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Journey to Zero Waste


Believe it or not, ~90% of all waste produced in hotels can be avoided, repurposed, or recycled. The definition of zero waste, conveniently, is a minimum of 90% diversion with the remaining 10% being incinerated for waste to energy. This means hotels are well-positioned to set and achieve zero-waste targets and reap all the benefits.

Minimizing waste production and maximizing waste diversion helps to reduce costs, improve environmental performance and demonstrate to staff and guests the hotel’s environmental values in action.

Wherever you are in your sustainability journey, here are six ways to help guide your journey toward zero waste.


Understanding your waste profile is a key step in the journey to zero waste. With a clear picture of the waste generated, measuring progress becomes much easier. A waste audit will help to clarify where your waste is coming from, calculate your waste diversion rate and set waste reduction goals.

Audit your waste streams to categorize the types and quantity of waste produced. Key metrics for a hotel property to track upon conducting a waste audit could include:

  1. Total waste generated (kilograms)
  2. Total waste generated by department (kilograms)
  3. Total recycling generated (kilograms)
  4. Total food waste generated (kilograms)
  5. Diversion rate (% of recycling + composting over total waste produced)
  6. Annual cost for waste removal (landfill, recyclables, organic waste)

Project Zero offers a free tool for businesses to conduct a general waste audit as well as a food waste audit tool.


The simplest way to ensure your hotel’s waste doesn’t end up in the landfill is to eliminate it.  Start by considering disposable items like plastic straws, stir sticks, takeaway containers and to-go coffee cups.  Can you eliminate printouts for guests and transition to a fully digital process? Refillable amenity dispensers can replace shampoo, conditioner, and lotion bottles and buffet items like butter and sugar can be served in refillable containers instead of single serving packages.

Here are some key questions to ask your team:

  • “Is this item necessary?”
  • “Could we provide the item only upon request?”
  • “Can we find a more eco-friendly (reusable, compostable, recyclable) alternative?”

Addressing food waste is also a great opportunity for hotels to reduce costs and minimize emissions. Food waste is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions as organic waste in landfills undergoes anaerobic decomposition and produces methane.


Whatever you choose to call it, giving new purpose to products or their components helps reduce the need for new raw materials.

Reusing product packaging internally is a simple way to extend the life of materials. Hotel kitchens can reuse glass jars for in-house pickling and jams while cardboard boxes can be used for storage.

Upcycling can be particularly powerful as the finished product often becomes more valuable and aesthetically appealing than what it previously was. It’s also a great way to support local artists and makers and the unique look of upcycled art and furniture resonates well with guests.

In the UK, Marriott International is upcycling retired bed sheets into a limited-edition collection of tote bags through a partnership with social enterprise SleepingBags and British luxury brand Lily and Lionel. The bags are provided as in-room guest amenities and are available for purchase on the hotel chain’s e-commerce website, with proceeds going to The Prince’s Trust charity for disadvantaged youth. Marriott properties across the UK have also introduced bags for hairdryers, newspapers and laundry made from bed linen.

Closer to home, the Best Western Plus Kamloops was able to repurpose, resell or recycle 95% of materials from its 2020 renovation project.  The hotel repurposed 20% of the hallway and room carpets internally in storage areas, 35% was sold to other local accommodations and the remaining carpet was donated to Habitat for Humanity. In addition, original window dressings and skirtings were sold to another local Kamloops property, and 24 toilets were donated to Habitat for Humanity.


  • Soap for Hope – Gently used or unused soap, hygiene products, linens and lost & found item collection
  • Fairware – Upcycled merchandise


Once materials end up in the landfill, there is no getting them back. Organic materials break down and produce methane, contributing to global warming and everything else just takes up space. Diverting usable materials from the landfill also helps reduce the need for new raw materials.

For the materials used within hotels to be diverted to upcycling enterprises or recycling facilities, they first need to be captured and sorted. Clear signage and continued education are key to successful waste diversion programs.

Design and place sorting bins and signage based on the materials that are present in the hotel. Do you have a café using compostable cups? Make sure there are compost bins nearby, clearly labeled to show where the cups go. Use colors, words, and images to increase clarity.

Image source: Williams College

There are also specialized programs for “hard to recycle” items that are not picked up by traditional recycling programs. Hotels can divert key cards, batteries, PPE, pens, and more through Terracycle or other specialty recycling partners.

Image source: TerraCycle

Engage Guests & Staff

Staff and guest are integral to the success of a zero-waste strategy. Staff are involved in every stage of the journey from purchasing to sorting. Engage staff in developing and implementing a zero-waste plan and be inspired by their ingenuity and creativity. It’s one thing to be told to remember to sort recycling properly but it’s far more effective for staff to be involved in the development of a plan to meet a zero-waste target.

From a guest perspective, today’s traveler is more concerned about sustainability than ever before. In fact, a  of more than 29,000 travelers across 30 countries found that over half (53%) get annoyed if somewhere they are staying stops them from being sustainable, for example by not providing recycling facilities. Travelers want to be part of the solution, so it is key for hotels to involve guests in the journey towards zero waste.

Offer more options for in-room bins so that guests can separate different types of recycling and organic waste. Provide clear signage to identify waste streams on bins in public areas. Share your property’s waste diversion statistics about how much using the bins impacts the hotel’s greater sustainability goals. These are great ways to let guests know that you’re all working together toward the same goal.

Image source: R3 Site Furnishings

Think Circular

A circular economy aims to design out waste and pollution, keep products and materials in use and regenerate natural systems. By rethinking how products are designed, manufactured, used, and treated at the end of their useful life, we can transform the system and tackle global challenges such as climate change and biodiversity loss.

Hotels can benefit from circular economy principles by extending the life and value of the products they purchase, reducing waste and associated hauling costs, supporting local economic development, and demonstrating responsible practices to their staff and guests. This includes thinking about waste as a resource, responsibly sourcing quality, long-lasting goods that can be repaired, and donating or repurposing goods into new usable products.

Take a guestroom chair for example. A quality locally made chair made of wood and fabric could be reupholstered locally if damaged or if hotel décor changed. At the end of its life, it could be sold, donated or its components returned to the earth. Low-quality, mixed material chairs that break and can’t be fixed just end up in the garbage. This same concept can be applied to all hotel goods from linens to food and more.

As you reflect on your hotel’s operations and the materials coming in and going out, you will start to see where you can adopt more circular practices. Work with your team to review the results of the waste audit and develop an action plan to move toward zero waste.

Ask your team how each department can contribute. What products does your hotel purchase and what happens at the end of their useful life? Are goods repairable, reusable or, at least recyclable? Can certain products (furniture, linens, carpet, etc.) be donated to a local charity to extend their life? What can you eliminate or divert from the landfill? Every step helps to move your hotel in the direction of a zero-waste future.

Image source: Project Zero