California bill seeks ban on disposable plastic hotel bottles

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First it was plastic grocery bags, then plastic straws. Now there is a bill calling for the removal of those small plastic bottles of shampoo and other products you’ve been collecting forever from hotel rooms.

State Assembly member Ash Kalra, D-San Jose, in February introduced Assembly Bill 1162 that would require all lodging establishments to ditch the small plastic bottles from their guest rooms by Jan. 1, 2023.

It applies to properties with more than 50 rooms, and a year later for those with 50 rooms or less.

The bill has passed the Assembly Appropriations Committee and now is headed to the Senate Appropriations Committee, said Lynn Mohrfeld, president and CEO of the California Hotel & Lodging Association, an industry group with more than 1,550 members representing more than 182,000 guestrooms.

“The industry is going this way and this bill kind of tapers in with what some of our more progressive partners in the industry are already doing,” Mohrfeld said. “So it will have everybody doing the same thing.”

Under the bill, hoteliers can provide large dispensers that attach to a shower wall, or plastic bottles that hold a minimum of 6 ounces, Mohrfeld said. He noted most hotels’ small bottles currently hold somewhere between 1.75 ounces and 3 ounces.

Should the bill become law, lodging establishments not in compliance could face fines, from a citation to up to $2,000 annually.

Mohrfeld worked closely on the bill with Kalra, and pushed for a longer lead time that resulted in the three-to-four-year timeframe.

“We have to set expectations,” he said, both to allow for the industry to make an orderly transition and for customers to adjust. “One of the biggest things is guest perceptibility.”

Hotels in the North Bay are either making plans or have already made the change.

For example, The Sandman Hotel in Santa Rosa installed amenity dispensers in its 135 guest rooms last year when the property was undergoing renovations, said Lauren Bodsworth, general manager.

“We noticed there was a lot of waste and plastic from the single-use bottles,” she said. “It made sense to make this change … We feel like it adds another layer to our other sustainability practices.”

The hotel’s other planet-friendly policies include, but aren’t limited to, a linen and towel reuse program, in-room and property-wide recycling, compostable paper and plastic in its food outlets, and energy-efficient lighting, she said.

David Ahern, general manager at Timber Cove, a 46-room property located on Highway 1 in Jenner, said sustainability and preserving Sonoma County’s coastal environment is just as important to the inn as delivering a great experience to the hotel’s guests.

“By providing our guests with in-room bath amenities — shampoo, conditioner, lotion, body and hand wash — in 16-ounce refillable pump bottles, we have successfully worked towards that,” he said.

LodgeWorks Partners, L.P., a Wichita, Kansas-based hotel development and management company, owns and operates numerous hotels under the Archer brand, including Archer Hotel Napa, which opened in November 2017.

“The Archer Hotel collection is exploring several initiatives to create a more environmentally friendly operation — while still delivering a luxe guest experience,” said Cheryl Gilliam, LodgeWorks’ senior vice president, brands and marketing. “Tamper-proof bulk bath amenities and water bottle alternatives are on our short list. This has been on our radar and a priority; reducing our carbon footprint is important to our brand, our guests and many of our associates.”

Small plastic bottles aren’t even a thing at Farmhouse Inn, a 25-room luxury property in Forestville.

“We switched to (8-ounce bottles) about 10 years ago,” said co-owner Catherine Bartolomei. “We’re attempting to become a plastic-free property.”

To that end, Farmhouse Inn also uses refillable water bottles, she said.

“So we’re basically using no single-serve plastic at all, with very few exceptions,” she said. “Occasionally, if somebody’s leaving property and they ask for a bottle of water, I’ve got a half-dozen bottles on hand because we don’t say no to guests.”

National hotel brands are also moving away from small plastic bottles.

Marriott International announced this month that it’s expanding its 2018 initiative to replace the small plastic bottles of shampoo, conditioner and bath gel in more of its properties’ guestroom showers with larger, pump-topped bottles.

To date, the company stated it has installed larger bottles at about 1,000 properties in North America, and expects most of its other brands to make the switch by December 2020.

Marriott said it made the change last year in several of its brands, including Courtyard by Marriott, SpringHill Suites, Residence Inn, Fairfield by Marriott and TownePlace Suites. The switch-out also took place at four of its international brands: Aloft Hotels, Element by Westin, Four Points and Moxy Hotels. The company’s AC by Marrott brand is next in line for making the swap.

InterContinental Hotel Group, with a portfolio of 17 brands, including Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and Staybridge Suites, announced July 30 it will transition by 2021 from the small plastic bottles to large dispensers.

“It’s more important than ever that companies challenge themselves to operate responsibly — we know it’s what our guests, owners, colleagues, investors and suppliers rightly expect,” said Keith Barr, CEO, IHG. “Switching to larger-size amenities across more than 5,600 hotels around the world is a big step in the right direction and will allow us to significantly reduce our waste footprint and environmental impact as we make the change.”

The company, with U.S. headquarters in Atlanta, said its decision builds on its broader waste reduction initiatives already in place, along with its pledge to remove plastic straws from its hotels by the end of 2019.

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.

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