California Threatens to Destroy the Hotel Bathroom Experience Outlawing Mini Toiletry Bottles

First they came for the straws, but I don’t drink from plastic straws so I said nothing. Now they’re coming for miniature shampoo, conditioner, and bath gel as California considers outlawing single use toiletries.

Assembly Bill 1162 passed the Natural Resources committee on Monday by a vote of 6-3 (two Assemblymembers did not vote.)

The bill would ban “lodging establishments”, including hotels, motels, resorts, bed and breakfasts, and vacation rentals, from offering small plastic bottles holding 12 ounces or under of product in rooms or public spaces. Instead, the establishments could offer “bulk dispensers” that could be used by a number of people. The goal is to cut down on the amount of plastic containers thrown away by guests and operators. The law wouldn’t apply to nursing homes, hospitals, long-term rentals, or hosted rentals.

That means hotels would install wall dispensers in the shower but wall dispensers are awful and must be stopped.

  • They don’t get refilled properly and when they do get refilled hotels are more likely to use counterfeit products.
  • They’re germ magnets.
  • And guests have been known to put stuff in them you wouldn’t want there. Even where there have been safeguarding locks in place I’ve had rooms where those weren’t locked.

Marriott is enforcing wall mounted toiletry dispensers in the showers of their managed North American properties. It’s cheaper and they get to pretend their motivation is the environment.

It turns out this is a gift to corporate hotel interests under the fig leaf of the environment. Customers may not like this. But what if customers had no choice? Hotels could cut costs and not worry about competition. California’s proposed ban would be a gift to hotel bottom lines by enforcing a cartel that limits how customer-friendly their bathrooms can be. Enforcing a ban means hotels save money, and competitor hotels can’t compete on experience with single use toiletries.

(HT: Point Me to the Plane)

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I hate those dispensers, I see them as unsanitary. I carry my own items and use them except in the nicer properties where they have good quality products.

  2. Agreed. This is one step too far. It’s the only thing I like at the hotel. Might as well stay at an Airbnb in this case.

  3. Necessity is the mother of invention. Maybe someone will come up with a tamper proof sanitary dispenser, they’re here to stay, next thing they will outlaw hair dryers to reduce dependance on coal

  4. By continuing to travel and therefore, spend money in Kalifornia, you are only supporting their asinine policies. Use their idiotic boycott mentality against them, stop traveling to that shithole state.

    If you find yourself forced to stay in a hotel there, just pump all the soap & shampoo out of the bottles and down the drain everyday.


  5. The whole germ magnet thing is come soap dispensers in public restrooms aren’t “germ magnets”? Is there any way to make them NOT germ magnets? I mean let’s face it, beyond the ‘Merican Freedom facade, tiny little bottles with an ounce of liquid is pretty asinine.

  6. Between your headline and these comments, apparently this issue is a huge deal. Oh no, the hotel bathroom “experience!” “Boycott California!!” Haha

  7. Wow, obsessed much Gary? This may surpass even your fascination with 737 Max restrooms.

    I spend 100 nights a year in hotel rooms. I’m all for the wall-mounted dispensers. So much waste in the stupid mini-bottles.

  8. I have enjoyed reading most lf your articles for years, but this article reveals too much your backward thinking and based on the comments above, your target market is “mid America” to put it politely. I would expect better view towards conservationism considering how well traveled (hence cultured) you are. Now I realise you are not well traveled, you are just in airplanes a lot.

  9. I’m all for it.
    I worked in hotels and restaurants for years, there are lots of really disgusting things in hotels, refillable soap and shampoo dispenser are the least of your concern. Think about it, the fork you place in your mouth has been in the mouth of thousands of people before you. The person who washed it, the next person who polished it with thier bare hands reusing a napkin over hundreds of other pieces of cutlery and glassware, then the people who touch it to set your table… A reusable soap dispenser shouldn’t scare you and if you are deeply concerned, bring your own stuff. Problem solved.

  10. As a long time California resident, I’m all for eliminating these mini bottles of lotion, conditioner and shampoo. Bring your own or use the dispensers provided. Can’t happen soon enough and will make a small dent on the amount of trash/recycling generated in this state.

  11. Great. This is long overdue. The wall mounted containers can be made tamper proof and there is no reason why they can’t be sanitary. They should be adopted by every country (… indeed made compulsory ).

  12. Why can’t the plastic bottles be eliminated and replaced by aluminium foil or cardboard/paper packets?

    I am a frequent traveler to South Africa, where environmental tourism is a huge part of the economy, and every safari camp, lodge, park, or hotel vendor I’ve visited has come up with an environmentally friendly AND affordable way to handle disposable toiletries. One place I stayed at even utilized thin, hollow bamboo reeds about 4″ long and both ends sealed with waxed paper.

    I’m a progressive environmentalist but some of these laws in California are really reactionary and illustrate what a lack of creativity and thinking-outside-the-box prevails in the state.

  13. Garry have seen the “lockable” dispensers one can still unscrew the tops the locks are essentially locking the bottles in

    Side note these have been in use in Europe for a long time at some very nice properties.

  14. If the single use containers are recycled properly, then I don’t see the issue. But what do I know.

  15. @Jack, the generated plastic waste is a cancer on the civilized world.

    @Nathan, Really? this is but a first world issue that’s dumping its plastic garbage on the rest of the world.

    @Kevin, we are fine with you and your likes!

  16. If only customers could bring their own toiletry supplies. It’s not like hotels supply you with toothpaste. People have no problem bringing that. It is pretty easy to buy some 100ml plastic bottles on Amazon and fill it with your own stuff from home.

  17. Small toiletry bottles would still be allowed in California but they may have to be made of the same kind of material as the milk product cartons available for sale in say much of Scandinavia.


  18. Ok, I’ve changed my mind… If y’all think it is doable. Then why not. It’s true that reducing usage is much more effective than trying to recycle (most of which gets put in landfill anyway b

  19. Plastic straws suck. Are you sure you are behind them? I spend a lot of time in the lovely little country of Guatemala, and I am happy that they are taking steps to end the use of both plastic bags and plastic straws.

  20. I dislike the transition at hotels that have gone from small individual bottles of toiletries to wall-mounted toiletries.

    I’ve found bottles empty or with the wrong product more times than I want to count and mostly end up discovering the hotel mess-ups at some of the most inconvenient of times.

    So-called environmental initiatives by hotels that result in reduced (service/goods) procurement costs for hotels is something that I don’t welcome except with skepticism.

  21. Michael most hotels at which I stay do indeed provide toothpaste and toothbrush sets. If it’s not in the room, the front desk or housekeeping can very often arrange for them to be provided on a complimentary basis in my experience.

  22. Once a state has solved its major problems, it can go to work on the minor problems. California has now decided to curb straws and small refillable bottles.

    Come to think of it, why should hotels provide any of these chemically-laden products? Back when I was young, a motel would provide a small bar of soap, slap a “sanitized” label around the toilet seat, and that was sufficient to make guests happy. Some studies indicate most people wash too much anyway. Nobody has a “right” to free conditioner and body lotion.

    As others have noted, hotels are germ repositories. Let’s take it a step further conservation-wise. Why should hotels change the sheets between every guest? Again, that didn’t happen in the old days. With white sheets, it’s easy to tell if there’s been any “occurrence” that would require a change more than, say, once weekly.

    It would be much more environmentally friendly if employees simply did a daily quick wipe-down of the hotel room with a more thorough cleaning scheduled on a rational basis, i.e. weekly or bi-weekly.

    If the above appears draconian, think of your overnight environment on a plane. It would be no different and the average hotel guest could “take precautions” as desired just as we do on red-eye flights.

    Think about it.

  23. Soap is a germicide not a germ magnet – 100 of thousands of these bottles are ending up in the bay (not sure how but they are).
    I would be a lot more worried about the plastic in the ocean being eaten and incorporated into sea life we then eat than this – sure I like the little bottles, but it’s become absurd – one hotel chain has regular room containers 30 ml, suite containers are 40 ml -BUT the suite plastic containers are 2.5 times as big (eg the small containers are full and the big 1/2 full).
    Some of the containers don’t even have enough content for a single use – we only have one planet and lots of places already have the multi-use bottles – yes I don’t like them too, but I’ll deal with it to have less pcb’s in my food!

  24. @Gary — you always amaze me with your incredible productivity. A full time job, this blog, award booking, consulting, and now even a child. But to know you’re able to do all that while still being able to devote a significant amount of thought (and writing time) to the issue of whether someone has ejaculated into your soap dispenser? It’s mind boggling!

  25. Gary, I am perplexed that someone as well informed as yourself isn’t concerned about the environment, from the existential issue of global warming to plastics contaminating our oceans. You know this: So much of this plastic is ending up in the ocean that in just a few years, we might end up with a pound of plastic for every three pounds of fish in the sea. So why, not despite your libertarian leanings, but because of your social conscience, do you continue to, at best, ignore or more likely actively use the resources you have to lobby against such needed government regulation? This is particularly egregious for someone who enjoys traveling (I would hope responsibly).

  26. Gary, except that someone “depositing” bodily fluids in a soap dispenser doesn’t make wall mounted dispensers “germ magnets.” (I had read that post when you posted it) .

    Yes, it’s disgusting, but it’s not something inherent to the product coming in a larger, refillable bottle. Those problems can (and should) be overcome. Insisting on two ounces of disposable plastic to wrap an ounce of shampoo or whatever is just grossly asinine, yet so ingrained into our customs that we don’t think much of it.

  27. I am all for environmentalism, but I am against bulk dispensers. Easy solution…give away slightly larger bottles, made of some renewable material. This is where you get the TSA and the hotel rules against each other though. Lets be clear, the small bottles ARE an environmental disaster, no doubt. However there should be a better substance to put hotel toiletries in.

  28. One mention of California and the Conservatives click with renewed vigor.

    There’s plenty of guests that don’t even take these bottles home with them, so the hotel has to dispose and replace them. It’s both an environmental and monetary waste. There’s nothing wrong with dispensers. Can some idiot piss in them? I mean yeah, I guess. If you’re that worried about it then you should avoid buying packaged items since anything could have been swapped in there as well. In places like Japan there’s no concern with hotels using toiletry dispensers – maybe a cultural change is needed?

  29. This is terrible. People put urine in the shampoo dispenser. Now hotel guests in California will all have urine in their hair. Gross.

  30. So far this bill bans plastic bottles only so those pouch things that come as free samples in the mail pass just fine. Yah opening them is annoying and they usually hold less but they are much harder to tamper with or have lazy hotel staff not replace half used ones.

    “Plastic” means any synthetic material made from organic polymers, such as polyethylene, polyvinyl chloride (PVC), or nylon, that can be molded into shape while soft and then set into a rigid or slightly elastic form. “Plastic” includes all materials identified with resin codes 1 to 7, inclusive, as provided in Section 18015.

  31. I am reading these comments defending the ban, astounding. Stupid environmentalists are at war with the USA economy. Next they will be banning cars and drivers. Wait, they are working on that now.

    BTW. Plastic is made out of hydrocarbons. Hydrocarbons disintegrate over time, even faster in the sun. Sort of like acid in paper destroys old books. In other words, plastic is biodegradable, but too slow. All they have to do, is make plastics that disintegrate faster. But I guess the environmentalists never studied basic Organic Chemistry. Right now, the science of socialism is the new green.

  32. So many extreme opinions, I am sticking to mine, I have no intent of using a community soap dispenser. Yes I do use the community dispensers in public restrooms to wash my hands, unfortunately I frequently watch others depart without washing. (another topic for another day). I do not use the small mini bottles they stay in the room unless it is a W hotel, I like their bottles, in fact I take them with me to use down the road. I bring and use my own. Possibly a better idea would be to let the guest have to ask for them at the front desk or be part of the check in option.

  33. Why use our precious materials on wall dispensers or individual creamer cups or little cups of yogurt, etc. Hotels could just leave regular big bottles of shampoo and soap on the floor of the shower like at your home. They could put out communial big tubs of yogurt and do away with creamer because that might require cows which are bad for the earth. Simple.

  34. “So many extreme opinions, I am sticking to mine, I have no intent of using a community soap dispenser. Yes I do use the community dispensers in public restrooms to wash my hands.”

    Yet you don’t explain why you do the latter and not the former (though you temper the latter by saying you see people who don’t use it…which is completely unrelated).

  35. Plastic ruins resources such as beaches, marine life, etc. This ban will provide greater economic resources than the costs of a few annoyed germaphobes. I’m all for it.

  36. I see the rabid, psychotic, Fox News-watching conservatives have come out in full force on this post. Does your blog cater to the paranoid crazy libertarian crowd now? I guess that is a good audience for clicks and revenue. They all sit at home all day in their basements watching Alex Jones and Fox News while obsessing over AOC and “creeping socialism.” Great crowd you’ve got!

  37. this is great, can’t happen soon enough. I spend most of my year in hotels and can’t believe how many of these little bottles get 10% used and then thrown away.

  38. I stayed at a Hyatt hotel recently that said that they would recycle the extra soap to help those in need,. I thought that was a great model, which involved preventing waste while not requiring large dispensers.

    For everyone who has the view that one can avoid this by avoiding trips to California, I am very doubtful about this. Most likely, the chains that have hotels in California will find it easier to implement this policy at all of their hotels across the US than to just adopt it in California.

    I am against waste, but I find the small bottles to be useful. First, I appreciate that they are in a size that makes them easy to put in the TSA complaint ziplock bag. Second, I often stay at hostels and other places that do not supply toiletries. I appreciate that I have the ones that I have collected at hotels to prevent this from being an issue.

  39. @ Gary — It sounds like I will likely die from hotel germs soon if I don’t give up my hotel addiction, so I’m staying home from now on.

  40. Then they came for the toilet paper. And I didn’t speak up because the hotel provided complimentary discarded shredded paper from the hotel front desk and business center.

  41. “I stayed at a Hyatt hotel recently that said that they would recycle the extra soap to help those in need,”

    That is wonderful, but you realize that’s not the waste being discussed here.

    It’s nice that you stay in lots of hostels that don’t hand out shampoo, but (a) most people here likely do not, and (b) you can use a single shampoo bottle over and over during the lots of times you stay in hostels.

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