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In response to the alarming figures caused by the impact of plastic waste on the planet, the government is becoming increasingly uncompromising with companies. To stop the massive consumption of plastic materials, the list of products banned from stores is growing, and by 2040, the French government hopes to permanently end the sale of single-use plastic packaging.So, how are French hotels adapting to the tightening of environmental protection measures? Room service, housekeeping, bar, restaurant, kitchens, spa, and events professionals reveal the behind-the-scenes of a sector undergoing restructuring in response to the plastic boycott.
On February 10, 2020, the anti-waste law for a circular economy accelerated the change in the production and consumption model of our society. It is official, the hunt for plastic in businesses has begun. Our journey starts in the South, in Marseille. The InterContinental Marseille – Hotel Dieu has been selected to implement a pilot project aimed at reducing the use of single-use plastics. Changes are slow to start since, according to a CITEO study published in 2020, only 28% of single-use plastic household packaging is recycled in France. The remaining 72% of packaging is incinerated before breaking down in the soil, turning into a new problem. The only solution: collective action. This is the observation of Bénédicte Trabuc-Letondal, Marketing and Communication Manager at the InterContinental Marseille*****, who asserts that without the active participation of the entire system, from suppliers to employees to customers, the ecological transition of hotels is slowed down: “suppliers and other professionals who contribute to the smooth running of our hotel do not all have the same pace in this shift in consumption patterns. Moreover, we still have not found an inexpensive solution for customers wishing to take a bottle of water for their outings, and it is part of our standards to be able to offer them. In the long term, we would like to install filtered water fountains in our lobby, but few of our customers travel with their own water bottles.”
In 2017, the average French person consumed 96 plastic bottles per year, but today 54% of French people have a reusable water bottle, according to an Opinion Way survey. These are reassuring numbers, but not sufficient for Bénédicte Trabuc-Letondal: “The government needs to make radical decisions if we want real results. To date, each company is moving forward according to its capabilities, possibilities and motivations. I think that if the right decisions are made quickly, then everyone will move in the right direction.” For her, the goal is not to force her team to adopt new daily habits, but rather to convince them to do so for a good reason.
Among millennials, after they graduate, their experiences in companies are sometimes tinted with disillusionment. Auriane Beye, a former student at the Ferrières Hospitality & Luxury Management School, who graduated in 2020, confides: “In my second year of Bachelor’s degree, I had the opportunity to follow a Quality Sustainable Management course to teach us how to react to current environmental issues in companies. But there is a huge gap between what we are taught at school and what happens in the field. Some hotels, with a management that I would describe as “old-fashioned”, are not ready to take new directives in terms of ecological transition.” Rachel Trotti, her colleague, adds: “In every company, we should recruit a person, or a team, dedicated to monitoring compliance with new measures in favor of the environment.”
Raphaëlle Tchilinguirian, the Director of Operations at Paxton Paris MLV****, is skeptical about a plastic-free horizon by 2040: “In the current state of affairs, 100% zero plastic seems to me to be a utopian project. The financial burden of investing in zero plastic and the quality of plastic substitutes are major obstacles for hotels engaged in their ecological transition. Furthermore, when quality is prioritized (glass, metal), the loss and theft rate increases significantly, which again has a strong financial impact. Support from suppliers and cost control will be essential to achieve this goal.” Since the beginning of the year, the 4-star hotel has implemented an Eco-Responsible label in connection with their CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) charter: “In the rooms, we limit the use of plastic bottles by using reusable plastic bottles. During seminars, individual plastic bottles are also replaced by glass bottles,” says Raphaëlle Tchilinguirian.
On Monday, January 30th, a consultation had already begun at the Ministry of Ecological Transition. The consigned glass is under debate. The Secretary of State for Ecology, Bérangère Couillard, brought together some 80 actors in the sector (agri-food and bottling industry, supermarkets, associations of elected officials, as well as consumer associations and NGOs) to study scenarios that could be put in place. In summary, the consignment would consist of buying one’s bottle of water a little more expensively, then placing it in a machine which would, in return, give a few cents back to the consumer. The decision will be made in June. And, for our German neighbor, this solution is already proving successful. With a plastic bottle return rate of 90% according to the European Consumer Center, this new alternative is inspiring many French people. In short, although the pace of ecological transition is not the same for all companies, all generations seem to be on the same wavelength. Only one actor must act: the entire world.