Hygiene and Sustainability: How to make both work?
— 17 experts shared their view
Just when it seemed as if single-use plastics were slowly becoming a thing of the past, COVID-19 hit the industry. The second half of 2019 had seen more and more industry leaders making public pledges to abandon a product group that had become the infamous representative of an old and immoral, linear economy.
A few months later, the former sustainability arch-enemy is experiencing a massive comeback as a hygiene hero. COVID-19 and the fear of future pandemics are radically challenging recent approaches to product circularity/re-use by imposing enhanced hygienic standards. Keeping a strong position against single-use items might impose dramatic acquisition costs and operational distress on businesses slowly recovering from their liquidity breakdown.
Whilst pondering the reputational risk of violating hygiene law on the one side and diminished sustainability efforts on the other, the former is likely to turn up trumps.
The battle for sterility might be won by detergents containing ingredients unlikely to biodegrade in wastewater. Laundry services might cause more emissions due to an average increase of the washing temperature.
Where lies the sweet spot between hygiene rule compliance and sustainability? Must there be a trade-off? Are there Best Practices to share?
Principal Sustainable Development at 3 Pillar Solutions, LLC
The reduction of single-use plastics has been widely embraced recently, but it was as a result of consumer demand. It isn't something many hoteliers, that I am familiar with, wanted to do, even though the cost of purchase and waste hauling fees were reduced. In my consultative experience, they find it more convenient to replenish plastic, rather than moving glass and china back and forth to dishwashing and storage locations. Some hoteliers are now adding individually wrapped utensils where they have never used them before, just to be on the safe side.
I believe it will be a trade-off in the short term, unfortunately, because of fear. This basic human emotion on the part of individuals, the liability concerns of hoteliers, and the marketing of clean hotels to get travelers back will prevail. The best we can hope for is robust recycling measures. In my community, sustainability has taken a back seat, and it's all hands on deck for sanitation and hygiene to boost guest confidence. Nothing else, aside from guest service, seems to matter right now.
Hopefully, if the virus does not surge this fall and winter, we can reinvigorate sustainability efforts.