The more people show up interest in the health of the planet, the more businesses pay attention to the topic as well. Some years ago first signs started appearing, urging hotel guests to reuse towels.

“Every year, millions of liters of water are used to clean towels that have only been used once. Throw the towel on the floor if it’s dirty, hang it up if you’re still using it. Help save our planet.”

Today, a sustainable lifestyle is more important than ever. In many homes, paper, plastic, and organic waste are separated. People are careful not to leave the water running while brushing their teeth, and more conscious about turning the lights off when leaving a room.

Although some of these decisions have been triggered by the spike in energy prices, a lot of people are aware of the effects of our everyday actions on the environment.

It’s nice to see that hotels care about the well-being of our world, as well. That being said, a touch of heightened criticism goes a long way. So are hotels suddenly really into sustainability or are the “help save the planet” signs just another marketing trick?

Reusing could do more harm than good

The less often towels are washed, the less water is used, right? Unfortunately, this statement may not always be true. In 2020, the Journal of Hospitality & Tourism published a study, suggesting that washing towels less frequently might do more harm than good.

The more a towel goes unwashed, the harder it is to remove stains from it. That means, in order to clean it, stronger chemicals and more water must be used.

In addition, hotels offer the possibility to use “do not disturb” and “don’t clean this room” hangers. In addition to giving you privacy, these signs allow a housekeeper to skip going over a room that does not need to be cleaned quite yet.

Hotels apply the following logic – the less often a room is cleaned, the less amount of water and chemicals are used, so the better for the environment. This is true when only a day of cleaning is skipped.

If a room hasn’t seen a mop for a few days in a row, housekeepers, again, have to use stronger chemicals, and more water to clean the stains. Often, housekeepers are given only 30 minutes per room, no matter how many days in a row a place has not been cleaned.

Therefore, it’s necessary to use the most efficient methods to get a quick result. Unfortunately, the methods are often the most environmentally harmful.

Overload of work

Sadly, this world-saving plan has another downside. As rooms are cleaned less frequently, the working hours of housekeepers are reduced. That causes cleaners (who are often immigrants) to get a smaller sum at the end of the month. Ironically, their job does not get easier. Quite the opposite.

Many people adopt the “client is king” attitude while on a vacation. That means they don’t consider workers who have to clean up their mess after they check out. Hotel rooms are often full of junk piles, heaps of hair, and food leftovers. To clean a room, the housekeepers still only have half an hour the most.

In some locations, Marriot offers food coupons and loyalty program points to customers who decide to skip housekeeping service. It’s a clever marketing trick and a good example of how environment-minded people are taken advantage of to promote a business.

“I live in fear that I’m going to lose my job,” says a 56-year old housekeeper from the Dominican Republic. “They’re offering something to the guests, but at the same time, they’re taking something from us.”

Saving water

To understand the effect of reusing towels on the environment, we have to take a look at the statistics. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), laundry makes up 16% of the water used in hotels. Toilets, for example, are the biggest water-consumers – they use 30% of all water.

According to a survey, it takes 379 liters of water a day to clean one hotel room. Depending on the age and the size of the room, this number could be up to 1500.

In 2019, there were over 17 000 hotel rooms in Estonia. There are over 9 million of those in the United States. A quick calculation shows that if every existing room in Estonia was cleaned every single day, over 45 million liters of water would be used in a single week.

Although most probably every room does not require cleaning every day, the amount of water is still too big. To make life easier for the planet and the time-capped cleaner, leave your hotel room as clean as you can before checking out.

The logic errors of saving the planet

There’s a simple way to check whether the signs asking travelers to reuse towels are a marketing trick or a genuine interest in the health of the planet.

Pay attention to the bins in the lobby and the room. Recycling and composting are the easiest ways for a company (and a home) to go a step forward towards being more environmentally friendly. If you see a sign in the bathroom asking you to reuse towels but see no ways to recycle your coffee cup, something is off.

Companies that care about real changes, take real steps. There are numerous eco-positive solutions for companies to go green. For example, hotels can use solar panels to generate energy or opt-out of using traditional washing machines and choosing a water-saving alternative. Machines that use less water to clean your laundry can reduce water usage by up to 80%.

Some hotels have already changed small shampoo and conditioner bottles to refillable ones. The state of New York even decided to ban the use of single-use toiletries in accommodation facilities. That could prevent as many as 27 million plastic bottles from being used in the state each year.

If you’re not sure about the motives of the hotel, keep an eye open for the following:

  • Is there a waste recycling option? In the 21. century, every lobby and hotel room should have different bins for biological waste, plastic, and paper.
  • Are LED lamps being used? LED light bulbs are a great way to save electricity.
  • Are there any water-saving technologies in use? Do the taps and showers turn off automatically?
  • Is there a drinking fountain instead of bottled water in the lobby from which you can refill your reusable bottle?

Travelers are willing to pay more to get an environmentally friendly service in a hotel. That means sustainable decisions are beneficial for the chains in more than one way.

The most sustainable way to travel is to not travel at all. Voyaging is an extremely ungreen activity. In today’s hectic world, however, one can’t judge a wish to take some time off. Luckily, there are ways to make your trips more sustainable.

Even if your country is small (like Estonia happens to be), there can be a lot to discover. You can find good ideas about what to do in Estonia on the website of Puhka Eestis. Visit museums, take a walk in the forest, or go skiing.

Stay awhile

Instead of city-hopping, stay in one place for a longer period. That enables you to get a better understanding of the local people and culture. Traveling like that allows you to see things from another perspective – you can actually experience, instead of just taking pictures. You can create real memories and make stronger connections.

In addition, traveling at a slow pace helps save money because you won’t have to pay for a new bus or plane ticket every day. Many accommodation facilities offer discounts when staying for more than 2 or 4 weeks.

Don’t fly

Tourism makes up 8% of all carbon emissions in the world. Most of the travel emissions are created by planes and cars. To reduce your CO2 emissions, prefer traveling by train, bus, or bike.

Those carbon dioxide emissions that can not be avoided, can be compensated for. You can do this by planting trees and supporting sustainable projects. Let’s Do It is a good way to give back by cleaning the cities and nature of your country.

Use a refillable bottle

Every year, 8 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean. That is equal to a plastic-packed truck dumping its insides to the sea every minute of every day.

Fortunately, more and more travel companies pay attention to reducing the use of single-use plastics. That is not enough. To benefit the health of the planet, every traveler must give their contribution.

Whether you’re traveling, going to work, or school, carry a reusable bottle with you. That way you can reduce your carbon footprint and take a step towards creating a more sustainable future.

Support the locals

The pandemic has had a great effect on all of us. The best way to help local small business owners to bounce back is to support them. Choose a local guest house instead of an international hotel chain. Instead of an international restaurant, experience new tastes in a local diner.

It doesn’t matter whether you’re in India, Israel, or Brazil – farmer’s markets are always great places full of national goods.

Visit national parks

National parks and marine protected areas play a big role in protecting the nature of our planet. Many countries with stunning nature, such as Kenya and Uganda, are dependent on tourism. That’s also why some park fees might be a bit higher than expected. That money goes straight to the locals, though, and is worth every penny.

The more people show interest in the health of the planet, the more companies, including hotels and travel firms, begin to focus on sustainability as well.

Unfortunately, many slogans urging us to save the planet, are used just to gain more customers. That’s why it is important to be aware of the topic, and pay attention to whether the accommodation unit practices what it preaches.