News & Politics

Why Marriott Is Ditching Those Travel-Size Shampoo Bottles

The Bethesda-based hotel giant is making a big change to its bathrooms

Bad news for hotel shampoo bottle hoarders: Marriott International is eliminating individual shampoo, conditioner, and soap bottles from all its properties by the end of 2020. Following the precedent set by rival InterContinental Hotels Group, Marriott’s 7,000-plus hotels will soon all feature large containers for bathroom toiletries to help cut down on wasted plastic. Denise Naguib, Marriott’s vice president of sustainability and supplier diversity, explains how this big shampoo shift came about.

How long has the conversation about whether to make this move been going on?

We as a company launched our next generation of sustainability and social impact goals in October of 2017. As part of that effort we set a lot of goals, and two of those relate directly to this particular initiative. One was to reduce our landfill waste by 45 percent and the other one was related to responsibly sourcing in our guest room amenities. We launched initially with ten of our brands moving to large-size amenities bottles in various phases in 2018, and [recently] we announced we’re moving the majority of our portfolio to those large-size bottles. 

Why is this change happening now?

We’ve been working through the journey. About a year ago we launched our first major effort in removing single-use product, which was our “skip the straw” campaign. That created a brand standard for all of our hotels to eliminate plastic straws, only serve straws on demand, and use alternative materials from plastic. That was a pretty big step for us, and this is the next step along that journey. There have been a lot of innovations and work with product partners as well as the partners that develop the physical mechanisms that hold the product or the shelving that the product sits on. From an implementation perspective, many of our hotels will be fully deployed by the end of June 2020, and then our luxury brands will be fully implemented by December 31 of 2020. 

Even though you’re getting rid of the little bottles, the big bottles are made of plastic as well. How much plastic will you save when you factor that in?

This new approach is removing 500 million tiny bottles per year from our portfolio of hotels to reduce 1.7 million pounds of plastic. The difference between the tiny bottles and the large bottles is about a 30 percent reduction in plastic on an annual basis. And while the large ones are plastic, they’re a highly recyclable kind of plastic, as opposed to the tiny bottles that are very difficult to recycle. So not only are we using less plastic, but we’re also moving towards products that can be recycled, just like you would your own shampoo or conditioner at home.

Why did hotels use small bottles in the first place?

I’m not sure about the history of it. When hotels first started, obviously they were more likely to not be using these tiny versions, but as far as I remember and for most people who are traveling today, they’ve always used the tiny bottles. I think part of it has been the convenience of having that individualized use. But things change—people have changed and philosophies have changed. With the plastic issue being so front and center these days, people have much more awareness of their own impact and what they can do. Our consumers are ready for it, our associates are ready for it, our owners are ready for it, and our partner organizations and environmental organizations have been really supportive of us.

How are you ensuring the bottles in some of your more high-end brands have a more luxurious feel?

Many of our brand partners for the products themselves are retail brands that people recognize every day. Having that retail component really elevates that experience for the guests. For the luxury brands, they’ll generally be sitting on shelves as opposed to being tethered to a wall. We’ve already seen some very positive feedback on some of our hotels that already have large bottles because the luxury product, what’s inside the bottle, is really what’s important. 

I have to confess, my father is a serial hotel-shampoo stealer. What solutions do you have for those guests who feel passionately about taking home those travel bottles?

Our CEO mentioned that his brother was the same in terms of appreciation and love in bringing these products home. He had a drawer full of them in his own home, so I don’t think your father’s alone. Maybe his next investment could be a container for him to bring those products back home with him. I think that’s an opportunity that some people will take advantage of, or they’ll purchase that product as a retail item if they like the product. Change is challenging, but often things change and adjustment happens and it’s kind of a forgotten change.

Jane Recker
Assistant Editor

Jane is a Chicago transplant who now calls Cleveland Park her home. Before joining Washingtonian, she wrote for Smithsonian Magazine and the Chicago Sun-Times. She is a graduate of Northwestern University, where she studied journalism and opera.