Soapbox Monday: The eco-sins of hotels

(Photo by Clean the World.)

It’s true that hotels, motels and inns have made efforts to lessen their impact.

Rare is the bathroom these days that doesn’t have a little sign telling guests to hang up their towels if they don’t want them replaced. The environmental cost of washing and drying all that terrycloth is huge. (Not to mention the cost to the hotel, which is probably why they're on board with this initiative.)

But I’m not seeing much else of significance.

I stayed in a Virginia hotel over the weekend that I was pretty sure was new. The place sure looked like it. And smelled like it. So one might think they had incorporated some of the latest thinking.

But on a cold night, the room was roasting. I finally wound up turning the heating/cooling unit to air conditioning and set the thermostat at 64. There wasn’t much improvement.

The room had a small refrigerator humming away. Nice convenience! But I had maybe two cans of juice and an extra sandwich to put in it. Someone ought to make smaller “motel” fridges that would be more efficient.

The room had no recycling containers.

The fixtures has CFL bulbs, to be sure. But my big beef is nightlights.

Consider: Hotel rooms are pretty dark. If you get up at night to use the bathroom, you don’t want to stub your toe in unfamiliar surroundings, so you need some small degree of illumination. I usually achieve this by opening the curtain a bit.

When it comes to the bathroom, however, you have to turn on the light to see. And then you’re blinded by the brightness.

And I’m sure most people do what I sometimes do if the curtain trick doesn’t work: You leave the light on in the bathroom, and then close the door most of the way so the light doesn’t keep you awake, but do you can find the door.

Which means there’s 100-200 or more watts of lighting burning all night.

An LED nightlight would consume less than a watt. Big difference! I usually bring my own, but I can’t imagine many other people do.

Some chains are finding that if they install nightlights, energy use dips impressively.

Theft would be a problem if they were plug-ins, but I’m sure these things could be permanently installed.

Is anyone other than me upset by the myriad tiny plastic bottles they provide the shampoo in? Ugh. I’d love to know the policies at hotels: Is it like food? If the guest doesn’t use the product, does it have to be tossed?

One new ray of hope in the hotel world: the Clean the World Foundation. Its mission is to collect the soaps and shampoos discarded by the hospitality industry, sanitize them and redistribute them to homeless shelters and impoverished people worldwide.

Pennsylvania has 56 hotel partners, including nine in Philadelphia. New Jersey has 34.

Cradle to grave, I’m not sure if there’s a significant eco-benefit. Saving soap instead of tossing it clearly reduces waste, but then there’s the matter of transporting it …

But each day, thousands of children die worldwide because of a lack of sanitation. Mostly, they don’t even have adequate water, so soap wouldn’t help in those cases. If they do have water, soap would be a huge humanitarian plus.

What do you think hotels and motels should be doing differently? Leave a comment below and let us know. Or if you're a hotel that's making a difference, post a comment about that, too.