Hotel Chains Eliminating Single Use Plastic Toiletries Is Hypocritical And Bad For Guests

Hotel chains have moved to bulk toiletries, often mounted on the wall in the shower, because it’s cheaper than giving each guest mini bottles. And they tell you it’s better for the environment because they’re throwing away less plastic. Top luxury hotels frequently still offer individual toiletries, however, because the bulk approach has problems.

  • Bottles don’t get refilled properly and when they do get refilled hotels are more likely to use counterfeit products.
  • They’re germ magnets. They simply aren’t sanitized by housekeeping. Here’s a National Institutes of Health study on bacterial contamination of bulk-soap-refillable dispensers.
  • 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.

One reader points out the hypocrisy in the environmental claim that hotels are dropping individual toiletries to get ride of plastics from their room at a Sheraton, sharing the photos of individual use plastics.

Here’s the bulk hand wash and lotion in their bathroom, right next to disposable plastic cups.

And there are plastic water bottles and more plastic-covered plastic cups in the room, too.

He points out this is a broader travel industry trend, and extends beyond hotels. Delta Air Lines eliminated plastic forks and spoons in use during the pandemic. And instead of bringing back reusable metal, they moved to disposable wood ‘to reduce plastics’ – though they’ve moved to use of plastic cups. They also dropped plastic wine bottles in favor of wine in cans – though longer flights in premium cabins still have metal flatware and wine in bottles so their so-called ‘concern for environment’ only goes so far. They make cuts to the passenger experience, using the fig leaf of environmental concern, in much the way that hotels do.

If hotels cared about guest experience and the environment they would stick with single use biodegradable packages, rather than large plastic bottles shared between guests.

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. The only way this changes is if AAA/CAA in North America, AA in the UK, Michelin and other hotel ratings agencies start reducing the rating of hotels that don’t provide individual toiletries. Marriott no longer requires limited-service brands like Courtyard to even provide a bar of soap to guests. IHG allows Intercontinental properties to replace soap with multi-use bottles of hand wash.

  2. Hotels care about one thing as does every other business, and of course is profit. They ask, can we get away without providing housekeeping? How many beverages can we get away with not making available for the complimentary breakfast and the list goes on? Rate us a 10 in everything though we are truly an 7 at best. Customers do not matter, but doing and offering the least possible to make the highest possible profit does.

  3. 1000 % agreed on the Article as well as the first two comments posted. On a personal note, I really wish that Hampton Inn would stop replacing the plastic cups (provided by the ice bucket) with paper ones designed for use with coffee. Maybe it’s just me, but I’m willing to bet that 98 % of all adults use these for wine, beer, or mixed drinks, and all of these taste positively terrible in paper cups (if they really want cold water, most prefer to place their water bottles in the fridge, because mixing bottled water with ice of unknown purity is not ideal).

  4. The argument could just as easily be hotels should also get rid of single use plastic bottles and cups as well.

  5. Agree with article and first 2 comments as well. Anyone with a rational mind knows the “this is for the environment” line is BS. It would be nice if companies were just upfront and honest.

  6. Might be easier to bring your own bar of soap and a cup. The high end products are expensive and most people have a preferred product. I stay 100+ nights a year elsewhere and don’t need /want high end soap or daily housekeeping. Perhaps the hotels could start charging for high end soap and housekeeping. Different rates for different services.

  7. Sometimes I feel like this website should change its name from “View From the Wing” to “First World Problems on the Road.”

    If the biggest complaint I have with my hotel room is that I have to drink my Jack Daniels out of a plastic cup things are doing pretty okay. For some reason, people think hotels are in the business of kissing our rear ends. They are not. They are in the business of providing the minimum product reflective of the brand standard at a price people are will to pay for said brand standard while generating a profit and, hence a return on investment to shareholders.

    And, of course their messaging is spin. Just like when an airline calls cutbacks to their loyalty programs “enhancements,.”

  8. Can’t believe that some hotels still give out plastic bottles. What year are they in?

  9. Green-washing by hotels and airlines is simply business to reduce their variable, operational costs while trying to minimize complaints from customers.

    While I am all for the reduction of use of plastic and the plastic waste problem, the hotels and airlines on average are not really interested in reducing waste while maintaining or boosting quality of service on average since that would mean paying what it takes to maintain the service and product and lead to a reduction in margins.

  10. But the bathroom hanger shows polar bears and seals on them and how you save them if you reuse your towel. My biggest complaint about all this is that most hotels have stopped providing bars of soap.

  11. I HATE the larger bottles! Why not manufacture the plastic bottles “bio” so that they can be composted or are biodegradable?

  12. Gary, your dedication to this absurd campaign against soap dispensers is impressive.

    Nothing wrong with these dispensers. Better than the stupid little individual ones. And not for “green” reasons. They just make more sense for both the customer and the hotel.

  13. It extends to bottled water too both still and sparkling
    Now I get a dispenser serving poorly chilled water with weak carbonation 🙁
    I’ve reduced my business with this and being asked to clean my own room and or empty my own trash cans due to Covid protecting housekeepers
    Must give 24 hours notice for housekeeping and only select hours will they service the room

  14. As for the lack of soap, I have returned to the days of my long lost youth frequenting youth hostels, where I now carry a bar of soap of my choice in a travel soap container.

  15. Gary – I assume you know some states, led by California (what a shock), have passed laws outlawing single use toiletries (and simple things like plastic bags in stores). The hotels don’t have a choice in that case.

    Personally I don’t care and I’m fine with businesses taking steps to cut costs. Good to see you are on your germaphobe soapbox again over this issue. I was worried posting at the “National Inquirer” articles got you distracted.

    Easy solution people – travel with your own shampoo and conditioner if you want. Can fit in 3 oz bottles if carryon or you can buy some at your destination. Personally I use whatever is there with no complaint. I hate the phrase but this is the very definition of a “first world problem”.

  16. California doesn’t mandate the toiletries to be mounted on the wall or not to be refilled, but this is what hotels do anyway. Although the most hilarious thing happened to me in Arizona, when one luxury B&B had not one but 2 set of toiletries – both deadbolted to the wall – one in the shower and another near sink, but neither at the jet tube, and the bathroom was pretty big. I got the message – wash out yourself first before getting in our precious jacuzzi 🙂
    Btw, you can easily get your grocery in plastic bags in California – they are simply called “multi use plastic bags” and sold .10 apiece at the counter, the same price as paper bags. They are different from old flimsy bags but they are exactly what the “plastic bag” means in the rest of the world

  17. @AC – California does not bad “single use toiletries” they ban them in plastic bottles. Hotels could distribute single use toiletries in biodegradable packaging (some hotels do this! it’s what the Capital One lounge at DFW uses in their shower rooms)

  18. If I ever check into a hotel and find these wall mounted toiletries, my first stop will be to CVS/Walgreens to buy my own toiletries. I don’t trust people to not play games by putting stuff in there, and I don’t trust the hotels to keep them filled.

  19. Last week I stayed at the Hampton Inn in Huntley Illinois, a really nice property, by the way. Except both the shampoo and conditioner pump dispensers were empty. I just used soap. But some people prefer proper hair care toiletries.

  20. Definitely prefer the large toiletries. Horrid they do this rate higher in my book.

    Of course, we bring our own items for hotels backward enough to still have single use packaging. Hopefully this is changing on a larger scale.


  21. Folks…this is the law in CA (AB1162)! Love those nanny democrats voting in useless “feel good” less plastic laws, while gas here is $5 a gal, homelessness is absolutely rampant, and traffic is horrific! Other states will follow, that’s why hotels are just doing it now….

  22. To those complaining about “first world problems “. Remember, you live in “first world “.

  23. Sometimes I feel like a bath rather than a shower. Of course then the toiletries are mounted too high to reach them from that position. I guess I could use the plastic cups and partially fill those.

  24. These individual things need to go the way of bibles in the room BYE BYE Bring your own and stop being a Karen.

  25. Ah yes, more thought leadership on the author’s favorite topic (or is that union-bashing?). It’s really too bad that frequent travel has become so boring – CC bonuses are largely useless, no more real MS or churning, award availability is nada, and the loyalty programs hardly offer anything. So we’re reduced to arguing about masks and lotion pumps to keep the pageviews up. I miss the old days.

    Anyhow, while I don’t really buy any of the content of this article, and it just seems strange to continue pounding the table about such a weird topic, what I will say is that I’m actually curious what the numbers will bear out in terms of costs due to this move. Many think of this as a cost-cutting measure, but there is one issue, and that issue is consumer behavior.

    Many, many marketing studies have shown that the more of something someone has, the more they will use. Costco knows this – we go and buy the 64 oz thing of ketchup thinking it will last a year, and before we know it we’re putting ketchup on everything and it is gone in a week. They get us with the lower unit price but overall contribution is higher. It’ll be interesting if the data will bear the same thing out here – when we had single-use toiletries, it caused us to ration, especially in the days of non-daily housekeeping. Now, with the dispensers, we can pump away. So the overall costs might go up. I wouldn’t be surprised if some places go back to single-use…as a cost-cutting measure!

  26. I travel quite a bit and haven’t encountered this yet. The only thing worse than having to remember to pack my own soap is the repeated use of the phrase “first world problems”. Please stop.

  27. When staying at a hotel, I think about the hypothesis that bulk toiletries are a “germ magnet” since hotel housekeeping does not sanitize them.

    Accordingly, my inquiring mind wants to know why many hotel guests are comfortable shoving a wad of toilet paper dispensed from a bulk toilet paper roll up their ass to help wash out excess fecal material between their butt cheeks.

  28. Cars are made from plastic too. Will we be getting rid of cars (for the environment) ?

    This is nothing but our “hogwash” to satisfy all the environmentalists and their attempt to save the planet!

    We bring our own gigantic bottles of shampoo and conditioner to use in hotels and on cruises because even they are in on this ridiculous “cost-saving, environmental game.”

  29. I sold the large in room dispensers and refill products. An awesome idea and product, but within weeks it was a problem. The units were locking and each housekeeper had a special key. Sometimes they forgot the key so the dispensers weren’t refilled. It became so time consuming and labor intensive to refill each bottle it was discovered that housekeeping was filling all bottles with the same product. A real problem for management. Biodegradable packaging is extremely expensive and cuts into per room profits so you rarely see it. If you don’t want to use the bulk products just call down to the desk and ask for individual bottles.

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