The Critical Points: Give me back individual hotel toiletries

Let me start with a clear and direct statement: single-use plastics are a scourge on the environment and need to be eliminated. However, instead of removing these plastics while simultaneously maintaining the customer experience, hotels have enacted a cost-cutting trend under the disguise of an environmentally-friendly move. Hotel chains large and small continue to remove individual toiletries and replace them with bulk dispensers mounted on the wall.

I — for one — cannot stand these dispensers. Give me back my individual hotel toiletries.

Why the dislike for bulk bottles?

They’re gross

Next time you’re in the shower with a set of bulk, wall-mounted toiletries, I challenge you — without touching them — to look at the back side of the mounts and the bottom where the water collects. Most likely you’ll find a colony of the blackest and slimiest bacteria rivaled only by the stuff you find on wet tree bark deep in the Georgia woods. I understand hotel rooms are dirty (yes, the remote is the first thing I wipe off with sanitizing wipes), but why create a new place for spores of death to collect? Housekeepers only have so much time to clean a room, and I’m certain that mounted toiletry dispensers are not something regularly sanitized.

Bulk mounted soap and shampoo at the Moxy Hotel Seattle
Bulk mounted soap and shampoo at the Moxy Hotel Seattle.

People are crazy

I continue to have faith in humanity, but like any bell curve, there will be outliers among us. As a Wisconsin Walmart shopper found out back in July, our fellow humans can be crazy. Her daughter bought a bottle of shampoo only to find it had been filled with the hair remover Nair. The bulk toiletries supposedly have a tamperproof cap requiring a key to open the tops, but after testing these, I am able to open almost all of them within 10 seconds. Individual toiletries with tamperproof seals are the way to go here.

Who knows what brand they’re being refilled with

I like to give business owners the benefit of the doubt, but if a struggling hotel property is faced with a need to cut costs, an easy move would be to refill the bulk dispensers with whatever inexpensive bath products they can buy and pass them off for whatever is on the label. If hotels are not refilling the bulk plastic bottles and replacing them, then have we made any improvement on hotels foregoing single use plastic packaging?

What should be included in a hotel stay?

A regular argument against individual toiletries is that hotel guests should just bring their own. I can understand this if you have specialized products to which you’re devoted or sensitive skin. Me? I have no desire to measure out 3-ounce bottles (or multiple for a long trip) that could leak in my bag. For me, packing like a minimalist eases my stress and makes travel that much more enjoyable. I also think that if I need to start packing my own toiletries, we’ll eventually end up at a place where a hotel will try to get away with providing the bare minimum.

If hotels begin to get a free pass on providing soap and shampoo, what else starts to get cut? Towels get used once then have to be washed with detergent or bleach, potentially harmful to the environment. Should hotels have to provide towels? Think about TV — everyone has their own devices these days, so let’s cut that too. Desk? Don’t work in your room; we have a shared lobby for that. Mini-fridge? Nope, you can come buy refrigerated snacks and drinks from our café. Iron and ironing board? We have a pressing service that charges you. The unbundling of services — just like the airlines — is what awaits if guests don’t draw the line somewhere in what a hotel should provide.

Remove plastics, go biodegradable

As I said in the beginning, single-use plastics are a scourge on the environment, so why can’t hotels use biodegradable/zero-waste packaging for individual toiletries? This technology already exists, and it’s already in the market. In fact, here are 30 brands in the hygiene and makeup industry that package their products in entirely biodegradable material. Recycled aluminum bottles, plastic-free floss that is compostable, wax covered paperboard, recyclable, BPA-free tubes with zero VOC inks — the tech exists, and a company like Hilton or Marriott coming to the table to negotiate large amounts of these products could drive prices down to an affordable level.

If hotels really want to go green and impact the environment in a positive manner, shouldn’t they be willing to pay a bit more for this kind of technology?

Bottom Line

I don’t want bulk-mounted, germ catchers filled with who knows what in my shower when I pay large amounts of money or points for a hotel stay — particularly at a luxury chain where people do (in fact) care about and enjoy the luxury bath products provided. I also don’t want to pack bottles of toiletries to either potentially spill in my bag or cause delays at the next TSA checkpoint. Where do we begin to draw the line for what should and shouldn’t be provided in a hotel stay?

Do I want single use plastics gone? Yes, and the technology exists to already make it happen. However, it’s convenient for hotels to cut costs (and the customer experience) rather than go after these new packaging technologies. They can say bulk-mounted toiletries are occurring all in the name of a green move, but I’m not buying it. Bring back the single-use toiletries.

Featured image by Eric Rosen / The Points Guy