Marriott CEO Says Cutting Out Single-Use Toiletries Will Save 500 Million Plastic Bottles Per Year

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Marriott International says it will eliminate small plastic bottles from its hotel rooms by the end of 2020. (Andrew Harnik/AP)
Marriott International says it will eliminate small plastic bottles from its hotel rooms by the end of 2020. (Andrew Harnik/AP)

Traveling is full of variables, but voyagers can usually expect two staples upon checking into a hotel room ⁠— a Bible in a drawer and miniature take-home toiletries in the bathroom.

But the world’s largest hotel chain, Marriott International, says it's ditching the tiny shampoo, conditioner and shower gel bottles for a more sustainable approach at all its properties by December 2020.

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson says the shift will save about 500 million little plastic bottles per year across the company’s 7,000 hotels in 132 countries.

The company estimates it will save 1.7 million pounds of plastic and reduce its annual plastic usage on amenities by 30%.

Some people may enjoy taking the toiletries, but Sorenson says he thinks most guests will prefer this experience.

“I think most people understand that protecting the environment is a cause that we all share,” Sorenson says.

The bottles cannot be recycled because they’re too small to be cleaned, he says.

Instead of these unrecyclable travel-size bottles, the company plans to put larger tamper-proof plastic bottles with pumps in the shower, which has already been implemented at 1,000 Marriott hotels in North America.

Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson says most guests will prefer the experience of using larger bottles for amenities rather than miniature toiletries. (Cindy Ord/Getty Images)
Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson says most guests will prefer the experience of using larger bottles for amenities rather than miniature toiletries. (Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

Marriott is next in a growing line of hotel chains phasing out tiny toiletries to save plastic.

InterContinental Hotels Group — which owns 5,600 hotels around the world, including brands like Holiday Inn and InterContinental Hotels & Resorts — announced this year it’s switching from miniature to bulk-sized bathroom amenities. The company says its hotels use nearly 200 million miniatures every year.

This is Marriott’s second plastic initiative in just over a year: Last July, Marriott announced plans to remove all plastic straws and stirrers from the company's properties.

The company estimated this initiative would save 1 billion plastic straws and about 250 million stirrers per year.

Sorenson says the company is encouraging individual properties to start a “green council” to find opportunities to make their hotel more sustainable by reassessing heat, power and water usage.

“There are some things like this toiletries thing that we can deliver for the system as a whole,” he says. “But we also discovered that many things have to happen on the property level.”

The company now owns 30 hotel brands including Ritz-Carlton Hotel Co., Renaissance Hotels and Sheraton Hotels and Resorts thanks to a $1.6 billion acquisition of Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide.

But sustainability isn’t the only way this growing business is changing.

Marriott wants to challenge companies like Airbnb by entering the home rental space this year, Sorenson says.

He says Marriott plans to employ home management companies to ensure its home rental business gives guests a reliable experience by providing cleaning services and working WiFi on-par with its hotels.

“We hear from our customers that there is a part of this [home rental] business that they like a great deal but there's a part they don't like,” he says, “It's too unreliable. There's too much risk that ‘if I take a home rental, I might end up with a dirty place … ”

As Marriott continues to expand, Sorenson says he’s concerned about whether the slowing growth of the U.S. and Chinese economies could weaken the demand for lodging.

“In terms of same-store sales, we’re not growing robustly,” he says. “We're a bit anxious about the way the trade war can evolve and whether or not that causes companies, particularly, but potentially consumers, too, to sort of revert to the sidelines.”

Interview highlights

On his battle with pancreatic cancer

“I'm doing great actually. I've had about four months of chemotherapy, which by and large went fine. It does have some side effects but I'm in a window between chemotherapy and surgery. I feel great, actually. I've put my sneakers back on. I've been running the last week or so, I'm still very much engaged at work and maybe most importantly optimistic about the outcome, but of course, we can't take that for granted until we're through.”

On the rise of home rental platforms like Airbnb
“It's been fascinating to watch the development of this home rental space. Airbnb, of course, gets the most attention but we shouldn't forget the fact that companies like Expedia and Booking each also have millions of home rental listings many of them are the same properties, actually, that are on Airbnb.

“It has been surprising and gratifying to see that these platforms have often introduced new travelers into travel because they've been able to offer a cheaper stay. Even as they've grown, and they've obviously grown substantially, we have continued to see occupancy in our system grow to record levels and then continue to grow from there. And absolute performance of our hotels is very, very strong. So it hasn't been cataclysmic.”

On whether he’s worried about a recession

“I am more concerned today, obviously, than a year ago. And I think if you look around the world, it's a different story from place to place. Interestingly, Western Europe is probably the strongest market that we have as we speak.

“Brexit makes you think that the world must be falling apart over there. London has been performing extraordinarily well. Why? Well partly, that's because the pound is so cheap so it’s cheap to go to London today compared to normal times. And so we've got more travelers coming in and that's why that market performs so well. But you can see, certainly when you look at the U.S. economy and the China economy, that both have slowed in the last few quarters. You see it both in the GDP numbers that are reported publicly, we think we see it in our business. We're still growing year over year. We're not in a recessionary environment. In terms of same-store sales, we’re not growing robustly. We're a bit anxious about the way the trade war can evolve and whether or not that causes companies, particularly, but potentially consumers too, to sort of revert to the sidelines.

On Marriott’s decision to operate 30 separate brands

“The fact of the matter is each of those brands existed, obviously, before we acquired Starwood and they may have been competing against each other …

“But we believe that by offering more choice to our customers when they travel — choice in terms of precise location, brand sensibility, cost, but all within the same loyalty program — that the breadth of choice keeps customers in our ecosystem as opposed to sending them to an online travel agent. So the breadth of choice is actually a good thing and I don't think we'll ever see that it's in our interest to combine these brands.”

On a lawsuit filed by a Marriott owner in Thailand who alleges competition with other Marriott hotels is hurting his business

“That's what he says in his complaint. Obviously, we have a starkly different view about what the facts are. This is the owner of the J.W. Marriott in Phuket. We have had rounds of negotiations with him over the course of a 20-year relationship, which have always, from his perspective, been trying to essentially push us further aside. And this has to be understood in the context of that relationship, which is, in our view, fundamentally not about our having other hotels in that market.

On how the company hopes to prevent another data breach, like the one that affected 383 million guests in 2018

“Obviously, we were deeply disappointed to discover that hack that had happened on the Starwood reservation system before we acquired Starwood. And we discovered the hack late last fall, and of course, disclosed it to our customers and to the regulators as soon as we could possibly get the facts that were necessary…

“Since then, we've been doing, obviously, what we need to do in order to manage that crisis. But then also looking at, what are the lessons we can learn for that from that? And what are the steps that we need to implement to reduce the risk that we have further events like that? And the team's been working around the clock to do everything they can.”

Chris Bentley produced and edited this interview for broadcast with Kathleen McKennaAllison Hagan adapted it for the web.

This segment aired on September 23, 2019.


Jeremy Hobson Former Co-Host, Here & Now
Before coming to WBUR to co-host Here & Now, Jeremy Hobson hosted the Marketplace Morning Report, a daily business news program with an audience of more than six million.


Allison Hagan Digital Producer, Here & Now
Allison Hagan is a digital producer for Here & Now.



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