RECYCLING: Sun, Surf and Solid Waste: The Florida Vacationers' Bounty

More than 20 million vacationers stay at Florida hotels and motels each year, and generate substantial amounts of solid waste. To help reduce waste at these facilities, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP), Tallahassee, Fla., has published a 35-page guide.

"Waste Reduction in Hotels and Motels" provides advice on how to develop a waste reduction and recycling program, and includes a list of associations and government agencies that can assist in starting a waste reduction program.

Martina Wagner, the author of the guide and an independent contractor on recycling issues, says it often is difficult to convince hotel managers to start recycling and reducing waste because many do not realize that they can save money by throwing out less trash. A waste reduction program also takes time to assemble, another roadblock in this fast-paced industry.

"I don't think there is a lot of waste reduction going on [in the hotel industry], but I think the potential is there," Wagner says. "It's just a matter of having the commitment."

The guide, which was funded through a $75,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA), Washington, D.C., Region IV Solid Waste Management division in 1997, suggests facilities determine where waste can be reduced. Three areas to target include eco-purchasing, recycling and composting. The guide also provides tips on educating employees, informing guests and monitoring the program.

Eco-Purchasing. Hotels can save money by minimizing packaging. Facilities should request vendors to supply products with the simplest and most recyclable packaging.

For example, in setting up its waste reduction program, one hotel realized that the local recycling program did not accept brown and green bottles, but it did accept aluminum cans. By serving draft and canned beer instead of bottled, the hotel reduced its garbage flow by 8,000 pounds per month, according to the guide.

Managers also should seek vendors that demonstrate a commitment to the environment. If a vendor can't or won't help a hotel reduce its waste, look for an alternate sources, the guide recommends.

When one hotel was short-handed, the head housekeeper had to assist with the laundry. In doing so, the housekeeper realized that plastic detergent buckets were being thrown away because the local recycling program did not accept them. She then met with the hotel's vendor to find a more concentrated detergent, as well as arrange to have the empty containers returned to the factory where they could be refilled. This reduced plastic waste at the hotel by more than 150 pounds per week and reduced the money spent per wash load.

Minimizing the use of hazardous materials is another important purchasing decision, the guide states. Non-toxic cleaning solutions often are less expensive and safer for employees. The guide includes a list of toxic chemicals to avoid.

Managers should keep in mind the Life Cycle Costing concept. "Remember you pay for products twice, once when you purchase them and again when you dispose of them," the guide states.

Recycling. To determine what materials to target for recycling, managers should ask their municipalities what materials are collected and/or processed in their area. A list of commonly recycled products - from cardboard and office paper to fluorescent bulbs and food waste - is included in the guide.

Because most haulers base their charges on operational costs, they often require a minimum quantity of materials, which can create storage problems for small facilities. The guide offers several criteria to consider when selecting a hauler. Some questions to ask include:

* What what types of materials the hauler collects;

* Whether the materials are source-separated or commingled;

* Who supplies the recycling bins;

* Whether there is a minimum volume or weight; and

* Whether the hauler provides employee training and educational materials.

Inside the hotel, using color-coded containers and pictograms instead of word signs can prevent guests from tossing garbage into recyclable containers.

Composting. Some managers may find it feasible to compost the organic portion of their waste stream, and can buy a commercial compost container or build one, according to the guide. Compost subsequently can be used as landscaping mulch or given to employees.

If a hotel decides against composting, the guide advises looking for alternate "organic disposal opportunities," such as asking its landscaper to use mulch produced by Florida composting programs.

Other Waste Reduction Strategies. Hotels also can reduce their waste by asking vendors to reuse large plastic containers and donating unwanted books and magazines, etc.

Motivating and Educating Employees. A waste reduction program won't work if employees don't support the program. "That's where a "Green Team" of employees can be helpful," Wagner says. "When you have a group of people working together, nothing stagnates. If there is a lone ranger in charge of a program, it's almost impossible."

A "green" team should meet regularly to plan and improve the hotel's waste reduction and recycling programs, the guide says. Team members then can go back to their departments and update their co-workers on the process. Larger facilities might consider printing a company newsletter with contests, rewards and celebrations as part of the educational campaign.

For example, Amelia Island Plantation in northeast Florida has had a team overseeing its environmental program for the past two years. Each month, team members inform the hotel's executive committee on their waste reduction efforts. The team also supplies articles for the employee newsletter, The Seabreeze, which updates the hotel's more than 1,000 employees on its waste reduction efforts. The team also has coordinated an employee education fair and hazardous waste workshop. With a successful program in place, the hotel is saving nearly $30,000 per year on lower disposal costs and inventory control, the guide says.

Informing Hotel Guests. It's also important to get guests involved. Some hotels place cards in guest rooms or with front desk clerks or bell staff to explain program procedures to guests during check-in. Many hotels have implemented recycling programs, which include collection bins in the guest rooms, pool, lobby, meeting rooms and other common areas. This can pay dividends as many meeting planners are looking for hotels with environmental programs.

Monitoring and Measuring. Evaluating is vital to the ongoing success of a waste reduction program. The guide recommends quarterly or twice-yearly reports to summarize the amount of materials reduced through the program and any cost savings. This can be accomplished by observing how full garbage or recycling containers are, or by analyzing purchasing records. Hotels also can work with their haulers, who can provide a survey of how full each container was at pickup and the weight of the materials they collected. The guide provides a worksheet to calculate the amount of garbage and recyclable materials generated each month for comparison purposes.

Currently, Florida does not require businesses, including hotels and motels, to recycle. No figures exist on recycling/waste reduction rates in the Florida hotel industry either, say Wagner and Raymond Moreau, director for program development at the private Southern Waste Information Exchange (SWIX), which helped prepare the guide. Nevertheless, the two hope the guide will give other hotels and motels incentive to start waste reduction programs.

"We want hotels and motels to have a handy resource," Moreau says. "Hotels and motels have such a high turnover of staff. Unless they have a resource [to manage their solid waste], it's difficult."

In the meantime, SWIX is using funds from the Florida Legislature to survey 4,500 inns on which hotels have waste reduction programs, what types of materials they recycle and how much garbage they generate. SWIX plans to publish the survey results in January.

For more information, contact: FDEP, Blairstone Rd. MS4570, Tallahassee, FL 32399. Phone: (850) 488-0300. Website: documents.htm

Hotel managers who want to start a waste reduction and recycling program should consider this checklist:

* Informing the hotel's owners and corporate management.

* Appointing a waste reduction coordinator to provide leadership.

* Establishing an account system to track monthly waste disposal and reduction information.

* Researching the hotel's waste disposal costs, options and alternatives.

* Setting up a waste reduction committee of staff members from each operational area. Take the committee on a site visit to gather information and formulate recommendations.

* Performing a waste evaluation, examining purchasing and disposal cost records.

* Working with the committee to set goals and objectives, based on a realistic timeline.

* Establishing a educational/promotional budget.

* Finding a hotel of similar age and size to partner with.

* Monitoring, measuring and reporting progress. Then, celebrating success!

Source: FDEP