No, not a new celebrity chef cooking show or newfangled diet regime, but an issue of such grave and immense importance that removing single use plastic in our personal and professional day to day lives and business practices just might well save the oceans and deserts for generations to come.
On a purely personal level, I never saw myself as an environmentalist or eco warrior but being so horrified while on holiday in 2017 by the beautiful beaches of South East Asia - where I had spent part of my childhood - being littered with layers upon layers of mostly plastic debris spurred me into a level of personal action and accountability.
At home we adopted a recycling regime, stopped using disposable grocery store plastic bags and virtually eliminated our use of single use plastic water bottles overnight. As an animal lover, the images from The National Geographic and Sir David Attenborough’s The Blue Planet showing beautiful sea and desert creatures being tortured a slow death by discarded plastic devasted the team and myself in my previous role at then JRG Dubai. JRG then joined various other UAE F&B organisations and started the process of eliminating single use plastic in restaurants and bars in 2017.
In 2018, Hilton made an EMEA wide commitment to eliminate the use of plastic straws from its managed hotels - and earlier this year, we announced that we fulfilled this commitment at our UAE properties. Plastic bottles used in meetings and event spaces have also been removed. As a result of adopting these new standards, approximately 3.5 million plastic straws and over 2 million plastic water bottles will be removed each year from Hilton’s 26 hotels in the country. In addition to carrying out these measures, Hilton properties in the UAE have continued to take additional steps to reduce consumption of single use plastics. Over 2.4 million plastic food and beverage products and 5 million plastic bags have been replaced with biodegradable alternatives.
The hospitality industry has really stepped up its reduction of single use plastics with some groups committing to remove single use plastic bathroom amenities by the end of 2020 and into 2021. The newly opened luxury property Waldorf Astoria Maldives is offering refillable, non-disposable in-villa amenities and sourcing plastic alternatives where possible. Unilever has long been working to reduce its product packaging. In addition, some supermarket chains of the GCC are replacing plastic packaging with reusable bags to place loose produce in and looking at initiatives around reducing single use plastic bags.
Wider social change on plastic is taking place with approximately 32 countries banning plastic bags. Bangladesh was the first in 2002 with countries such as France, India, Mali, The Republic of Congo, Morocco, Papua New Guinea and most recently New Zealand joining many others. The strictest counties are Kenya and Rwanda which have very severe fines and possible jail time. This action is designed to reduce the estimated 500 billion plastic bags that we consume annually with an average life span of twelve minutes! Certain nations have extended bans to other single use plastic items such as straws, and several food delivery companies now only provide single use plastic cutlery on request with many providing non-plastic substitutes. It is vital that legislation and societal responsibility around eliminating single use plastic continues to reduce the reported average of eight million tonnes of plastic entering the ocean each year. Single use plastic is choking the oceans, its wildlife and entering the food chain resulting in human consumption of the product.
Fast forward two years on from the South East Asian holiday of 2017 to August 2019, where my family were fortunate enough to stay on the island of Silhouette in The Seychelles which is inhabited by approximately 47 residents and home to Hilton Seychelles Labriz Resort & Spa. Prior to boarding the ferry to the resort, all passengers were requested to discard any single use plastic water bottles into a large fish shaped bin and were advised that water in the resort was served in reusable water bottles. During my stay I was kindly escorted around the resort to view the huge water collection tanks that collected the considerable rainfall from the highlands of the island. The water is filtered for use in villas, pools, gardens and for general use but also triple filtered and bottled to a highly controlled set of hygiene operational procedures for guest and employee consumption in both still and sparkling forms. On check-in all guests were provided with resort branded water bottles to use and refill at several water stations in the resort during their stay. This not only provides guests with a feeling of satisfaction that the resort and its guests are working hard to maintain the beautiful environment of the island but also a true sense of value.
Many hotel and restaurant brands are looking at these water recycling and bottling practices preferring to “refill rather than landfill” as my former colleagues at JRG Dubai would say. Hilton’s Labriz property provides bottled water for its sister properties Hilton Seychelles Northolme Resort & Spa and DoubleTree by Hilton Seychelles Allamanda Resort & Spa. I know from my time with JRG Dubai, that a Jumeirah property in Abu Dhabi as adopted a similar water refill process to protect the wildlife and beaches of its nature reserve location.
The hospitality and F&B business has embraced the need for social and industry change and moved with urgency that is gaining momentum every day to eradicate single use plastic. Not only is it the right thing to do to protect the environment for future generations but it also makes great commercial and sustainable business sense as this is what our customers are looking for; responsible, ethical and honest hospitality people and businesses.
I am proud to be part of this industry that has worked tirelessly to start to address the single plastic use issue. We have a long way to go but we have made a momentous start and together we can achieve a better world by sharing good practice and innovation for the good of future generations. Together we are stronger as we compete to raise the bar as we innovate to reduce single use plastic and spur each other on to better and greater things!
“The ultimate test of man’s conscience may be his willingness to sacrifice something today for future generations whose words of thanks will not be heard.” - Gaylord Nelson, American politician, environmentalist and founder of Earth Day.
Emma Banks is the vice president, food & beverage strategy and development for