A Hotel Stay That Will Make (Even) a Zero-Waste Professional Happy

We all deserve a little vacation once in a while. After a year of collective trauma, job insecurity or heavy workloads, and astronomical amounts of stress, a time to unplug and unwind could do wonders for the mind and body. Every person has their own preferences and their own unique way of making their holiday an incredible one: relaxing times on the beach, adventurous mountain hikes, maybe a city trip…? Whatever makes you happy!

Unlike when you’re at home, traveling brings everything as a surprise, for the good and for the bad. What your meal options are, how you’ll be moving around, things you’re going to see, friends you’re going to make, and how the waste is managed at your temporary location. Wait – waste management? That one is probably not in many people’s mind, but it’s of course on mine. I usually get very vague information from Airbnb hosts or, even less, from hotels. “- Should I separate plastic bottles, cans and glass?” and I get the answer “- Don’t worry, just put everything out and we’ll take care of it”. Of course, this is not the information I’m looking for, and I get frustrated. That, plus the lack of control of what type of packaging you’re getting, like the plastic tea bags the host kindly left for you. Or the tiny shampoo samples in the bathroom. The cleaning wipes that you hate. The fridge with complementary water bottles. My inner voice says “relax, it’s vacation time, stop criticizing and asking uncomfortable questions”.

It seems like vacation and low waste do not get along well. That was my thought until this fall break, when we traveled to a beautiful island and were gladly surprised by the environmentally responsible actions this hotel is taking. This post is about good examples to be followed by other hotel chains. Also, this post is about stopping to complain and, instead, acknowledging the progress some businesses are making to become more sustainable. In a sector that is a major contributor to the plastic waste crisis, generating 150 million tons of single-use plastic annually, every good practice needs to be celebrated.

It All Starts At Check-in

IDs, paperwork, get your keys and… a whole explanation about the 2 reusable glass bottles in the room and how to fill them up at the refilling stations. “We proudly are a single-use plastic free hotel”. Oh wow that caught my full attention! 

Turns out the guests really need to go get their own water at a refilling station (photos below). Once there, they can see all the information about the 5-stages water purification process and, even more important, the many advantages of refilling instead of “wasting”. They are literally giving an opportunity for guests to think about their consumption and, hopefully, change their behavior and consumption pattern. I was totally delighted, almost couldn’t believe it. I took pictures and texted my sustainability friends.

Low Waste Yet Charming Bungalows 

Other than a lovely bungalow, it’s a zero-plastics room.

No amenity kits. No individually wrapped chocolates or whatsoever. No tiny shampoo. Instead, wall-mounted dispensers in the bathroom (photo below) and a fridge with cans only. On the top of the TV counter were the 2 empty glass water bottles and 2 water glasses.

That reminded me of previous hotel trip where there were plastic cups wrapped in plastic, a plastic comb wrapped in plastic, 4 Q-tips in a plastic bag, 2 cotton rounds in plastic. So much waste! 

The bedroom had 1 wooden bin with no plastic liner. I wondered about room service and the cleaning cart. So, I waited for them to come in, asked a bunch of questions and took more photos. Cleaning products are carried around in carts or trays and waste is sorted at the source (more photos below). 

The cherry on top is the natural insect repellent provided in each room. They are in an amber glass container with an aluminum cap (photo) – the perfect packaging. I wondered about the ingredients – which were all listed – if they were safe for my kids so I sent the info to my friend and ingredients expert (read about toxins here) and got a green light from her.

Everything-reusable Food Area

Ceramic plates, silverware utensils, glass cups, cotton napkins, everything real, washable, and reusable (read about reusables here). No straws, no disposable paper or plastic cups. Only disposables were the sugar and sweetener paper packets on the table.

Buffet with no small individually wrapped honey, ketchup, or other condiments. Milk in little cute glass bottles – one more time, reusables.

One morning my husband went for an early diving trip and asked for a coffee on his way to the boat. “We don’t have disposable cups, sir, please consider using one of our reusable water cups.”

Oh and seafood is certified 100% responsible at all the hotel restaurants.

Walking around the facility, I saw a few small cement bins (photo) with no plastic liners and were nearly empty. Apparently, there’s not much waste and employees are on top of sorting everything out and at the source. The staff is well trained and would answer all my waste questions – differently from my previous experiences at Airbnb and other hotels. They are also proud of the hotel’s sustainability commitments. One of the staff members said: “I now feel bad when I go visit my family and see so much plastic everywhere, where they live. I try to teach them to reduce”.

How can everything be so perfect? I got too intrigued and asked to talk to the sustainability manager. A nice and smiley lady named Virginia kindly agreed to meet me and told me about the Wave of Change program. The program encompasses circular economy, responsible seafood, and coastal health. They are committed to being waste free by 2025 and carbon neutral by 2030 as well as improving ecological health alongside profitable tourism by 2030.

She spent more than an hour with me, talking about the implementation of several initiatives in the past 2 years, from the reusable bottles to coastal dune nursery to support mangrove recovery.

I was very interested in food and waste, so she deep dived in that topic. For instance, to eliminate the plastic liners, they promised the local recycling authority to reduce waste in the bins by half so they could dump it on the truck without spilling. They need to wash the bins after every collection, but at least, they are not sending plastic to the landfill. They want to reduce waste further and have a composting site in the works on site, hopefully opening next year. Food waste could be donated to local farms, however the farming activity in the island is not very high (tourism is more attractive) and they are looking for other solutions. At restaurants, food ingredients are sourced locally as much as possible, and all the cooking is done at the hotel (try the “goat dulce the leche”).

She told me about the latest Earth Day event, when the hotel lights were turned off and they brought guests to the beach to observe the stars through telescopes. She said the idea was inspired in the Mayas civilization, who used the stars and the planets to guide their decisions. Other than saving energy, they educated guests about the local culture. Isn’t this all so great?

My point of view about hospitality vs sustainability changed last month and I hope many other chains will follow this good example, because the opportunity and the impact can be huge! Thank you Iberostar Cozumel for doing your part and providing your guests and staff such a wonderful experience. I wish all hotels took sustainability as seriously as you do.

PS: this post is not an advertisement; it’s based on the author’s experience as a hotel guest without solicitation or compensation.

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