Plastic: Forging Ahead into a Sustainable Future for Hospitality Industry
The global plastic waste problem is one of the world’s most pressing environmental issues, as we produce 1.3 million tonnes of plastic debris each day. Unlike other East Asian countries like Singapore and Taiwan, which are already way ahead in the incineration and recycling business, Hong Kong currently has no incinerators and only has the capacity to recycle 1.8% of the total 775,260 tonnes of plastic waste produced in 20182. This plastic waste pollutes the water and the environment. Indeed, the plastic we produce never disappears. Instead, it becomes what we call microplastics - plastic pieces less than 5 mm in length. If you thought that visible plastic waste was a problem in Hong Kong, studies have found that they represent only about 4.8% of the plastic debris on our beaches, and only 3.33% in water - what’s left is a large proportion of microplastics invisible to the naked eye. While green consumerism is becoming the new normal, the hospitality industry needs to lead in a much needed sustainability movement in order to contribute to a more sustainable future.
Previous articles by G.R.E.E.N. Hospitality have provided insight into how the hospitality industry could tackle plastic waste through a circular economy, but what are the specific stepping stones to reaching that goal? In our G.R.E.E.N. Hospitality Plastic Toolkit, we propose a simple yet holistic framework for plastic reduction in the hospitality industry.
“Find it, Avoid it, Replace it, and Recycle it to Achieve Systemic Change.”
Find, Avoid, and Replace
To put it simply, this involves the entire story of plastic from production to disposal. Before the industry can be transformed, we have to start small and find where plastic is generated in our business operations. Waste mapping proposed by WRAP is a good way to visualize this and can aid prioritization of further sustainable action. The next step is to engage suppliers in sustainability commitments to avoid unnecessary plastic. This requires a consensus on procurement to ensure the supplier’s and purchaser’s goals are aligned. By involving environmental, social and ethical considerations in procurement decision-making, it prompts all actors within the supply chain to think about the entire life cycle of their products, giving an impulse to a sustainable chain reaction, from green product manufacturing to environmentally friendly consumer disposal behavior. Removing unnecessary plastics, designing products to improve their recyclability or their reuse and switching to more environmentally friendly material can only be achieved with the collaboration of all the actors in the hospitality industry's value chain.
“Before, only 9% of all the plastic was recycled. Now, with the global pandemic, the recycling sector has taken a serious hit.”
In its infancy, recycling has been promoted by the plastic industry as an ideal circular disposal method to transform our plastic waste into useful items. It creates an impression that if consumers sort their trash in the right bins, plastic will be harmless. This is most definitely not the case in most countries, especially in cities like Hong Kong, where the practice of exporting 94% of our collected waste dominated the recycling industry until the Chinese waste ban in 2018. Many packaging like chips bags are multilayered and almost impossible to recycle. Yet, it is precisely these plastics with low recyclability that dominate our market. Our goal with this toolkit is then to encourage hotels, airlines and restaurants to rethink their relationship with the plastic they use, by being more aware of their impact, strategically focusing on avoiding plastics that cannot be recycled, from production to disposal.
EVERYONE is Responsible
To promote systemic change, industries should involve everyone in sustainability initiatives within their value chain, from suppliers to customers.
To achieve this, hospitality businesses should...
Collaborate with suppliers to promote innovative solutions.
Engage and inform guests.
Change brand standards to implement sustainable practices.
Interact and form partnerships with other actors in the hospitality industry to stimulate change at a sector level.
Partner with environmental advocacy groups.
“It is not a lack of motivation that prevents [tourists] from sorting waste, but scarce information about waste facilities, inadequate infrastructure as well as scarce information about consequences.” — European Union
It’s time for the hospitality industry to come together and tackle the plastic waste problem collectively. Being key actors in the value chain, the hospitality sector could become advocates to promote sustained changes, recapture the value of plastic, and create an environment that is conducive to building collective sustainability awareness in Hong Kong.
Interested in reading the full report? Click here to learn more: https://www.greenhospitality.io/plastic-reduction-guide
International Bank for Reconstruction and Development / The World Bank. (2018). What a waste 2.0 - A Global Snapshot of Solid Waste Management to 2050. (Urban development series). Retrieved from https://openknowledge.worldbank.org/handle/10986/30317
Hong Kong Environmental Protection Bureau (2018) Monitoring solid waste in Hong Kong:waste statistics for 2018. URL: https://www.wastereduction.gov.hk/en/assistancewizard/waste_red_sat.htm
The Economist. (2018). The known unknowns of plastic pollution. Retrieved from https://www.economist.com/international/2018/03/03/the-known-unknowns-of-plastic-pollution
Hong Kong Environmental Protection Department (2017) Monitoring Of Solid Waste In Hong Kong - Waste Statistics for 2016. URL: https://www.wastereduction.gov.hk/sites/default/files/msw2016.pdf
Luca, C., Perello, M., Romein, A., Louw, E., Fertner, C., Große, J., Buckingham, S. (2017). Situation and behavioural analysis of consumer and waste behaviour and patterns. Urban strategies for Waste Management in Tourist Cities. The European Union. p.4