Marriott’s Move to Bulk Toiletries is Already a Disaster

Hotels encourage you to fly out for a visit while claiming to be going green by ditching plastic toiletries in favor of cost-saving bulk shampoo and conditioner – when if they cared about guest experience and the environment they would stick with single use biodegradable packages.

Marriott is moving to bulk toiletries worldwide by the end of next year. However we’re already seeing the problem for guests with this strategy. There are three basic issues.

  • They 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.

I stayed at a Marriott Courtyard last year where the shampoo was empty. I stayed at the same property a week later, assigned to the same room, and the shampoo was still empty.

One Marriott guest shared an experience much worse.

At this property, in the shower are three large toiletry bottles – soap, shampoo and conditioner. After using them for several days it was noticed that the soap bottle had the tamper proof bracket removed. On closer inspection, the bottle was filled mostly with water, and what looked like semen. This bottle was then compared to with the soap in the other room and it was very evidently tampered with. …

The bottle was taken to the front desk, and the associate was horrified and sent up a replacement bottle, and arranged an opportunity to meet with a manager in the morning. In the morning, a manager offered his sincerest apologies, as well as 5000 points and the option to switch rooms. He also said he needed to investigate further and meet with the team. The hotel is in possession of the bottle.

I don’t know what the substance was in the bulk toiletry and it really doesn’t matter. That these get tampered with in practice should be enough to stop the project in its tracks. And 5000 Marriott points as an apology for this is genuinely offensive. How can the hotel expect to charge for a room that is so poorly cared for by housekeeping, and that jeopardizes a guest’s health by allowing the toiletries to be compromised in this way?

Two years ago someone replaced the soap in dispensers at the Detroit airport with a disgusting bodily fluid making this the most easily predictable – and predicted – consequence of bulk toiletries imaginable.

Don’t tell me this is the price we’re expected to pay for the environment when hotels have the option to provide single use biodegradable packaging for toiletries instead of unsanitary bulk packaging.

(HT: Reid F.)

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. Given that it seems to be only one gender who is incapable of using a shampoo or soap bottle without injecting their bodily fluids in them, maybe the ban should simply be on men.

    Honestly, what is it with dudes?

  2. Yes they are akin to in room coffee makers. I have stayed at Hyatt’s that have the dispensers theirs were well secured and filled. Much more so than what is pictured. I am ok with dispensers look to Europe where they have been doing this for years, the issue as stated in your post is security and until they can get that perfected we have a issue.

  3. I started traveling for work a little over 2 years ago, and chose to mostly stick to Hilton. Since then, really nothing I’ve seen from Marriott has made me wish I had gone their direction. I’ve certainly stayed at a handful of their properties and they were perfectly fine, but it seems like they have a knack for making loyalty difficult by continually regressing.

  4. OMG, have you people ever used a public bathroom? The waste in hotel rooms is a little excessive and every little bit helps. It’s soap dispensers, you are not ingesting it you are cleaning with it. It’s job is cleanse away dirt. Do you test the water in every hotel you use? I do over 150 nights a year and it is time to lighten up. I applaud Marriott in making an effort especially as an Ambassador and Lifetime Titanium blah, blah. Come on people, move along, nothing to see here!

  5. Though there are problems associated with bulk dispensers, those problems can be fixed with a little effort and not too much money. The issues with plastics — contributing to global warming (they’re petroleum based), pollution of our rivers and oceans, killing of animals who constantly ingest them and have little bits of plastic filling their digestive tracts thus preventing them from taking in nutrients from food (plastic can break down to a point, but that makes the little pieces even more dangerous to turtles, whales, rays, dolphins, sharks, salmon, trout, etc., etc., etc.) — are far more pernicious, and not so easily solved. We have to have better priorities than focusing only on inconvenience, dirty hair, or a tiny number of terrible people doing disgusting things.

  6. @Bill – Did you even read the article?

    Yeah, we’ve all used a public restroom. I can’t speak for others, but personally I don’t rub substances from public restrooms into my hair and over my body, so it’s not a relevant comparison.

    Similarly, a water supply is exponentially harder to tamper with than an insecure soap dispenser, these are two totally different things.

    Yes, less waste is good, but not when it invites these kinds of problems. If you’re okay with having urine (or worse) in your shampoo, that’s your prerogative, but personally I don’t welcome that opportunity.

  7. Anything in a public space can be tampered with, including the sheets on a hotel bed, so to criticize an important initiative to reduce plastics to save our environment should be welcomed and supported. The critics are often the same people who oppose government environmental protection initiatives and give a pass (or worse) support the oil & gas industries and oppose governmental mandates on automobile exhaust pollution, such as the strict measures in California. Plastics pollute our oceans: they are bad and often try to cover their mischief by polluting political dialogue with libertarian bs.

  8. Gary,

    “ They don’t get refilled properly and when they do get refilled hotels are more likely to use counterfeit products.”

    Just wondering as I’ve never read any facts on this. Has there ever been any verifiable evidence of this assertion? Or is it more opinion/speculation or anecdotal?

  9. The disposable soap containers at Marriott’s are not sealed with any type of tamper proof seal. As for washing your hair is more concerning then washing your hands?

    I suggest if you want to have a secure supply of cleaning supplies you travel with your own sealed products. People will be people and I can’t say there won’t be some deranged individual that will do something that I haven’t even imagined, but I personally am willing to take a little risk. Hence the reason I travel and am not freaked out by a soap dispenser.

  10. “Don’t tell me this is the price we’re expected to pay for the environment”

    This is one of the most ignorant comments I had read in a long time…and that is after listening to Trump daily fior many months.

  11. How about people just bring their own? With changes to carrying liquids on flights coming, this surely makes it less of an issue.

  12. Here we go again. Short on topics, so you pulled this out of the recycle bin?

    I had the pictured Tea Tree amenities at a Springhill. They had a very strong scent of menthol. It was really bad. After one use my hair stunk like Doublemint gum so bad it was hard to sleep, so then I used my own shampoo. Never again, ever.

    As for the counterfeit/refill argument, that is bunk Gary, and you know it. The hotels have cases full of replacement big bottles. It would not possibly be cost effective to pay employees to take the time to refill bottles. Maids simply replace them with new bottles and get on with their work.

  13. Troublemakers making it bad for the rest- then lawyers get involved and it’s a free for all. The company needs to figure out a system that makes everyone satisfied, since we can’t put our own shampoo in our carryon anymore despite paying $50 for the privilege. If we are that paranoid, probably should not sleep in a bed that isn’t ours either, much less sit on a toilet that isn’t.

  14. So what is the new evidence that is in the headline of this post?

    Another regurgitated post with only the same 3 items of disgust you post with this type of post, nothing new.
    Another click bait for the day.

  15. I am fast becoming disenchanted with Marriott and thinking of cancelling their replacement credit card (in Canada). I strongly object to Marriott’s assertion in previous articles, that we guests are stealing the toiletries. I am quite sure their price is factored into the room rate and once they are used housekeeping would have to replace them anyway. Where’s the body lotion – surely not on the shower stall wall? One more thing to do away with or to have to ask for. Not impressed.
    Don’t get me started about the “new” rewards system.

  16. Gary is a germaphobe and also very uncomfortable with airport body scanners (won’t play shrink on why that is).

    I frankly love that he gets so worked up! Makes me feel better that something so minor bothers him that much.

  17. Yes, Fairfield Inns pay housekeeping to refill the bottles in the showers. Check a housekeeping cart. No replacement bottles, just large squeeze bottles of shampoo, conditioner and body wash. They don’t even pretend to use a reputable brand. Everything is unbranded so they can use the cheapest option available.

  18. I travel to Japan frequently and stay at New Otani properties. They switched to large, nicely designed toiletries a few years ago. It is a much better experience than the little plastic bottles.
    Of course, this is in Japan where service is a positive attribute rather than a lowly position and personal standards of decency are higher than in the US.

    The issue of contamination by guests is a separate issue and, as stated previously, cannot be solved easily. It is both a disgusting experience as well as a rare one.

    Hotel staff training will never solve the problem.

    If you don’t choose to play the odds/ bring your own toiletries. Problem solved.
    The hotel needs to offer something to all guests and the little bottles are hardly the solution.

    To condemn the entire hotel chain for the actions of a few malcontents is simply whining.
    Offer a solution or get over it.

  19. We need to write to our New York Senators to stop this. What if one person dies of AIDS because some junkie put her blood in the shampoo which got into a guests’ eyes? Or someone peed in the conditioner causing another guest to get hepatitis?

    No, there is a reason why there is individual packaging. What next? Shared condoms to save plastic consumption?

  20. I think one of the easiest ways to help the Environment and ease some of the concerns with “contamination” it move to bulk sealed containers rather than refillable.

    You can have the containers themselves made of more environmentally friendly materials but have them in sealed bladders. This is pretty common in items like hand soap and hand sanitizers.

    Plus it’s a lot easier for staff to swap them out rather than having to refill smaller containers.

  21. Gary, what prevents people from ejaculating into the single use bottles? Or into your coffee maker?

    Are you seriously this paranoid?

  22. @Derek, sarcasm comes across better when you label it as such. 😉

    Your post is as funny as AOC’s townhall discussion on eating babies.

  23. My family stayed at TRU by Hilton this summer. They had bulk toiletries in long squeezable tubes mounted to walls. No pump dispenser. You had to wrap your hand around the tube to squoosh the contents out the bottom. My wife has bad arthritis and couldn’t make it work. It was pretty tough for me without that problem

  24. People fly all over the world spewing carbon by the ton and they are concerned about some tiny 3-gram scrap of recyclable plastic.

    Go ahead, rub semen in your hair every morning. Include me out. It’s literally insane some of the stuff I read here.

    When celebrities stop traveling internationally daily by private plane, while bitching at me over using a straw, get back to me. I might conceivably care a smidge.

  25. The whole concept of doing this for the environment is complete BS. If they cared for the environment, they’d go to reusable coffee cups and stop using single-use plastic trays for coffee. Those use far more plastic than the shampoo and conditioner bottles. A small bottle of shampoo will last 2-3 days. Someone having two cups of coffee in the morning will go through two single use plastic trays for the coffee. Two single use plastic wraps for those plastic trays. In addition to a plastic wrapper for the single use cup itself. And some places have the worst of all — k-cups.

    They also often use plastic cups wrapped in plastic for water cups in many properties. Keep in mind the plastic bag to use with the ice bucket.

    Marriott is totally hypocritical here.

  26. They could easily use environmentally-friendly and fully recyclable containers. Even water now comes in paper containers. There is zero reason these bacteria traps are good for anyone other than Marriott’s bottom line. It’s filthy and disgusting.

  27. I’ve had someone put a colored substance, maybe dye or food coloring, into a hotel bottle once. It was not pleasant. I like little toiletries bottles and agree that if it’s a matter of waste, they could give me single use toiletries in a biodegradable package. I don’t like bulk containers and think it disingenuous that Marriott is hiding cost cutting behind environmentalism.

  28. It’s not so much a cost saving measure, as it (probably) is a sucking up to the enviro-nazis who likely threatened management with hateful PR on social media.

  29. @Traveler Dave – you’re only quoting part of the sentence, the point is there are better things they could do for the environment that would be better for the customer too. Avoid quoting people out of context.

  30. There are plenty of enviro-friendly options besides big, sealed, refillable tubs. Tiny waxed paper packet that tear open, like a bag of chicklets. Solid shampoo, that looks similar to a bar of soap, that is wrapped in paper. Thin, clear plastic tubes, about Ziplock thickness, that are 1/4 the thickness of a traditional small bottle.

    There are many options. I don’t understand why they aren’t being promoted more.

  31. I do think that an action – like this move away from individual units to bulk refillable – can have BOTH an environmental benefit (however large or small it may be) AND a cost savings as well.

    The mere fact that the merchant may receive some level of cost savings then does not negate or diminish the fact that it can ALSO have some level of environmental benefit **at the same time.**

    So.. I don’t think there’s anything wrong per se with a business touting the environmental benefits of a policy change (so long as said benefits are in fact true) and not also stating their economic impacts (savings) as well.

    I get it that from the consumer-side, a policy change that may have a negative impact (or perceived negative impact) on the guest AND has a perceived (whether true or not) positive economic impact on the business, will never get a strong consumer buy-in.. but I don’t think that moves which help the environment (and I do tend to believe that the basic idea of going to bulk versus individual disposables is a net gain for the environment) and also produce savings should be panned or viewed solely as motives by the economics.

  32. I agree the bulk dispensers aren’t a good idea for all the reasons Gary mentioned. But the real problem is all the members of the church of environmentalism who have deluded themselves into seeing meaningless actions as somehow virtuous or sinful. This has nothing to do with “saving” anything besides money for Marriot — and the company knows it can count on the green useful idiots to shout down anyone who complains.

  33. Simple solution: When you check in the front desk clerk ask you if you wish to use the Hotel shampoo, conditioner, what ever items they have to offer. Then depending on your answer the clerk hands you a baggy of the items you wish. Safe, and they will save a lot on waste and “take homes”.

  34. These are not bottles that are refilled. They are used till empty then replaced. The tops cannot be removed without obvious damage to the plastic, plus the ones in the showers cannot be removed without the key unless you destroy the bracket.

    As far as supposed body fluids found in a bottle… Have you ever seen what a small amount of white shampoo/conditioner looks like in water? Just because it looks like something doesn’t mean it is.

  35. I work for Marriott so I know a bit more than Mr. Leff on this topic:

    1) They are NOT reusable. They are meant to be recycled whereas the mini ones cannot. The mini ones have too small and opening to be washed out properly for recycling whereas the big ones can be cleaned first.

    2) They are tamper proof so cannot be opened by anyone except housekeeping when being recycled (the pump part is not recyclable).

    3) Since they are not being opened and closed all the time they are quite clean.

    With these changes across all 7000 hotels Marriott expects to save 3.5 million tonnes of plastic from going into landfills.

    Hope this helps clarify the disinformation from the article.

  36. @Zachary Weinstein – what a bunch of non-sequiturs. No one is taking about reusing miniature toiletries. And the bulk containters have clearly been tampered with. Being “opened and closed all the time” doesn’t do anything to clean them. Indeed, I cite an NIH study on this. Working for Marriott means you know more though eh?

  37. Seems like a spoiled attitude, they aren’t a disaster and they’ve been in place at plenty of places for over a year. The Paul Mitchell stuff is good quality and when locked you really have to break them to get into them. If you’re really that paranoid ask them to replace them when you get there or carry your own. The tiny bottles are a huge waste and have the same issues, there is no guarantee they were replaced after the person before you

  38. We always travel with our own toiletries. Never have housekeeping service during our stay. Would not dream of using the provided coffee maker. And always thoroughly disinfect the bathroom and all surfaces including doorknobs, remotes. I’ve seen enough Disgusting stuff in hotel rooms…..even those that are known for being super clean. You’re right….I stay in a hotel room as little as possible! Too much work! Not so bad if we’re staying several days and all the work is done the first day. Our hotel rooms are always left cleaner than when we arrived.

  39. That study looks at contamination in public health facilities, ie places notorious for elevated levels of bacteria, probably reflecting both how difficult it is to control levels in such places, but also the fact that those who use them are sick.
    You accept thousands of tons of plastic to go to landfill simply to avoid an infinitesimally small risk of an acquired infection ( but meanwhile prepared to accept a greater risk from every other surface in the room, including remotes, door handles, etc)

  40. I stay in hotels 50% or the year and Airbnbs for the rest. I’m sure the ones in Airbnbs are counterfeit or worst. Who knows what people do on your first class’s seat, maybe they smear semen and faeces there.

    The point is this is an important initiative. I’m checkin out of… a hotel right and that half used tube is going right to the bin as I don’t have room to pack kit. Sure you can use biodegradable but the energy and transport of producing those are a waste… On top of our terrible carbon footprint.

    Sure you’re going to get a bit of semen on your face… But its hardly going to kill you….some might even like it. The hotels just need to take a bit more care…

  41. Before everyone goes ballistic and think up doomsday scenarios I’m pretty sure this can be solved with some product redesign. In wall containers, encasing the bottle etc. It will get solved. Give members some points for using their own etc. Let’s worry about more important things or is that ridiculous for social media comments.

  42. @Zachary. You are also citing preposterously false numbers – wherever they might come from:

    Marriott has about 1.3M rooms worldwide. If you were saving 3.5M tons of plastic, that would be almost 3 tons per room! You really want to argue that each room uses almost 6000 lbs of plastic toiletry containers a year? I’m guessing the true weight of all the empty plastic bottles used in a room is more like 3 *pounds* per room a year and not 3 tons – and even that is likely to be a high estimate. You are likely off by at least a factor of 2000.

    If you case was so good, you would not be peddling obviously false and preposterously high numbers. But glad you wrote to “clarify the disinformation”.

  43. Tsk, tsk. And I thought it was me being cranky. Guess not!

    And I understand that this adoption of “Bon Voy” is also a disaster. Not surprised there either. Somebody needs to bring back the family

  44. Lets save these plastics and have no more discussion on this BRING YOUR OWN STUFF FROM HOME.

  45. Putting aside the ad hominem attacks on environmentalists by others, Gary argues against replacing single use plastic bottles with multi-use dispensers with three arguments I seen over the past year.

    1. The dispensers are subject to tampering
    2. There are better ways to address environmental concerns
    3. Marriott is not reducing room rates to compensate consumers

    Regarding item 1, anecdotes are not evidence. With 1.3 million rooms and 475 million room nights, how many incidents would indicate a problem? If there were 13 “tampering” events, that would be once every 100,000 rooms per year. I’d be interested in comparing the incidence of bed bugs to incidents of tampering. Or the incidence of sheets not being changed after a guest checks out.
    Regarding item 2, the hypothetical harm of widespread tampering juxtaposes against the actual reduction of 500 million small plastic bottles and 1.7 million pounds of plastic. This comes from Marriott’s press release. And these numbers seem realistic compared to 475 million room nights. The problems of plastic waste disposal are well documented. It is unclear what alternatives offer better energy savings and better reduce waste.
    Regarding item 3, in a competitive market, any reduction in costs is passed on to consumers through lower prices. Hotel rooms are not a purely competitive market. The fact that a handful of companies each controls hundreds of thousands of rooms coupled with loyalty programs suggests hotel rooms are not sufficiently competitive to force companies to pass every penny of savings on to consumers through lower prices. It seems unlikely that the small savings per room per night (if there are actual dollar savings)would lead to significant price reductions when mergers which results in tens of millions in cost savings don’t force price breaks.
    There are clear environmental benefits to the move away from single use bottles. And there is a really simple solution to those who don’t like or trust multi-use dispensers. Bring your own. I like to choose the shampoo and conditioner I use.
    It seems highly inappropriate to permit posts that equate environmentalists with Nazis. Whether you agree or disagree with environmentalists, they haven’t systematically murdered millions of people.

  46. Do you think housekeepers change out the small bottles after every guest? Because they don’t. You are going to have the same issues as you currently do. So might as well do this and save plastic.

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