For travelers in China, there’s rarely a need to pack a toothbrush. From slippers to shower caps, most hotels across the country provide guests with a variety of disposable toiletries. But all this convenience contributes to a growing stream of waste, and one of China’s largest cities wants its hotels to go green.
Guangzhou, capital of southern China’s Guangdong province, issued draft regulations proposing that the city start separating its trash. As part of the new rules, single-use toiletries would be banned, and violators would face fines of up to 3,000 yuan ($436). The city government has been seeking opinions from the public about its proposals since April 12.
According to government data from 2015, there are more than 10,500 hotels in China providing around 1.46 million rooms, with an occupancy rate of 54.2 percent.
Many hotels provide disposables, and environmentalists say they are a source of pollution. When nongovernmental organization China Zero Waste Alliance visited the industrial zone in Yangzhou, a city in the eastern province of Jiangsu, where more than half of China’s single-use toiletries are produced, Yue Caixuan, the group’s secretary-general, was devastated by what she saw.
“Most of the manufacturers are small factories with poor facilities, and the products themselves aren’t good quality,” Yue told Sixth Tone, adding that these factories are unable to treat or properly dispose of the sewage and waste they produce.
Moreover, Yue said that recycling one-time-use items is an unrealistic goal. “It’s too hard to recycle the plastics, as they tend to be low-grade and worthless,” she said. “Only if these items could be accumulated in large quantities would they be worth recycling.”
According to state news agency Xinhua, 246 of China’s largest cities together produced 186 million tons of household trash in 2015 — a figure it called “the tip of the iceberg.” That year, Guangzhou ranked sixth in terms of garbage produced.
Wang Chongcheng, an employee working at a 7Days Inn in Guangzhou — a budget-conscious chain where rooms cost around 120 yuan per night — told Sixth Tone that he had not heard about the proposed regulation. He said that since their location opened in 2012, they have been providing free disposable toiletries to all guests. “We have to throw away a lot of single-use items every day,” Wang said.
Deng Chao, 26, works at a state-owned company in Shanghai and has to travel for business every week. He told Sixth Tone he won’t book hotels that don’t provide disposable toiletries. Otherwise, he said, “packing my luggage would be a big problem.”
Zhao Shuyu, a consultant who stays in Guangzhou hotels for extended periods for long-term projects, told Sixth Tone that she prepares her own toiletry items. “It’s okay for me, but for tourists who travel to this city, they would have concerns,” the 25-year-old said, adding that people choose hotels over Airbnb-like options because they expect more amenities.
Guangzhou is not the first city to call for a ban on disposable items. As early as 2009, Changsha, capital of central Hunan province, rolled out a similar regulation. “It was implemented really well in the five years that followed,” said Yue of the alliance. “However, since 2014, things have gotten worse again, as the government and media no longer mention or publicize the ban.”
“Hotels established after 2014 are ignoring the ban outright,” Yue continued. “And other hotels worry about losing clients if they stick to the ban. If the government doesn’t supervise them more strictly, the ban won’t be effective.”
Yue added that a regional ban is unlikely to have much of an effect on tourists’ habits. “There should be a nationwide prohibition,” she said.
Contributions: Liu Chang; editor: Kevin Schoenmakers.
(Header image: Single-use toiletry items for hotels are displayed at a fair in Beijing, March 16, 2008. VCG)