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Tourism and the war on waste

Why waste management is not 'just' an environmental issue

When discussing waste in the tourism and hospitality industry, we often focus on the environmental impacts: the single use plastic that clogs the oceans and the wasted food that ends up in landfills where it releases harmful gases.

But waste is not “just” an environmental issue. It also has far-reaching social,  financial and moral impacts.

Food, food everywhere, and not a bite to eat


When it comes to food waste, two alarming statistics are at extreme odds with each other:

  • One-third of all food produced globally is wasted; the hospitality and food service industry accounts for 26% of this.
  • Although the world produces enough food to feed 10 billion people, almost one in 10 don’t have enough to eat.

When so many people face food insecurity, the issue of waste becomes a moral one.

Food – and the associated costs and emissions – is wasted at all points of the supply chain, from cultivation through transportation and storage, to preparation and final consumption.

Tourism businesses can quickly improve their bottom lines and reduce their footprint by tackling food waste. In fact, hotels that invest in food waste reduction programmes see an average 600% return on investment.

Check out our article on 10 ways to reduce food waste in your tourism and hospitality business.

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​Life in plastic? Not fantastic.


The tourism and hospitality industry produces 150 million tons of single-use plastic every year. At this rate, by 2050, the ocean will contain more plastic than fish.

There are plenty of areas where the industry can cut down on plastic, from cute bottles of soap, shampoo and lotion to heaps of single-use straws and cutlery to the ready availability of bottled water.

Example: Recycling Soap

Take soap as an example. Some hotels provide bars of soap to reduce plastic waste. But the US alone throws out two million partially used bars of soap every day. Yet soap is a luxury for millions of people worldwide, with the World Health Organization saying millions of children’s lives could have been saved throughout the COVID-19 pandemic if they had soap to wash their hands with. Two potential solutions exist to the soap waste problem in tourism and hospitality.

  • The first is to ditch the soap bars and tiny plastic bottles and switch to larger, wall-mounted dispensers that can be refilled.
  • Or hotels can recycle discarded soap into new bars that they can use in their own operations or donate to sanitation projects.

This was the approach taken by The Hilton. Together with Clean the World, the hotel chain distributed 7.6 million bars of recycled soap over the past decade, keeping two million pounds of soap and bottles out of landfills and potentially saving thousands of lives.

There is also an opportunity to upskill people in your community in the craft of soap making and recycling. This way, you’ll support local economic development, create jobs, and address the sanitation crisis.


Waste not, want not


The phrase “waste not, want not” emphasises the importance of not wasting resources today if we want to avoid shortages in future.

Here are other ways to address the environmental, social and financial impacts of waste in your tourism operations:

  • Join the circular economy. Squeeze as much life out of your resources as possible. Compost food waste. Recycle everything that can be recycled. Repurpose used linens into cleaning rags or donate them to a local charity. The Locke chain of aparthotels recycles used pillowcases into laundry bags for guests, a great example of simple circular innovation.
  • Get your community involved. As custodians of their environment, local people often have interesting ideas and knowledge when it comes to protecting and restoring ecosystems.
  • Pick the low-hanging fruit. Tackle water waste by fixing leaking taps, installing timers on irrigation systems, choosing indigenous plants, switching to low-flow taps and shower heads, using grey water in the gardens and encouraging guests to reuse towels and linen to reduce the amount of water and energy used in laundry.

Need help and ideas for getting to zero waste? Weeva’s Zero Waste and Sustainable and Ethical Procurement parameters help you to educate your staff, reduce waste across your operations and implement practical, effective measures to make a positive impact.

Like what you read?

Read our article on Food waste management in the tourism industry.

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