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Should We Reconsider Guestroom Trash Liners?

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On an online travel forum, Carlo, who travels frequently, left the following post:

  1. I try to be a good guest and not make a mess for the people who tidy up the rooms each day. But here I am at yet another property where the plastic trash bags/bin liners are about half the size of the trash cans that they are in. I put anything in these and the trash bag just falls to the bottom of the trash can. And being a (reasonably) contentious guest I try to keep my trash in the bag, not all over the can. Why do all these hotels insist on using trash can liners that are way too small?
Ron Segura

This is not uncommon. While it is possible that the hotel may simply order the wrong-sized bag, what’s more likely is they are trying to economize. Smaller trash liners typically cost less than larger liners. But what administrators may not realize is this practice may likely cost them more than if they had selected the right-sized liner in the first place.

In addition, excessive use of trash can liners is not environmentally responsible. Along with their contents, millions of trash can liners are disposed of every day in this country. The bulk of them end up in landfills where they can take up to 1,000 years to decompose, according to the Earth Institute at Columbia University. Further, if they get into waterways, they can choke or harm marine life.

We should also know that the new LEED v4 does not require hotels or other facilities to use trash liners made from recycled content. Apparently too many manufacturers and users of trash liners complained that recycled plastic is not as dependable as traditional liners and is more prone to tear. In other words, the conclusion was reached that the technology to manufacture long-lasting, recycled, and recyclable liners has simply not arrived.

Why Install Trash Liners at All?

But here is a question to ponder. Why install trash liners at all? Some high-end hotels have already decided not to use them, but not necessarily due to cost or environmental issues. Apparently they believe that trash cans with trash liners installed do not contribute to the upscale look they want for their guestrooms.

So what do housekeepers do in these high-end hotels with no guestroom trash liners? Simple.  They wipe clean the trash can—if necessary—after dumping its contents.

But your next question is likely, doesn’t this add time to the housekeeper’s workload? Depending on the quality of the hotel and the detail involved, housekeepers are often pushed to take no more than 20 minutes to clean a guestroom. So adding even one more task like cleaning out the trash can could push them over the ledge time wise.

Not necessarily so. While it is not a hotel, a major corporate center with thousands of employees and thousands of trash cans wanted to reduce the number of trash can liners they used every day.  They did this for sustainability reasons and to help reduce costs.

First they set up a pilot program in one area of the campus. Workers were instructed that in that area only “wet” trash, mostly food items, was to go into trash cans with liners. All other “dry” trash, which is likely what would be found in a hotel guestroom, was to be placed in the trash cans without liners.

Cleaning Workers Timed

The cleaning workers were timed before the pilot program was started to see how much time it took to collect trash, remove the trash liner, and install a new liner. They were then timed again to find out how much time it took to collect trash, clean the inside of the trash can, and return it.

The time result: negligible if not slightly faster when the cleaning crew did not need to install a new liner. (Note: Wet trash cans were collected, washed, cleaned and then re-installed).

In this example, this corporate center decided the “no-liner” program could be extended throughout the campus, saving this company thousands of dollars in supplies with minimal if no impact on cleaning times. They also took a huge step in reducing the estimated 34 million tons of plastic that end up in landfills each year in the United States.*

Returning to our first example, this change might be something hotels with green and sustainability strategies in place should consider.

*The University also estimates that only 6.5 percent of the plastics that end up in landfills are made from recycled materials.

Ron Segura is Founder and President of Segura & Associates, a janitorial consulting company based in the United States. He has more than 45 years of experience in all segments of the professional cleaning industry. He has also worked with corporations, universities, and hotel and hospitality facilities helping them streamline their cleaning operations and become greener and more sustainable. For 10 years, Ron oversaw the cleaning of more than 4.5 million square feet for The Walt Disney Company. Ron can be reached through his website at http://www.seguraassociates.com.

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