California Assembly Members Propose Elimination of Single-Use Plastic Amenity Bottles – By Glenn Hasek

shower gel and shampoo soft-tube bottles on white surface - Photo by Lasse Møller on Unsplash
California Assembly Members Propose Elimination of Single-Use Plastic Amenity Bottles

Legislation introduced by California Assembly Member Ash Kalra and coauthored by Assembly Member Mark Stone would eliminate the small, single-use plastic bottles used to provide amenities to California lodging guests by January 1, 2023.

The bill would require a local agency with authority to inspect sleeping accommodations in a lodging establishment to notify lodging establishments of this requirement no less than one year before the requirement would become operative.

The bill would authorize a state or local agency with authority to inspect sleeping accommodations in a lodging establishment to enforce these requirements by issuing a citation, provided that the agency be required to issue a written warning upon a first violation of the above requirement. The fine will be $500 for a second violation and subsequent violations—not to exceed $2,000 annually. The bill would authorize the Attorney General or a district attorney, county counsel, or city attorney to bring an action to impose the civil penalty.

According to Assembly Bill No. 1162, “Lodging establishment” means an establishment that contains one or more sleeping room accommodations that are rented or otherwise provided to the public, including, but not limited to, a hotel, motel, resort, bed and breakfast inn, or vacation rental.

California Hotel & Lodging Association Response

“Our industry is a long-time leading advocate of environmental stewardship and supports the good intent of AB 1162. Our main concern with the bill is the negative impact speedy implementation would have on the environment as vendors with long-term contracts would be forced to dispose of those bottles,” said Lynn S. Mohrfeld, President and CEO, California Hotel & Lodging Assn. “Although we currently are opposed to AB 1162 for environmental and timing reasons, we continue to work with the author so we can do what’s good for our environment and right for our industry.”

In a letter to Mark Stone, the California Hotel & Lodging Assn. said it would support the bill if amended to account for certain initial and ongoing operational challenges. “…we ask the Committee to consider the following amendments that would help AB 1162 meld with these existing environmental initiatives,” the association said. The amendments are as follows:

  1. We respectfully ask the scope of this bill be limited to shower or bath accessories, defined as “a product intended to be applied to or used on the human body in the shower or bath or any part thereof for cleansing or conditioning. ‘Shower or bath accessories’ includes shampoo, conditioner, and liquid soap.” We believe this focused approach meets the intent of the author and will prevent later disputes and litigation.
  2. We request that a business or establishment that fails to comply with the requirements of this bill be provided with reasonable notice of noncompliance, which informs the business or establishment that it is subject to a civil penalty if it does not correct the violation within 30 days from the date the notice is sent to the business or establishment. If, after verification that the violation was not corrected within the 30-day period, we ask that the business or establishment be liable for a civil penalty of no more than five hundred dollars for a first offense and no more than one thousand dollars for each subsequent offense. This approach is based on the language in the statute requiring businesses, including lodging, to post notices pertaining to human trafficking.
  3. We request that the enforcement be limited to those entities as described in (e) (GLN comment: what is defined above in this article as a “lodging establishment.”
  4. We request that this law pre-empts any local ordinances dealing with this issue passed after the enactment of this legislation. (GLN comment: Last November, county supervisors in California’s Santa Cruz County approved an ordinance banning the plastic toiletry bottles effective December 31, 2020—enough time, they say, for hoteliers to use up existing inventories.)
  5. Lastly, we request an implementation date of January 1, 2025 for all lodging establishments with 50 rooms or more and January 1, 2026 for all lodging establishments, to provide hotels with enough time to exhaust their current stock of shampoo, conditioner and liquid soap so as not to encourage unnecessary waste. Additionally, the component of the hotel and lodging industry that manufactures, produces and sells these amenities will need to adjust their business models specifically within California, which is expected to be lengthy and significant. The reality is, a mandate like this on a state with more than 500,000 hotel and lodging rooms may cause backlogs and shortages.

‘The Tipping Point is Coming’

AHLA and STR, in their 2018 Lodging Survey, found that just 8 percent of survey respondents offer shampoo/conditioner dispensers in the shower. “That 8 percent is going to grow much faster that it has the last five years,” says Ian Wallace, President of Dispenser Amenities. “There is a strong movement in that direction. The tipping point is coming. The hotels get it.”

Ray Burger, President, Pineapple Hospitality, a supplier of amenity dispensers and specialist in supplying bulk amenity products to the lodging industry, also says the trend toward amenity dispensers is on the increase and that Assembly Bill No. 1162 will “stir up more conversation about dispensers.”

Burger questions the transition period for the switch to dispensers. “If you are really concerned about the environment, you would not wait until 2023,” he says. “The economic, environmental, and guest experience benefits of amenity dispensers and fixtures are available today.”

Burger also questions the fine structure, adding, “The rule currently being considered would be enforced with a $500 fine regardless of the property size. Larger hotels can easily afford the penalty, even as it increases for multiple violations, but smaller hotels will feel a disproportionate burden. This regressive approach to enforcement echoes challenges with similar taxes, fines, or cap and trade schemes around the world, which often ask people and businesses with fewer resources to pay more than their fair share of the costs associated with progress on critical challenges like pollution, waste, and climate change.”

While the California Hotel & Lodging Association argues that the industry will need from five to six years to eliminate inventory, Wallace explained that, “It’s not an inventory issue. It is a contract issue. The guys who make the bottles have a lot invested in it. They typically sign a two or three-year agreement and they fill it as it goes. It’s not a case of inventory sitting in a hotel. I have never heard of an agreement longer than three years. Most contracts are two years.”

Burger says 80 percent of hotels use a stock amenity program that does not even require a contract. “If they use a custom program, the contracts are written for a year or two.” He adds that if a hotel owner is faced with a requirement such as Assembly Bill No. 1162, he should be able to get out of an agreement with the supplier.” 

The California Hotel & Lodging Association also infers that dispenser makers may not be able to keep up with the new demand for dispensers. Says Wallace, “No, I would say that comment is not factual. Certainly, Dispenser Amenities can ramp up to meet increasing demand.  I would presume others could too.”

Many Reasons to Switch to Dispensers

There are not only environmental but economic reasons for making the switch to dispensers. According to Dispenser Amenities, by buying liquid such as shampoo in bulk, one can stop paying more for the packaging than the liquids. Typically, the small plastic bottles are thrown away with 70 to 85 percent of the contents. With dispensers, no liquid is wasted. Housekeeping time is also cut, in addition to the cost of waste removal.

Aquamenities, another dispenser supplier, says, “Our zero waste solution has, within a few short months, been able to actively save the environment from over 11 million amenity bottles and 49,000 gallons of partially used product—making sustainability a reality.”

Last year, Marriott announced plans to replace individual amenity bottles with in-shower dispensers at 1,500 hotels in North America. Other companies or brands such as Hilton (at Home2 Suites by Hilton), Drury Inns, Holiday Inn Express and StayPineapple Hotels have also made commitments to dispensers.

Green Lodging News is still waiting to hear back from California Assembly Member Ash Kalra regarding Assembly Bill No. 1162. The next hearing date for the bill is April 23. 

This article first appeared on the Green Lodging News website. To sign up to receive the weekly Green Lodging News newsletter, go to www.greenlodgingnews.com. Glenn Hasek can be reached at editor@greenlodgingnews.com.