11 Ways to Reduce Plastic & Paper Waste in Hotels, Cafes & Bars

(updated 10.9.20)

I try to reduce my plastic and household waste as much as possible and would like to share 11 ways to reduce plastic and paper waste when visiting hotels, cafes and bars. With many of us travelling for work and leisure, it is relevant all year round, not just in the summer when people are taking holidays.

I have just had my first break away this year and the Coronavirus epidemic is bringing along more waste as more disposable items being used to prevent contamination. Again with a little forethought you can do your bit to reduce waste.

I find that when we are out and about, our throwaway society comes into force at home and abroad. It became even more evident when we vacationed in the USA. I was astonished at how many single-use items are used in hospitality, so many items come wrapped in additional plastic too, and not just plastic straws – cups and lids for coffee, sugar, and stirrers in plastic wraps, individually wrapped coffee and tea bags, beakers in bathrooms, mini toiletries, plastic cutlery, the list goes on!

tea and coffee making display with single use creamers, sugars and tea bags

Of course, some hotels are getting on board the eco programme.  Some Holiday Inns give reward points for not having room serviced daily. Most hotels now state that towels and sheets won’t be washed daily and some have liquid dispensers on the walls rather than individual bottles of shampoo and shower gel.

I have started to plan ahead and make a few adjustments to my packing so that I can be as eco-friendly abroad as I can at home. Here are 11 ways that will help you reduce waste when you visit hotels, cafes and bars.

1. Don’t ask for your room to be serviced every day.

2. Make use of the towel policy that many hotels now have – hang up to reuse.

3. Take your own soap and shampoo bars rather than use their individual liquid bottles. If you prefer liquid toiletries, take your own take in reusable travel bottles.

4. Rooms may have several bins. Only use one bin as maids will empty and rebag each bin irrespective of how much is in them.

5. Ask for cold drinks not to be served with plastic straws. Carry your own stainless steel straw if you really need one.

6. Carry your own bamboo or stainless steel cutlery instead of using the plastic ones that are served in many hotel breakfast rooms and fast food outlets. I take my own from home and keep it wrapped in a fabric wrap that I got from a previous flight amenity pack.

7. If the hotel uses throwaway paper cups, take your own ceramic mug for use in the room and a travel mug for when you are on the move.

8. Take your own pack of teabags and coffee rather than using individually wrapped ones that hotels supply.

9. Often sugar comes with a creamer, stirrer and napkin all in one plastic wrap. If you only need sugar, take the rest of the contents home instead of throwing away. Homeless shelters or community groups will be able to use them. Schools and crafters may be able to use the plastic stirrers for crafts. You could even put the plastic rubbish into ecobricks. Better still take some sugar or sweeteners with you.

10. Due to the Covid-19 pandemic of 2021, many restaurants, cafes and bars are using paper throwaway menus. Of course these can be recycled, but they are still unnecessary waste. Where possible decide what food and drinks you want to order before reaching the restaurant then you can decline a paper menu. Most places will have an online menu and some will even have an app where you can order your food in advance.

11. Be sure to pack a few fabric masks to take with you and keep one in your bag, car, pocket, etc. I find that it is so easy to forget when you are out of routine or somewhere different, and you don’t want to have to make emergency purchases of disposable masks.  Whoever thought we would have to add masks and sanitizer to our holiday packing lists!

If you leave reviews on TripAdvisor, Booking.com or your own blog mention ways in which you think they could improve, give them an ECO CREDENTIAL SCORE or even ask to speak to the manager while you are there to ask them about their waste policy. There may be laws in place in certain states or counties that dictate policies beyond the hotel’s control.

I did ask why one chain hotel why there was so much plastic waste in hotels on a trip to California and was told there were certain state laws regarding hygiene and that all single-use items had to be wrapped. However, a different hotel had individual paper cups that weren’t wrapped in communal areas but were wrapped in your room, and another hotel had china mugs and glasses! I don’t think that explanation was entirely correct at all, maybe it was just company policy!

bagels in a plastic display case with single use jams and butters in a black display case
Some steps in the right direction but still too much single-use plastic

It may take a little thought when packing, but eventually, it will become as natural as checking that you’ve got your passport. Bit by bit we can all make a difference.
You might like to read other blogs that I’ve written about reducing and reusing waste:


Do you take anything on holiday with you to reduce waste?
Or even on a day-to-day basis at home?


14 thoughts on “11 Ways to Reduce Plastic & Paper Waste in Hotels, Cafes & Bars

  1. Jo, excellent post! Pinning (to my Zero Waste board) and tweeting. You and I could travel well together! I travel with my own tea gear: loose leaf tea, small electric kettle, cup, infuser, tray. And I always try to leave a small footprint.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. These are really great tips! Having just checked out of a hotel, I should have read this post a little earlier!

    I really need to reorganize my towel usage. I used to reuse bath towels for two days but when I started dialysis, I was told not to reuse them because of the risk of introducing bacteria into my catheter. Now that I have my transplant, I haven’t switched back. 😦 Thanks for the reminder!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is so, so true! It’s such a good idea to leave a note in your review & chat to the manager – who knows what you might spark!

    Liked by 1 person

  4. These are some really good and really do-able tips too. We’ve tried in recent years to cut down on towel use. Most hotels do have signs up asking people not to dump their towels if they don’t need them washed every day too which is good consciousness-raising.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. So many good tips. I always feel guilty about this when I go away and try not to use anything by taking my own but sometimes they will throw and change anyway and then I feel even more guilty that it was thrown away for nothing! A great idea to leave reviews too. X

    Liked by 1 person

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