternatives like steel and glass. Consider replacing single used plastic toiletries with Wooden/bamboo toothbrushes, refillable dispensers for soaps, shampoos, creams, conditioners, etc.

One way to repurpose all the plastics is to support companies that have invested in making their packaging from recycled content. For example, Aveda makes more than 85% of their skin care and hair styling PET bottles and jars with 100% post-consumer recycled materials.

Invest in a new or improved recycling program for your hotel that clearly informs staff and guests on proper recycling practices. You can incorporate educational graphics as part of recycling bin signage.

Target common hotel recyclables – aluminum cans, cardboard, paper, plastic bottles, and landscape waste. For plastic recycling, check with your recycling drop-off center to see which plastics are accepted. Plastics #1 (PETE) and #2 (HDPE clear and colored) are widely accepted everywhere. The EPA provides a comprehensive list of common recyclables and the best options for recycling them.

It should be noted that while replacing plastic products with other eco-friendly alternatives such as bamboo, cornstarch, paper and other plant-based materials helps reduce plastic waste, these materials still have their own footprint and generate waste. The objective of this article is to help hotels minimize waste and that includes plastic and all eco-friendly alternatives too.

Tools for Water Conservation

According to an EPA study, “hotels and other lodging facilities account for approximately 15 percent of the total water use in commercial and institutional buildings in the United States.”

Water conservation practices are an impactful way to demonstrate your concern for water scarcity and its impact on communities and wildlife. Water conservation can begin with educating staff on best water-saving habits and implementing them throughout all areas of the hotel – the kitchen, cleaning services, landscaping, among others.

Here are some best water conservation practices for hotels.

  • Install water-efficient shower heads, faucets and toilets in all bathrooms.
  • Practice water-saving habits in the kitchen when preparing food such as turning off faucets immediately after use and using leftover water (from washing or boiling produce) for cleaning purposes.
  • Cut water use in the laundry room by investing in a high efficiency washer such as the Hydrofinity, the first commercial washing machine to be awarded Environmentally Preferable Product Certification. Hydrofinity machines can limit water use by up to 80 percent and reduce energy use by up to 50 percent.
  • Encourage guests to reuse towels and bed linens.
  • Routinely check plumbing for water leaks and ensure refrigeration and HVAC systems are well maintained.
  • Use reclaimed water for landscaping.
  • Replace existing irrigation timers with WaterSense controllers.


Take advantage of these special programs 

Although limited to only businesses in California, Oregon and Washington, Recology’s “pay-as-you-throw” program provides economic incentives for companies that choose to recycle and compost. Once enrolled, Recology provides your company with three color-coded containers: a blue cart for single stream recyclables, a green cart for food scraps and other compostable organic waste, and a black cart for trash. Commercial customers can then earn discounts of 50 percent or more (on the cost of waste management) by diverting more trash to composting and recycling.

TerraCycle is another great company that collects hard-to-recycle products in bulk such as cleaning products (detergent bags, mops, spray nozzles, etc.), kitchen gear (dining disposables, filters, kitchen appliances etc.) and even bathroom toiletries. They then use these plastics and turn them into new products.

Clean The World collects hotel soaps, shampoos and other toiletries to distribute to vulnerable communities with limited access to hygiene products.

Benefits and Importance of Hotel Waste Management 

Circle of Blue’s annual survey revealed that the average monthly cost of water in major U.S. cities had increased more than 55% since 2010. Implementing sustainable practices within hotels can generate additional income by decreasing utility bills and lowering garbage collection costs. Waste reduction initiatives also translate into marketing opportunities to convey your commitment to sustainability, attracting eco-conscious travelers and employees.

Any hotel can begin managing waste well through a combination of changes in policies, technology and management. Having a waste management policy in place can support a hotel’s overall sustainability goals and help earn a green business certification. Third-party certifications like that offered by Green Business Bureau, reflects your credibility as a green hotel and helps gain the trust of potential customers, partners and employees.

You can combine Green Business Bureau’s online tools with the EPA’s Waste Reduction Model (WARM) tool to help you stay on track with your waste management goals.

About The Author

Luz Andrea Ramirez

GBB Green Ambassador

Luz Andrea Ramirez is a Global Sustainability graduate student at University of South Florida. She has worked on a variety of social impact projects including Red Cross oversees where she trained in the development of local communities and indigenous groups on a variety of issues. Her interests are in racial health disparities, sustainable food systems and the green economy.

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