Bottled Amenities: What are they and why are they a problem?
Updated: Nov 22, 2019
What are bottled amenities?
Bottled amenities are the bottles of shampoo, conditioner, bath gel and lotion that you find in hotel rooms. They are usually in small plastic bottles - around 30ml each.
Bottled amenities have become a staple in hotel rooms across the world. But this change is not necessarily beneficial, as the move towards liquid soap can pose both environmental and cost issues.
Why have we moved towards bottled amenities?
Globally, there has been a consumer transition away from bar soap and towards the liquid kind you find in bottled amenities. But why? Bar soap is increasingly thought of as old-fashioned. But the main reason is that there is a growing - if mistaken - belief that bar soap is dirty. Consumers consider bar soap to be unhygienic: they fear that bacteria may harbor there after usage.
Why is this thinking mistaken?
These perceptions are incorrect as soap bars are highly unlikely to transfer bacteria between users, especially if the bar is rinsed between uses. A 1988 study in the medical journal Epidemiology and Infection found that even washing with a contaminated bar of soap would not result in the spread of bacteria. In the study, a bar of soap was inoculated with two forms of bacteria, E.coli and P.aeruginosa, at levels nearly 70 times as high as those found on normal soap bars. Sixteen people then washed their hands with the contaminated bars. After washing, not one participant had detectable levels of either test bacterium on their hands.
The issues posed by bottled amenities
Bottled amenities can cause environmental problems on two fronts. Firstly due to the waste that is caused by producing the amenity itself, and secondly due to the plastic waste they create.
As it contains lots of water, the liquid soap found in bottled amenities contributes to wastewater. This also means liquid soap is heavy, and as a consequence requires more energy for transportation, resulting in a higher carbon footprint.
Perhaps the most damaging effect of bottled amenities is their contribution to plastic waste. On average, a bottled amenity is thrown away when it is just 15% used. Furthermore, research suggests that 95% of plastic used in hotel rooms ends up in the landfill; indeed, the top 300 hotel groups in the world claim that they throw away around 5.5 billion amenity bottles and caps annually. Not only does this exacerbate the problem of overfilled landfills, it also creates issues for hotels themselves, requiring them to spend more time and money on waste removal. Both consumers and hotels are becoming more aware of these problems. “The visibility of plastic waste in our community is becoming much more prevalent, especially in the travel industry,” argues Denise Naguib, Vice President of Sustainability and Supplier Diversity for Marriott International. “It’s much more visible not to the microscopic portion of the public paying attention to these things, but to everyday travellers.”
Why is plastic waste so problematic?
Plastic waste is an especially harmful form of waste due to the length of its degradation process. The exhaustion of landfills is aggravated by the fact that plastic can take hundreds of years to fully degrade. While degradation can vary between different types of plastic, the average time for a plastic bottle to completely degrade is at least 450 years, while some types can take up 1000 years.
Further disadvantages of bottled amenities
Liquid soap can create further disadvantages due to its ingredients. While bar soaps are made with natural ingredients such as animal fats and plant oils, liquid soap is made out of petroleum. Liquid soap also requires emulsifying agents and stabilizers to maintain its consistency. One of these is diethanolamine (DEA), which is often added to create a creamy texture and foam when used. Ingredients like this can create further environmental problems: a 2009 study found that DEA can be potentially toxic for aquatic species.