Nova Scotia·Waves of Change

Why those teeny bottles of hotel shampoo might become obsolete

Hotels are switching to bulk dispensers, but some guests are resisting the change.

More and more hotels are using refillable containers for bathroom amenities to reduce their use of plastics

Hotels are increasingly choosing to use bulk containers for toiletries to reduce the use of plastics. (Submitted by Group Germain )

The folks in charge at the Prince George Hotel in Halifax identified the best way to tackle single-use plastics at the business years ago. They got rid of those little plastic bottles in the bathrooms. 

"Those are the small plastic containers the shampoo, the mouthwash, the conditioner, the hand cream, any number of things that our guests will expect to have for their room while they stay with us," said general manager Scott Travis.

The problem was finding a replacement that guests would accept as offering the same level of class, comfort and convenience.

The hotel solved the problem by providing amenities in bulk, allowing shampoo and conditioner to be squeezed from reusable and refillable pumps in the shower.

Travis wasn't at the helm when the change was made at the Prince George, but he heard about the response.

"To be honest, the staff took a bit of grief in the beginning because a lot of people didn't think it was high-end enough," he said. "They weren't prepared to leave behind the comforts of home and they wanted an individual shampoo and an individual container." 

Going bulk costs more

The hotel stuck to its new policy even though Travis said the plastic bottles are so inexpensive it actually makes less sense economically to go bulk. 

"The per-unit price is something we've taken against our bigger-bottle per-unit price," he said.

"So, when you add up what is used from the big bottle, plus what's left over, it actually costs us more than if we went with a smaller-serve individual package."

The hotel donates anything left in a bulk container after the guest departs to a local women's shelter. 

Alt Hotels provides shampoo, conditioner and shower gel in bulk containers that can be refilled. (Submitted by Group Germain)

The hotel industry is wrestling with environmental issues at least partly driven by customer demand. People want to know that the hotels where they are staying are making efforts to reduce waste.

Single-use plastics are but one part of a much broader equation, which includes reducing energy, using less water and diverting anything that might be headed to a landfill. 

More hotels drop use of amenity bottles

The Alt Hotels, with locations in Halifax and St. John's, are part of the Group Germain, which has 17 locations across Canada. They also found it a challenge to move to bulk amenities in the bathrooms of their hotels. 

"A lot of people were wondering why," said Marie Pier Germain, the operations director.

The Alt Hotel chain, which operates a hotel at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport, introduced refillable bottles 10 years ago. (Alt Hotels)

"People like to take away things and bring it back home. They take the shampoo bottle with them. When the shampoo bottle is screwed on the wall, it's hard to leave with it."

Alt Hotels introduced refillable bottles 10 years ago, she said.

"We actually had to challenge our suppliers. They weren't ready to embark on this journey with us. So we produced a bottle that was made just for us and we produced the stand that was just for the bottle. We incurred a lot of costs." 

When the Germain Group launched a new hotel in Montreal, the company went so far as to work with an entrepreneur to design the soap that goes in the bottle.

"That was part of creating the brand, part of the design process," said Germain. "In the end, you can't take the bottle, but if you like it, you can buy the bigger version and go home with it. The quality is actually superior to other products we would've thought of using originally." 

Leftovers shipped to developing countries

The Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Bedford, N.S., has partnered with an organization called Clean The World. It takes partly used bars of soap, as well as those small amenity bottles, and ships them to developing nations where lack of hygiene can lead to chronic disease and high rates of infant mortality. 

"We save those after a guest leaves, collect them up," said general manager Kathy Perrier.

"Clean The World picks them up at the hotel, they recycle them, and they create hygiene kits. They go to countries in need."

In 2018, the hotel gave 1,178 bars of soap and more than 60 kilograms of bottled toiletry items to Clean The World.

The partnership is only a temporary solution for the hotel.

By the end of 2019, all InterContinental Group (IHG) Hotels in Canada, which includes the Holiday Inn brand, will move to the bulk amenities in bathrooms.

"It will be definitely a learning curve," says Perrier. "It's been rolling out in the United States in the hotels, and it's coming here by the end of next year." 

Plastic straws in hotel restaurants on the way out

The Holiday Inn also offers a free breakfast to its guests. Single-use plastic is a big concern in food service in hotels, as it is in restaurants in general. 

"We're currently still using disposable product," says Perrier, about the take-out plates they use in their restaurant.

Plastic drinking straws are being eliminated in the restaurants at some hotel chains. (Dmitry Galaganov/Shutterstock)

"But we've converted from Styrofoam to more of a paper, compostable product. That's, obviously, operationally very important to our guests and important to us. We're not wasting as much as we used to on a day-to-day basis."

IHG hotels plan to remove plastic straws from their restaurants worldwide by the end of 2019. Marriott plans to remove straws from its restaurants by July 2019, while Alt Hotels have already done away with them.

"It's such a quick win, I don't understand why we're still talking about straws," says Germain. "That being said, we still have some challenges." 

She mentions the self-serve food containers guests can use to heat food in a microwave at Alt Hotels' on-site food service locations.

"What is available on the market now, that is [the biodegradable container] we would like to use, doesn't go in the microwave."

Plastic water bottles less available as room amenity

The Alt Hotels did away with plastic water bottles in rooms years ago.

"We have them available for purchase, but we don't put them in guest rooms anymore. We have a water jar available for guests with water at the front desk. It's available in the lobby at all times." 

Travis suggests that any hotel offering a free breakfast should be using as much real ceramic as possible to save money on anything disposable.

"Hotels have spent a tremendous amount of money on paper supplies, whether that's doilies for your room or straws or different ways to serve your food," he said.

"Everybody's looking to utilize less of those, and components that can be reused.  Every day you're serving breakfast for sometimes a couple hundred people, you want to be using stuff that's going to be washed as opposed to be thrown into a garbage."

Some guests grumble at changes 

Germain said some changes made for the environment go hand in hand with economic savings, but, for some people, luxury is part of the hotel experience and they won't be satisfied with what they might consider to be less for their money.

"Some guests want the service, and want to be pampered," she said.

"When you spend a lot of money to go to the hotel and to have a great service, this is the experience you're looking for. It's not up to us to the make decisions for the guests, but we have to provide the flexibility for our guests to make these decisions on their own." 

Travis also sees the demand for comfort and luxury, but says it's actually customer pressure forcing the hotel industry to get on board with changes. 

"I would like to suggest that we've educated some of our guests, but the reality is a lot of our guests have educated us," he said.

"I think the feedback has softened because everybody's more concerned about the environment than they were five or 10 years ago." 


Carsten Knox

Associate Producer

Carsten Knox is a writer, editor and broadcaster who helps produce CBC Nova Scotia's current affairs radio shows, including Information Morning and Mainstreet. For story ideas contact me at