How hotels are becoming smarter about waste

A “smart destination” with lots of waste isn’t very smart or sustainable. As a destination, especially a tourist destination, gets smarter with attracting more visitors, more waste is produced—solid waste and sewage. Some destinations and tourism businesses in those destinations are managing their waste well through a combination of smart policy, technology, management and recycling. And some destination cities, such as San Francisco and many others around the world, are aspiring to zero waste status.

In the U.S., many of us have grown up with recycling, doing our best to toss cans, bottles and newspapers into the bin for weekly pick-up and hauling our garbage cans to the curbs once or twice a week. Eliminating all waste at home, in restaurants and hotels seemed unimaginable—until we began exploring this world of zero waste. There's an International Alliance for Zero Waste, a US Zero Waste Business Council and companies such as Waste360 that all advocate for the elimination of waste.

What Does 'Zero Waste' Mean?

The International Alliance developed the following internationally accepted definition:

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“Zero Waste means designing and managing products and processes to systematically avoid and eliminate the volume and toxicity of waste and materials, conserve and recover all resources and not burn or bury them. Implementing Zero Waste will eliminate all discharges to land, water or air that are a threat to planetary, human, animal or plant health.”

For a destination, its residents and visitors, aiming for zero waste is more than just a noble aspiration; it is also more profitable for business, better for the environment and better for health and safety of the community.

For business, especially hotels and restaurants, Stephanie Barger director of market development, zero waste programs at the U.S. Green Building Council, emphasized that “zero waste businesses are better businesses—better for themselves, better for customers and the communities in which they operate.” She continued to say that “there are economic, social and environmental reasons to pursue zero waste practices. Businesses, including hotels and restaurants, can save money, be more efficient, manage risk and cut greenhouses. A well thought out zero waste approach helps reinvest resources locally, and can help create jobs.”  

With the recent merger of the Zero Waste Business Council into the U.S. Green Building Council in November 2016, more coordination to implement waste-management policies has become possible, including in the tourism and hospitality industry. The US Green Building Council includes several hotel members: Montage Hotels & ResortsChoice Hotels InternationalKimpton Hotels and RestaurantsStarwood Hotels & Resorts WorldwideQuaintance-Weaver Restaurants & Hotels, Hyatt Hotels Corporation, Virgin Hotels, Stanford Hotels Corporation, Hilton Hotels Corporation, Host Hotels & Resorts, Saratoga Casino Hotel, Portola Hotel & Spa and the InterContinental Hotels Group

About Zero Waste and the Green Building Council:

The Zero Waste Certification is administered by Green Business Certification with a goal for participating businesses to divert all end-use material from the landfill, incineration and the environment, while achieving a minimum of 90 percent diversion. GBCI is the premier organization independently recognizing excellence in green business industry performance and practice globally. Established in 2008, GBCI exclusively administers project certifications and professional credentials and certificates within the framework of the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED green building rating systems, as well as the PEER standard for power systems, the WELL building standard, the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), Parksmart, EDGE and the GRESB benchmark, which is used by institutional investors to improve the sustainability performance of the global property sector. Through rigorous certification and credentialing standards, GBCI drives adoption of green business practices, which fosters global competitiveness and enhances environmental performance and human health benefits.

Pound for pound

Resorts, hotels and restaurants generate a lot of waste—from food, packaging, amenity containers, waste water from toilets, kitchens and laundries. The amount of waste that hotels produce varies widely based, of course, on the hotel’s individual and corporate-wide policies and practices. For example, the Radisson SAS Group averages just over three kilograms of unsorted waste per guest-night while the Scandic Hotels chain-wide average is just over half a kilogram of unsorted waste per guest-night. 

The Walt Disney Company, a founding member of the U.S. Zero Waste Business Council, integrates environmental stewardship into their businesses. For them, stewardship translates into goals of net zero greenhouse emissions, zero waste, and maximum water conservation. By 2020, the company is aiming for 60 percent waste diversion

  • The Disneyland Resort particularly stands out for its waste-reduction efforts—in 2015 it was awarded California’s highest environmental award—the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award. Over the past decade, the resort has doubled the amount of waste diversion and continues to work towards the goal of zero waste.
  • Circle D Corral in Disneyland Park was gold-level zero waste certified in 2015, with 99 percent of its waste repurposed, composted and recycled. By recycling paper, cardboard, plastics and metal, as well as composting animal waste, hand towels, laundry lint and coffee grounds from the resort and restaurants, it became the first location in a theme park to achieve zero waste.
  • The Disney Cruise Line has environmental officers aboard who monitor recycling and other green initiatives, as well as train staff on environmental concerns. They have successfully diverted more than 6,400 tons of waste and removed 31,000 pounds of trash from beaches and waterways.

Food waste accounts for more than 50 percent of waste in the hospitality industry. In the U.S., more than $218 billion is spent on growing, processing, transporting and disposing of food that is never eaten. This is mostly from homes and the foodservice industry, which includes hotels, with a whopping 70 billion pounds of food wasted every year.

HOTEL MANAGEMENT reported in July 2016 on the efforts of the Aria Hotel in Las Vegas to reduce food waste. Seven million pounds of leftover food was sent to a hog farm to feed the animals instead of being thrown away. AccorHotels, one of the world’s largest hotel chains, is aiming to reduce its annual food waste by 30 percent through local food sourcing, planting vegetable gardens in their hotels and streamlining their menus. Fairmont Hotel and Resorts is tackling similar issues, with Fairmont Jasper Park Lodge partnering with a sustainable and organic family farm that provides local produce for the hotel while the hotel provides vegetable waste oil back to the farm to fuel their delivery truck and farm generator.

San Francisco's Mission

The city of San Francisco has taken some of the most significant waste management steps in the country. After adopting a zero-waste policy in 2002, the city partnered with Recology, its long-term materials management service provider, to implement a five-pronged strategy, which is aiming for zero waste by 2020:

  • Create convenient programs
  • Conduct extensive public outreach
  • Provide generator and service provider incentives
  • Process trash to recover materials
  • Adopt waste-reduction policies

Specific policies have included requiring everyone to recycle and compost, making food containers recyclable or compostable, and charging for checkout bags that are recyclable or compostable. The city won the 2013 Siemens Climate Leadership Solid Waste Management Award for its efforts.

In San Francisco’s hotel industry, this policy has had significant impacts. The city’s Department of the Environment first tested its policies with the Union Square Hilton by setting up a system where collection carts containing recyclable and compostable material cost less per month than those containing non-recyclable waste. The system succeeded in saving the Hilton $200,000 in the first year

The Hilton San Fransisco Union Square continues to strive for zero waste. The 2016 diversion rate was over 70 percent, which is no small feat for a hotel of 1,919 rooms—the largest on the West Coast. It achieved the following:

  • 750 tons of cardboard, paper, cans, bottles, plastic and compost
  • 19.8 tons of kitchen grease turned into biofuel
  • 171 tons of e-waste, paint, metals, florescent bulbs and pallets
  • More than 23 tons of donated supplies and equipment

Roughly 750 pounds of partial soaps and amenities are collected from rooms and sent every four weeks to Clean the World, an organization that collects used soap and hygiene products and  repurposes them for distribution to impoverished communities around the world. 

Already this year, the diversion rate is up to 80 percent and climbing as the hotel engages in dock sorting—sorting recyclables and compostable materials at the “dock.” The hotel also sends team members to Pier 96, a huge recycling plant operated by Recology, so they can see firsthand the recycling process and the massive amount of materials that can be recycled.  

Jo Licata, the community projects manager for the Hilton in Union Square, said that the hotel’s green projects started from a desire to “put a neighborhood face on the property and strive to be a good corporate citizen.” What initially struck Licata was the incredible amount of waste generated by conferences held at the hotel, which has 73 meeting rooms and over 130,000 square feet of meeting space. She matched the massive amounts of leftover supplies with community demand and helped with providing materials such as discarded foam signage and lanyards to schools and other organizations. As the hotel’s green initiatives grew, Licata started the Hotel/Non-Profit Collaborative with other properties in the area to team up to dispose, recycle and donate on a larger scale.

“You need champions and support from senior management to get these things done,” she said. “And you also need to prove economic benefit and make sure that it makes good business sense. Ultimately, the guest experience is paramount and everything we have done has had a positive impact on our guests.”

Recology provides similar economic incentives through its “pay-as-you-throw” program  in which the less trash a business discards and the more it recycles and composts, the less it pays for pick-up services. The Hotel Council of San Francisco promotes this on its site and provides “industry leader” examples of local hotel that have successfully adopted the zero waste goals. 

  • Orchard Hotel (small hotel with 104 rooms): achieved a 67-percent diversion rate and $25,000 annual savings through practices such as restroom paper-towel composting and housekeepers conducting in-room and at disposal area sorting.
  • Hotel Monaco—Kimpton (medium hotel with 201 rooms): achieved an 80-percent diversion rate and $120,000 annual savings through practices such as not having disposables in the cafeteria, eliminating bottled water and providing guests with recycling suggestions.
  • Tuscan Inn—Kimpton (medium hotel with 221): achieved an 80-percent diversion rate and $89,000 annual savings through practices such as having a dedicated “green team” to oversee and improve diversion.
  • Hotel Nikko (large hotel with 533 rooms): achieved a diversion rate of 75 percent and annual savings of $108,000 through practices such as restroom paper towel composting and a daily morning education meeting for line staff.
  • W Hotel (large hotel with 404 rooms): achieved diversion rate of 70 percent and annual savings of $100,000 through practices such as having a “green team” meeting every two weeks.

What are your hotel and destination attractions doing to manage and reduce waste? We would like to hear from you. Let us know if your hotel, attraction or destination is engaging in zero waste management in ways that are helping your local economy or business to attract visitors, increase spending and contribute to building a greener, cleaner place.