SINGAPORE: Large hotels can do better when it comes to managing their waste, the National Environment Agency (NEA) said, indicating they still have some way to go four years after a mandatory waste reporting exercise was implemented.
This comes as latest figures from the exercise revealed that large hotels - defined as those with more than 200 rooms - recycled less in 2016 compared with two years before. In 2016, their average recycling rate was 5.5 per cent, a 0.5 percentage point drop from 2014.
“A large proportion of hotel waste consists of types of waste such as food, paper and plastic bottles, which can be segregated and recycled,” NEA told Channel NewsAsia in June. “Thus the NEA is of the view that the average recycling rate is low and can be improved.”
The mandatory waste reporting exercise, introduced in 2014, aims to draw greater management attention to the amount of waste produced by large commercial premises like shopping malls and hotels.
NEA determines how well hotels perform by tracking how much of each major type of waste is recycled compared to the total waste generated.
CHALLENGES OF RECYCLING
Senior tourism lecturer at Ngee Ann Polytechnic Michael Chiam said some hotels could find it difficult to recycle due to logistical challenges.
According to an NEA guidebook for hotels, recycling bins should be easily accessible to staff and guests, match the type of recyclable waste produced at that location, and be placed together with general waste bins to prevent misuse. Ideal bin locations include rooms, kitchens and housekeeping areas.
The hotel should also buy its own recycling bins to be placed at the front-of-house, as those provided by the waste contractor are more appropriate for back-of-house or bin centres.
These guidelines mean “more resources are needed to support the recycling initiatives”, Dr Chiam said.
In addition, Dr Chiam said an effective recycling programme requires “a lot of education, especially in changing the ways people work”.
“Housekeeping staff in the past may just dispose of the half-used bottles of shampoo and replace them with new ones. With the new recycling approach, they no longer need to throw away the shampoo bottles, but to replenish them,” he said, highlighting the extra workload.
Dr Chiam also pointed out the additional costs involved.
“Besides the direct recycling processing costs, like acquiring the machines, haulage fees and processing fees, hotels need to incur other costs to oversee the implementation of the recycling programmes,” he said.
This includes the manpower costs of having staff sort out recyclables and prevent contamination, and storage costs from bin spaces to hold the waste.
TURNING BOTTLES INTO APRONS
But one hotel is overcoming these challenges. The Grand Hyatt near Orchard Road said it recycled 20,519kg of waste last year, though it did not reveal its recycling rate.
“There are no internal challenges since we try to organise the steps and location (of recycling bins) carefully,” its stewarding manager Vijay Sivarajah told Channel NewsAsia.
There are recycling bins on each level at the back of the house, including kitchens, restaurants and offices. On designated floors, there are recycling bins for housekeeping staff to sort waste that come from guest rooms.
Mr Sivarajah said the hotel recycles “as many items as possible”, including aluminium cans, metals, papers and glass bottles. It also sends PET plastic bottles to be recycled into uniforms, aprons and napkins.
Soaps, shampoos and other toiletries left by guests are collected and recycled into new bars that are distributed to families living in high-risk areas for hygiene-related illnesses.
“However, we face the problem of recycling companies not being willing to collect waste such as vacuum packaging for meat,” Mr Sivarajah added.
The manager also admitted that recycling programmes might come with high costs and investments in the short term. But in the long run, the savings are apparent. Grand Hyatt has saved S$100,000 a year by recycling its food waste.
Instead of going into the bin, food waste is put in an on-site digester that converts scraps like vegetable, poultry and egg shells into organic fertilisers. This is then used for landscaping at the hotel.
“Due to our waste management system, we have the advantage of reduced haulage fees and trips,” Mr Sivarajah said, pointing out that the food waste initiative has earned the hotel a S$250,000 NEA grant.
CHALLENGES OF REDUCING
Some hotels are also trying to reduce the amount of waste that could be recycled, although NEA’s reporting exercise showed only a slight drop in average waste produced from 2014 to 2016.
According to data from the exercise, the 97 hotels that participated in 2016 produced 66,000 tonnes of waste, equivalent to the weight of two buses. This means that each room produced 4.1kg of waste a day.
An industry sustainability guide published by the Green Hotelier said luxury serviced hotels that produce more than 2kg of waste per guest per day need to buck up. “A figure greater than this is excessive and illustrates poor waste management practices,” it said.
“Manpower constraints and the difficulty of getting stakeholders, for example their tenants, guests and hotel staff across departments, to participate are some of the main challenges hotel operators face when trying to reduce waste,” NEA said.
NO MORE PLASTIC STRAWS
Still, the zero-waste movement is gaining momentum in hotels.
In May, the Millennium Hotels and Resorts (MHR) group pledged to eliminate single-use plastics from all six of its Singapore hotels by June next year. Given the hotels produce an average of 67kg of plastics weekly, the move will save almost S$500,000 a year in spending on plastic products.
One of MHR’s hotels, M Social, has replaced plastic straws with paper alternatives, and is using environmentally-friendly packaging, like paper boxes and wooden cutlery, for its takeaway service.
The group’s Orchard Hotel and Studio M are also in the midst of replacing plastic toiletry containers with dispensers in hotel rooms.
MHR's pledge follows Hilton's announcement in the same month that it will stop using plastic straws across its 23 managed hotels in Asia-Pacific by the end of this year.
“More hotel operators have implemented improved waste management systems and 3R initiatives, such as going paperless and installing on-site food waste digesters, which have helped to reduce the waste generated,” NEA said.
However, MHR vice-president of operations (Southeast Asia) Lee Richards acknowledged that the process was tedious.
“A comprehensive analysis needs to be done, from reviewing our plastic consumption and inventory list of each hotel; the timeframe it would take to complete the existing stock; the overall costs involved if we were to replace with dispensers,” he told Channel NewsAsia.
“Plastic products are almost entirely about convenience for most people and commercially convenient as these items are generally inexpensive or lower in cost compared to other materials.”
When asked if he was concerned about losing guests who might prefer using their own toiletry bottles to dispensers, Mr Richards said “we believe the majority of our customers will support the initiative”.
“In the long term, reducing plastic use will benefit the environment, reduce staff time and overall cost, and also show our customers we care about the environment,” he added.
MORE ECO-FRIENDLY TOURISTS?
Ngee Ann Polytechnic’s Dr Chiam said eco-friendly hotels will benefit from tourists who might perceive them as “forward-looking brands which attempt to do their part in saving the environment”.
“Some tourists are more conscious of protecting the environment, and they may make a conscious effort to choose hotels which are more eco-friendly,” he said.
However, Dr Chiam suggested that corporate travellers are more likely to stay in eco-friendly hotels as compared to leisure travellers, at least for now.
This is because eco-friendly companies are likely to pick like-minded hotels for their staff on business trips, he added. “These corporate travellers will over time adopt the same standards when they book hotels for their family holiday.”
Globally, the trend seems to have picked up. A Booking.com sustainable travel report published in 2016 revealed that 68 per cent of 10,000 responders said they would be more likely to choose an accommodation if they knew it was eco-friendly.
ROLE OF GUESTS
Nevertheless, Singapore Environment Council executive director Jen Teo said the average guest has a part to play, though the onus remains on the hotel.
If a hotel has proper recycling education and provides reusable utensils, for example, guests should comply with the recycling programme and not use disposables, she said.
“Most guests are generally open to supporting the recycling movement provided it is not unnecessarily inconvenient,” Dr Chiam said. “The key is to make recycling programmes as seamless as possible.”
Ms Teo added that hotels form a major industry in Singapore, and thus have a “big part to play” in helping the country achieve its goal of becoming a zero-waste nation.
While only large hotels, which generate more waste, need to report their waste statistics to NEA, the agency said it will review if this should be extended to hotels with fewer rooms at a “later stage”.
Singapore Hotel Association executive director Margaret Heng believes that more hotels will start going green.
“This is because hotels are working on a holistic approach by engaging staff, suppliers and guests in their waste minimisation practices,” she said. “The pledge by MHR group is a big win for sustainability.”