How hotels, plastics and wellness are critically connected

This blog has been bubbling up within me for quite some time. I have been greatly inspired by Jeff Smith, our Six Senses vice president of sustainability, an expert in the field. I must credit a lot of the info in this blog to him. So here it goes!

If whole countries can do something about plastic, why don’t we as an industry do more?

  • Bangladesh was the first country to ban plastic bags in 2002.
  • Puerto Rico banned plastic bags in 2017.
  • Kenya banned importing, producing or even using plastic bags, with jail time or fines up to US$38,000 for offenders. 
  • Rwanda banned plastic bags in 2008 and searches luggage at the airport.

Below you can see which countries or states have some kind of ban, tax, charge or partial charge (colored areas). 

Moreover, when it comes to disposable plastic such as cups, straws, cutlery,  food containers, etc.:

  • New Delhi banned all disposable plastic in the capital region in 2017.
  • Taiwan will ban all plastic straws in all chain restaurants from 2019, and from 2020 all businesses will be fined if they offer plastic straws.
  • France will ban all single-use plastic plates, cutlery and disposable cups by 2020.
  • Costa Rica aims to be the first country to ban disposable plastic by 2021.

We have seen a lot of movement lately with hotel chains working towards completely eliminating plastic straws, which is a great start, but far from enough. Six Senses is free of plastic straws and bottles, and of disposable F&B containers, as well.

Why is this important?

So, why is this important, and is it not enough just to recycle?

First of all, much of the pollution occurs during production, extraction, use and disposal. When we recycle, half the damage is already done. And we don’t recycle everything and have a 250,000-ton plastic island floating at sea, for example. We just need to stop the production. 

 Apart from what we all know about the impact on our wildlife, oceans and earth as a whole, not everyone knows how plastic affects our health. Plastic does not decompose. It only gets smaller. This is called microplastic.  One plastic bottle breaks into 10,000 small pieces of plastic. Eighty-three percent of the water tested globally reveals microplastic, which is now equally in our food chain. These chemicals and microplastics affect our health in a big way:

  • Development of the brain
  • Allergies and asthma
  • Early onset of puberty in females
  • Diabetes, obesity and liver dysfunction
  • Genital, prostatic, endometrial, ovarian and breast diseases
  • Cardiovascular, liver, urologic, genital and endocrine (hormonal) effects
  • Developmental and reproductive toxic effects

 The above information is just starting to emerge, and my guess is that guests will soon know how bad plastic is for their health, the quantity of microplastics they already have in their blood, organs and various systems and the impact this will have. Drinking water from plastic bottles may be much more damaging than you think. The water does not go bad that quickly, but the plastic decomposes the longer it sits and the level of the surrounding temperature resulting in the drinking water becoming a chemical cocktail of microplastics that then enter your system. 

At Six Senses, our aim is to be completely plastic-free by 2022, and we are about 90% there now, and down to the finer details, such as how to we get our suppliers to deliver food plastic container-free or how we convince local authorities to agree to alternatives to plastic wrap. 

If countries can become free of plastic bags and disposable plastics, we as an industry should strive for that, too. Be aware that once consumers really understand the huge health hazard of plastic, not only for our planet but for our own health, they will soon start to demand plastic-free environments. 

I would love for more hotels and hotel chains to be plastic-free within the coming years. And if they don’t, I suspect their guests will be staying elsewhere.