What do Hotels do with Old Things? Sustainable Solutions for Towels, Furniture, Mattresses, Soap and More

What do Hotels do with Old Things

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In the hustle and bustle of the hospitality industry, change is constant. As they strive to offer the freshest and most comfortable experiences, hotels frequently replace everything from furniture to linens, to toiletries. However, what happens to all these old items that still have life left in them? In an era when sustainability is no longer just an option but a necessity, how are hotels dealing with this dilemma?

This article unveils the ingenious and eco-friendly solutions some hotels are adopting to manage their ‘old things’—from towels and furniture to mattresses, soap, and beyond.

Old Towels: From Luxury Linen to Rags and Beyond

As luxurious as they may be, towels in hotels can’t stay plush and absorbent forever. Once their useful lifespan in a guest’s room comes to an end, these linens can take on a myriad of new roles thanks to forward-thinking waste management strategies adopted by many hotels.

To start with, many hotels extend the life of their old towels by downgrading them to less critical roles such as gym or pool towels. As they further degrade, they may be used as cleaning rags in the hotel’s maintenance and housekeeping departments. By ensuring every stage of the towel’s lifecycle is utilized, hotels can considerably reduce their demand for new products.


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However, this is only the start of a towel’s potential second life. In recent years, innovative recycling programs have found ways to transform old linens into new products. Companies like SustainLinen specialize in transforming old hotel linens into reusable bags or even clothing items. This not only ensures the material stays out of the landfill but also reduces the need for virgin material in new products.

Some hotels also donate their used linens to animal shelters, where they are used as bedding for pets. This not only gives a second life to these used materials but also supports local communities and organizations in need.

Other initiatives are more high-tech. For example, Diversey’s ‘Linens for Life’ program sterilizes and repurposes old hotel linens into reusable items such as bags, school uniforms, and even emergency shelter materials.

In this way, from simple re-use to innovative recycling programs, the old towels from hotels are finding their ways into sustainable and socially responsible applications, signaling a positive shift towards a more circular economy in the hospitality sector.

Furniture Retirement: Second Life or Environmentally Conscious Disposal?

It’s no secret that the design and decor of a hotel play a significant role in attracting and retaining customers. Consequently, furniture pieces in hotels are regularly updated, leading to a potential surplus of retired furnishings. Thankfully, the hospitality industry has become more attentive to the environmental impact of their operations, resulting in sustainable and creative ways to handle old furniture.

The first and often the most favorable option for hotels is to donate usable furniture to local charities, schools, or community centers. By doing so, hotels not only reduce their waste but also contribute to the welfare of their communities. Many hotels partner with non-profit organizations like The Furniture Trust or Green Standards, which facilitate the redistribution of these items to places where they’re most needed.

Another viable option is selling the old furniture. A lot of hotels have embraced the idea of organizing their own furniture sales or partnering with second-hand furniture stores. Some even use online platforms to reach out to individuals who may need or appreciate these items.

In instances where the furniture is too worn out for donation or resale, recycling is the next best option. Dedicated firms offer furniture recycling services, dismantling the pieces and segregating the different materials for proper recycling. For example, metal and wood components can be repurposed or processed into new products, while fabrics and padding can be transformed into industrial rags or insulation.

Innovation is also helping hotels find more sustainable ways to handle old furniture. For example, programs like the Hilton’s Mattress Recycling initiative have expanded to recycle all types of hotel furniture. Such initiatives are not only reducing waste but also creating jobs and contributing to the circular economy.

No matter the path they choose, hotels are realizing the importance of giving their furniture a second life or ensuring its environmentally conscious disposal, marking another step towards sustainability in the hospitality sector.

Mattresses: Disposal Challenges and Innovative Solutions

A mattress may not be the first thing that comes to mind when considering sustainability in the hotel industry. However, considering the size and volume of mattresses a hotel may replace over time, it’s easy to see why finding sustainable solutions to their disposal becomes imperative. This becomes a challenge due to their bulky nature and the mix of materials they contain, which makes them difficult to recycle.

Historically, used mattresses ended up in landfills or incinerators, but this approach has serious environmental implications. Each mattress can take up to 40 cubic feet of landfill space and the materials in them, particularly metal and certain types of foam, can take decades to decompose. However, in recent years, significant strides have been made to address these challenges.

One of the promising solutions is mattress recycling. Specialist companies, like DR3 Recycling and Nine Lives Mattress Recycling, have developed techniques to dismantle mattresses and recycle up to 90% of their materials. Springs can be melted down to create new metal products, foams can be repurposed for carpet padding, and wooden frames can be chipped for mulch or other uses.

Hotels are also exploring mattress refurbishment as an option. Companies like The Refinishing Touch offer services to restore older mattresses to a near-new condition, extending their lifespan and delaying the need for a replacement.

Additionally, large hotel chains have begun to take responsibility for the lifecycle of their mattresses. For example, Hilton’s Mattress Recycling Program in partnership with DH Hospitality Group aims to recycle mattresses in their US hotels, aiming to prevent thousands of tons of waste from going to landfills.

Yet another creative solution is the repurposing of mattresses into other useful products. An initiative by Suite Sleep transforms organic mattresses into pet beds, combining sustainability with a novel market opportunity.

The disposal of old mattresses may be a complex issue, but with these innovative solutions, the hospitality industry is making strides towards more sustainable practices, transforming an environmental challenge into an opportunity for positive change.

Toiletries: How Small Items Make a Big Impact

Toiletries – those small, seemingly insignificant items found in every hotel bathroom – actually have a substantial environmental impact when considered on a global scale. Millions of partially used soap bars and mini bottles of shampoo and conditioner are discarded daily, contributing to substantial waste. Recognizing the environmental implications, many hotels have started to rethink how they manage these small but significant items.

One of the leading initiatives in this space is the Global Soap Project. The organization collaborates with hotels to collect, sanitize, and recycle used soap bars, which are then distributed to communities in need around the world. The process not only prevents waste but also helps to improve sanitation in less fortunate areas.

Similarly, Clean the World recycles not only soap but also partially used bottles of shampoo, conditioner, and body wash from partner hotels. These recycled toiletries are distributed in hygiene kits to vulnerable communities and disaster-stricken areas worldwide.

Another trend gaining momentum is the shift from small, single-use toiletry bottles to refillable dispensers. Major hotel chains such as Marriott and InterContinental Hotels Group have committed to this transition, significantly reducing plastic waste and the carbon footprint associated with manufacturing and disposing of these mini bottles.

Upcycling is yet another approach taken by some innovative hotels. In a unique initiative, the London-based hotel St. Pancras Renaissance worked with CleanConscience to transform discarded soap into laundry detergent for use in the hotel itself.

In addition, some hotels are also investing in eco-friendly toiletries, opting for products that use biodegradable packaging, natural ingredients, or those produced using carbon-neutral processes.

While toiletries may be small, they’ve become a significant focus of sustainability efforts in the hotel industry. By reducing, reusing, recycling, and rethinking their approach to these items, hotels are making a big impact on reducing waste and promoting sustainability.

Repurposing and Recycling: Hotel Strategies for Sustainability

In an effort to minimize their environmental footprint, hotels are increasingly adopting repurposing and recycling strategies. From unused food to waste water, and from worn-out linens to retired furniture, creative and thoughtful approaches to waste management are becoming integral to the sustainability goals of the hospitality sector.

One of the most common strategies involves the repurposing of food waste. Many hotels now participate in food donation programs, providing unused meals to local shelters and food banks. Some even go a step further by composting organic waste on-site or sending it to local farms for use as natural fertilizers.

Water recycling is another important initiative undertaken by several hotels. Greywater – relatively clean waste water from baths, sinks, and washing machines – is often treated and used for irrigation, flushing toilets, or even in cooling towers. These practices can significantly reduce a hotel’s water footprint.

Recycling and repurposing of building materials is also becoming commonplace during renovations or rebuilds. Old fixtures, fittings, and even structural elements are either sold to salvage yards or donated to organizations like Habitat for Humanity’s ReStores, where they can be resold to fund affordable housing projects.

Further, many hotels have initiated recycling programs to handle everything from paper and cardboard to glass, metal, and plastic. Some also participate in specialty recycling programs for items like electronics, batteries, and light bulbs.

In addition to recycling, the concept of upcycling – creatively transforming waste materials into products of higher value – is gaining traction. Old uniforms might be turned into unique fashion items, wine bottles into decorative lighting fixtures, or wooden pallets into stylish furniture.

The importance of sustainable practices is now well recognized in the hospitality industry. By exploring and implementing a range of repurposing and recycling strategies, hotels are not only reducing their environmental impact but also often realizing cost savings and even generating positive publicity.

Donation Programs: Hotels Partnering with Local Communities

Hotels generate a substantial amount of material that, while no longer suitable for their premium standards, can still serve a purpose. As part of their sustainability initiatives, many hotels are choosing to donate these items, partnering with local communities and contributing positively to social causes.

The donation of furniture, linens, and other household items is perhaps the most visible of these efforts. When hotels renovate or update their decor, items in good condition are often donated to charities, non-profit organizations, schools, or community centers. Companies like Green Standards and The Furniture Trust can facilitate these donations, ensuring the items reach those who need them most.

Food donation is another area where hotels make a significant contribution. Many partner with local food banks or charities to provide leftover, yet still perfectly edible, food to those who are food insecure. Organizations like Food Donation Connection help coordinate these efforts, making sure that food safety standards are maintained during the process.

Toiletries also have a role to play. Organizations like Clean the World and the Global Soap Project collect partially used soaps and other toiletries from hotels, sanitize them, and redistribute them to vulnerable communities around the world.

Some hotels go even further, donating not just materials, but also their time and expertise. Employee volunteer programs can contribute to local community projects, while initiatives like Hilton’s Hospitality Skills Center provide hospitality training to young people in disadvantaged areas.

By creating or participating in donation programs, hotels can lessen their environmental impact while strengthening ties with their local communities. The resulting benefits are multifold – waste is reduced, needy individuals and communities receive help, and the hotel enhances its reputation as a socially and environmentally responsible business.

Green Practices: How Hotels are Transforming Waste Management

A rising consciousness of sustainability and environmental protection has compelled the hospitality industry to rethink its waste management strategies. Hotels across the globe are implementing green practices, transforming waste from an environmental problem into a resource for positive change.

One of the first steps hotels are taking is to reduce waste at its source. This is achieved through strategies like bulk purchasing, using refillable dispensers for toiletries, and offering guests the option to decline daily housekeeping services to reduce the use of cleaning chemicals and energy.

Hotels are also adopting the concept of circular economy by recycling and repurposing waste. Whether it’s recycling paper and plastic, turning food waste into compost, or repurposing old furniture into new items, these efforts are significantly reducing the amount of waste heading to landfills.


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In addition, many hotels are exploring innovative waste-to-energy technologies. For instance, the Marriott in Sweden uses its organic waste to produce biogas, which in turn powers the hotel’s kitchen. Similarly, the Venetian Resort in Las Vegas has a large-scale recycling program which converts waste into electricity.

Another green practice is the careful segregation of waste. By separating recyclable materials like glass, plastic, and paper from non-recyclables, hotels can significantly increase the efficiency of recycling processes. Some hotels even offer guests the option to separate their own waste, raising awareness among patrons and contributing to better waste management.

Partnering with environmental organizations is yet another strategy employed by hotels. These partnerships help hotels manage their waste responsibly and often include audits to identify areas for improvement.

Through these and other green practices, the hotel industry is revolutionizing its approach to waste management. Not only do these strategies contribute to environmental preservation, but they also often result in cost savings and improved guest satisfaction, making sustainability a win-win for the hospitality sector.

The Future of Hotel Waste: Emerging Trends and Technologies

The hospitality industry is on a continuous journey towards improved sustainability, and waste management plays a significant role in this transition. As technology evolves and new trends emerge, hotels are constantly exploring innovative solutions to minimize waste and maximize resource efficiency. Here’s a look at some of the emerging trends and technologies shaping the future of hotel waste.

  1. AI and IoT for Waste Management: Artificial Intelligence (AI) and the Internet of Things (IoT) are becoming powerful tools for waste management. AI can analyze waste data to identify areas for reduction, while IoT devices can monitor waste levels in real-time, optimizing collection schedules and reducing unnecessary pickups.
  2. Bioplastics: Biodegradable alternatives to traditional plastics are becoming more widely available and affordable. These can help reduce the volume of non-degradable waste generated by hotels.
  3. Zero Waste Initiatives: Hotels are increasingly adopting the goal of zero waste, meaning they strive to send no waste to landfills or incinerators. This involves reducing waste at its source, reusing wherever possible, and recycling or composting the rest.
  4. Food Waste Reduction Technologies: From smart scales that track food waste to machines that turn organic waste into water, new technologies are making it easier for hotels to reduce their food waste footprint.
  5. Sustainable Building Materials: As hotels refurbish or build new properties, many are turning to sustainable building materials. These can range from recycled materials to those that are more energy-efficient or that have lower carbon footprints.
  6. Blockchain for Traceability: Blockchain technology can provide a transparent and tamper-proof record of a hotel’s waste management practices, from source reduction efforts to recycling records.
  7. Educating Guests: Hotels are increasingly involving guests in their sustainability efforts, providing information about their practices and offering ways guests can participate, such as opting for less frequent room cleaning or using recycling bins.
  8. Regulation and Certification: More stringent waste management regulations and certifications are expected to drive greater sustainability efforts in the industry.

While challenges remain, these trends and technologies offer a glimpse into the future of hotel waste management – one that promises to be more sustainable, efficient, and responsible.

Legislation Impact: How Laws are Shaping Hotel Waste Management

Laws and regulations play a crucial role in shaping waste management strategies in the hotel industry. With an increasing focus on environmental sustainability, many countries are introducing legislation that compels hotels to adopt greener practices. Here’s how these laws are driving change in hotel waste management.

  1. Waste Reduction and Recycling Laws: Many jurisdictions have laws mandating waste reduction and recycling. These may require hotels to implement recycling programs, segregate waste, or meet specific waste reduction targets. For instance, the EU’s Waste Framework Directive sets targets for the reuse and recycling of municipal waste, impacting hotels among other businesses.
  2. Plastic Bans: With plastic pollution being a global concern, several countries have introduced bans on single-use plastic items. This has led hotels to phase out single-use plastic toiletries, cutlery, and other items, replacing them with reusable or biodegradable alternatives.
  3. Food Waste Regulations: Some countries have introduced regulations specifically aimed at reducing food waste. In the US, for example, certain states have banned commercial food waste from landfills, while France requires large restaurants and hotels to donate unsold food or compost their food waste.
  4. E-Waste Laws: Electronic waste, from outdated televisions to old IT equipment, is a growing concern. Legislation such as the EU’s WEEE Directive requires proper disposal or recycling of e-waste, impacting how hotels handle their electronic waste.
  5. Green Building Regulations: Laws around the world are increasingly promoting the use of sustainable building materials and energy-efficient design in new constructions and renovations. These laws affect hotels’ waste management in terms of construction and demolition waste.
  6. Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) Laws: These laws make producers responsible for the end-of-life management of their products. For hotels, this could mean manufacturers of mattresses, furniture, or appliances are required to take back and properly dispose of these items once they’ve reached the end of their useful life.
  7. Mandatory Reporting and Transparency: Some laws require businesses to report on their waste management practices, driving greater transparency and accountability.

These laws and regulations are challenging hotels to think creatively about waste management, driving innovation, and fostering partnerships between the hospitality sector, waste management companies, and recycling initiatives. As a result, legislative impact is proving to be a significant catalyst for improved sustainability in the hotel industry.


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