12 actions for hotels to reduce their plastic waste in Cambodia

Cambodia is seeking to double its amount of tourists from 6 millions in 2018 to 12 millions in 2025. While this will bring economic benefits, this will also bring along a significant increase in plastic waste. What a sad news for a country already drowning in plastic bags, styrofoam, plastic bottles and much more. In addition, these economic benefits could be short-lived. Already in 2015, the Cambodian Hotel Association estimated annual foregone tourist revenue at $74 million due to poor sanitation.

So what can the industry – and especially hotels, as large contributor to plastic waste – do about it?  Due to the country’s poor waste infrastructure and the alarming low rate of plastic getting recycled (only 9% of plastic gets recycled worldwide) there is only one solution to lessen this impact : REDUCING plastic use. Hotels can take many actions to reduce their plastic consumption, which would also ensure their long-term survival. According to a 2019 report by ABTA, 45% of holidaymakers said consider sustainability as an important element when booking a holiday. And this trend is only growing.

This is why we gathered 12 actions for hotels to reduce their plastic waste. We tried whenever possible to provide realistic numbers of reduction in plastic waste. For this, we took the example of an average hotel in the city with 200 rooms and an occupancy rate of 50% throughout the year.

Trash in the river at koh kong
Trash in the river at Koh Kong - Source Khmer Times/Chea Vannak

1. Replace single-use bathroom amenities with refillable bottles

In our average hotel, if single-use shampoo, body lotion and shower gel were used by only 50% of the guests, these single-use items could represent around 54,570 bottles ending up in landfill. Adding to that the 36,500 plastic packaging from soaps, while these latter are almost never used entirely.

This represents enormous amounts of plastic waste that could be avoided by switching to refillable soap, shampoo, body lotion (and conditioner, depending on the budget).  Hotels worldwide (e.g. Marriott hotel and InterContinental Hotels Group) are making the switch. In Cambodia, this includes the House Boutique Eco Hotel in Phnom Penh , Babel Guesthouse, Jaya House, Treeline Urban Resort, and Baby Elephants in Siem Reap, amongst others. From budget to more luxurious hotels, this option could be easily adopted by everyone!

Refillable bathroom amenities in hotels in cambodia
Refillable bottles for soap, shampoo, body lotion or/and conditioner at Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel, Jaya House RiverPark, House Boutique Hotel and Babel Guesthouse

Suppliers:

Kambio, provides natural products such as shampoo, soap, body lotion, conditioner that can be refilled. It also provides different types of customisable refillable bottles.

Naga Earth makes hand soap with local and natural ingredients. They package the soaps using a refillable and returnable packaging model to reduce plastic.

2. Provide toiletries (e.g. toothbrush, comb) only upon request

Toothbrushes, combs, shower caps, and other disposable toiletries are often given for free to guests. But they even more often end up in the bin while not being used at all. This represents an important sources of waste: at least 58,429 disposed items per year for the average hotel (according to our estimates) that could be completely avoided. Indeed, your hotel could significantly reduce the amount of items used by providing them only upon request at the reception.

This is what many cities and hotels are now implementing. In Shanghai for instance, starting from July 1st, hotels will be fined between 500 and 5,000 yuan (70 to 700 $) for providing any of six disposable items to guests, except if requested by them. In Siem Reap, Jaya House, TreeLine Urban Resort, Mulberry Boutique Hotel are also doing this without any complaints from customers. Actually, the managers of these hotels reported that guests are highly satisfied with their actions to reduce plastic waste. And many of them don’t hesitate to leave a review on Tripadvisor mentioning the hotel’s effort to limit its impact.

traveler review on tripadvisor about Treeline Urban resort
Review left by travelers about the zero-plastic actions by Treeline Urban Resort

Simply put a card in the room highlighting your efforts to reduce plastic waste and inform your customers that some items are available upon request at the reception desk. By not placing them at the direct disposal of guests, less items will be used. Indeed, Treeline reported that around 30% of guests request the toothbrush, comb and razor pack. Depending on your budget and how much is saved, you can invest in bamboo toothbrush, razor and comb, which will further reduce your plastic waste.

Suppliers:

Kambio provides bamboo comb, toothbrush and other toiletries for hotel

Loyuyu ceramics: sells ​hand-crafted ceramics such as containers for shampoo, soaps and other bathroom/room items ​

Eco-amenities and room card at Treeline Urban Resort

3. Swap the water bottles in the rooms for fresh water in the fridge

In the average hotel, we assume that 70% of guests drink from water bottles directly provided in their room. This represents at least 35,500 water bottles thrown away yearly! Removing these plastic bottles is therefore an important step to reduce your plastic waste. And there is definitely not a shortage of options to do so. Your hotel can for instance put water in glass bottles (either using old wine bottles or have new glass bottles). This is done by many hotels, including Jaya House, Mulberry Boutique Hotel and the House Boutique Hotel. The latter even call on a local artisan to make bottle cork for the bottles (cf picture on the left). Water can then be put in those bottles and be placed in the fridge. You can imagine that this is greatly appreciated by the guests when they return from day-trips in the Cambodian heat!

Water bottles used at water bottles in hotel
Old wine bottles with locally made cork in the bedroom at House Boutique Hotel in Phnom Penh
Old wine bottles used to replace plastic bottles at house boutique hotel
Old wine bottles used as water bottles at House Boutique Hotel in Phnom Penh

Provide refillable bottles

You can also provide refill bottles for free to your guests (as does Jaya House or Mulberry Boutique Hotel). With 647,206 tourists arriving in January 2019, staying around 6 nights (based on previous data) and drinking four half-litres of water, having reusable bottles could have saved more than 15 millions of water bottles from going to landfill. These bottles could also provide a souvenir for guests and promote your efforts to reduce plastic waste in the country but also abroad. Another — and more affordable—  solution is to provide these bottles at the disposal of your guests during their stay. The bottles can then be washed in your facilities. Or you could also sell these reusable bottles at the reception area as it is done at Babel Guesthouse.

And of course don’t forget the refill stations for guests to use. Your hotel can also be registered on the RefillNotLandfill map for visitors to ask for free water refill.

reusable water bottles in hotels in cambodia
Reusable bottles or water bottles in the room at Mulberry Boutique Hotel, Jaya House RiverPark, Babel Guesthouse and Baby Elephant Boutique Hotel in Siem Reap

Suppliers:

Water bottles in the fridge: Your restaurant/bar for old wine bottles

New/different glass water bottles: Siam Eco Pack

Reusable aluminium bottles: RefillNot Landfill for the personalised reusable bottles

4. Change the single-doses of coffee, tea and snacks wrapped in plastic for loose coffee, tea and snacks in glass jars

To further reduce plastic waste in the room, you can swap your single-doses food and drinks (coffee, tea) for loose tea, coffee and snack in glass jars. In addition to reducing your plastic waste, this can also create a much better customer experience! As an example, Treeline provides these items in beautiful little jars and even have smarties in the fridge as snacks. Another great idea from Mulberry is to provide local food such as banana chips and waffles that guests can enjoy after their tour.

Loose tea, coffee and snack at Treeline Urban resort
Loose coffee, tea and snacks at Treeline Urban Resort
Coffee machine and loose tea and coffee at Jaya House
Coffee Machine and loose tea at Jaya House

5. Have plastic-free meeting rooms

If your hotel has meeting rooms, that might be one of the easiest places to reduce your plastic waste. Swap the plastic water bottles for metal jugs or glass water bottles filled with water. This goes without saying that plastic straws and plastic cups should go away as well. If you want to provide snacks, you can always provide fresh fruits (such as bananas, that are easy to grab and eat) or homemade cakes and chips.

6. Don’t give plastic straws

Plastic straws could (and should) be completely removed from the restaurant. Not only straws are most of the time not necessary, but there are a lot of alternative options that exist today. This includes straws made out of bamboo, silicon, metal, glass, wheat, lemongrass, etc. Many hotels across the country are now using reusable straws, including Baby Elephant, Babel Guesthouse, Lub d Cambodia, GreenHouse Kampot Butterfly Pea and countless of others. Your hotel can decide to provide reusable straws for all drinks or to provide them only for drinks such as smoothies, coconuts, or if requested by guests. You can also put a poster in the restaurant, indicating that you are taking actions to reduce plastic straws – which is a great marketing tool as well!

reusable straws at different hotels in cambodia
Cocktails with no straw or reusable straws at Baby Elephant, Memoire Palace, Villa Kep and Jaya House

Suppliers:

Bamboo straws: Kambio, Aspara Bamboo Straws, Mama jungle

Metal straws: Kambio

Silicon straws: Only one planet, Kambio

Glass Straws: Kambio

Paper straws: Eco Siam Pack

7. Provide plastic-free lunch box

From Styrofoam boxes, to plastic bags and cutlery, there are many opportunities to reduce plastic waste from take-away lunch:

  1. You can swap the Styrofoam box for a biodegradable one, or even a palm leaves one. This is better for the environment and will provide a better experience to your guests.
  2. Plastic cutlery can be replaced by biodegradable forks, knives and spoons, which are often in wood.
  3. Plastic bags can be replaced by either paper bags or reusable bags. The clients or your staff can borrow them and bring them back at the end of their day.
  4. Plastic bottles can be replaced by reusable bottles that guests can buy or borrow during their stay. Reusable bottles with cold water can also be placed in a cooler box if guests are driven around the city by your staff.
palm leave lunch box
Lunch provided in reusable box made out of palm leaves at Memoire Palace Hotel
biodegradable lunch box at bambu hotel in battambang cambodia
Biodegradable boxes at Bambu Hotel in Battambang

Suppliers:

Take-away boxes and cutlery:  Only One Planet, Kambio and Siam Eco Pack sell biodegradable boxes and wooden cutlery.

Palm leaves boxes: they can be made by Angkor handicraft association (on road 60 in Siem Reap), or by community projects around the country (contact us if interested, or ask your staff as they might be aware of people making these around your facilities).

Reusable bottles: RefillNotLandfill

Reusable bags: Friends’ n Stuff, Kambio, or Salasusu can provide customisable bags with your logo. Phendei is also selling reusable bags although they are not customisable.

9. Reduce the use of plastic bags and plastic wrap

In addition to the plastic bags used for lunch take-away there are several areas where your hotel can reduce the use of plastic bags and plastic wrap.  You can for instance:

  1. Reduce the number of garbage bags used in the bedroom. You can remove them entirely and clean the bin (better if it is in metal/plastic) during the daily room clean-up. This is what Treeline is doing by using bins made of water hyacinth with washable liners. Or you can just have plastic/biodegradable bags for “wet” waste in the bathroom and another bin with no plastic bag for the general waste, as does Babel Guesthouse.
  2. Provide reusable bags for your staff to use when they go shopping, either for the hotel or for their own needs.
  3. Put reusable bags at the disposal of guests for them to use (available at the reception area for instance). This is done by many hotels including the Mulberry Boutique Hotel, who uses reusable bags with their logo on it. This is a perfect strategy to reduce clients’ plastic waste but also to promote your hotel and its environmental efforts!
  4. Replace plastic bags from the laundry with clothed bags for guests’ clothes.
  5. Swap your plastic wraps for bee wax wraps, which are easy to use and last for years. This is also the strategy used by Mulberry Boutique Hotel, who does not use ANY plastic wrap anymore! 
Examples to reduce plastic bags in hotels
Examples on how hotels can reduce their use of plastic bags - providing reusable bags to guests and staff like Mulberry Boutique hotel, removing garbage bags like Babel Guesthouse and using bee wax wrap

Suppliers: 

Bee wax wraps: SuperBee Wax Wrap

Reusable bags: check suppliers from the section above “plastic free lunch take-away”

Laundry bags: Kambio, Jai Yi Linen

If you still end up with plastic bags, you can give them to Rehash Trash (if you are in Siem Reap) or other similar projects that exist in the country. Rehash Trash makes beautiful items, including coaters or reusable bags out of discarded plastic bags.

Rehash trash item at babel recycle plastic bag
Collection station for Rehash Trash at Babel Guesthouse. The collected platic bags are then used to make beautiful and long-lasting items.

10. Ask your suppliers for plastic-free deliveries

What is one simple but effective move that hotels can make to reduce plastic use? For Christian De Boer from Jaya House, it is necessary to ask your suppliers to not deliver their products packed in plastic. In this way, your hotel can reduce plastic waste by more than 50%! Thanks to its important purchasing power, your hotel can ask suppliers to reduce their plastic packaging (some facilities are actually sending back the goods to their suppliers if wrapped in plastic). If your suppliers do not agree, try to look for other ones that would be happy to provide their goods without plastic packaging (e.g. Happy Co in Siem Reap can deliver without plastic packaging).

12. Talk to your client about your efforts and about what they can do to reduce plastic use during their trip

There are different ways for you to communicate to guests about your efforts to reduce plastic. You can talk to them upon check-in as does Jaya House or Mulberry. You can also provide information in the room for the guests to read, as it is done at Babel Guesthouse. This enables guests to better understand why your hotel is taking these actions! But this can also make guests discover how they can themselves reduce plastic consumption during their stay. This is an easy action but it can make a real difference in how clients perceive your hotel and in how much plastic they consume during their trip.

responsible traveler book at babel guesthouse
Top: Manual in Babel Guesthouse's bedrooms about how to reduce plastic and be a responsible traveler Bottom: small booklet depicting the environmental and social actions taken at Babel

11. Educate your staff

Whether you decide to take one or several of these actions, it is important to let your staff know about these measures for them to be aware of additional tasks to take. It is also paramount that they understand why you decided to reduce plastic consumption. This will have positive repercussions on how they communicate to clients but also on their own plastic consumption. They might even mention the negative aspects of plastic waste (e.g. can end-up in our food or in the ocean, creates toxic emissions when burnt) to their friends and communities!

You can even organise an in-house sessions with your staff, where you can screenshot a video about plastic (for instance this one), and ask them about their opinion. You could also ask them about ideas to reduce plastic in the hotel, which will better engage them and might drive up your hotel’s efforts to reduce plastic use. Another idea is to send your staff to one of Plastic Free South East Asia‘s workshop about plastic.

Plastic crisis video cambodia
Plastic crisis - from BBC Media Action

Conclusion: how can hotels reduce their plastic waste

All in all, reducing your hotel’s plastic consumption can make a HUGE difference in how much plastic waste is thrown away in Cambodia. It does not have to be expensive and can actually save you money depending on the actions taken. Also, your investment in eco-actions can be pass on to consumers. A study conducted by Booking in 2018 revealed that “two thirds (67%) of travellers would be willing to spend at least 5% more on their travel to ensure it was as low impact on the environment as possible“. In addition, these actions can significantly increase your visibility in and outside Cambodia.

It is anyway clear that with increasing regulations worldwide about plastic use and the growing discontent from tourits about plastic waste in Cambodia, all hotels will eventually have to reduce their waste. It is therefore up to your hotel if it wants to be a leader in this area, and make the switch as many hotels have already done so.

Do you have any question? Are you taking actions as a hotel to reduce your waste, or want to do so? Or are you a supplier that can help hotels in Cambodia reduce their plastic waste? Let us know in the comments or send us an email at info@cleangreencambodia.org

And of course, don’t hesitate to share this article with people who could be interested ! 🙂

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