Lessons on Waste Management from the Hospitality World

Delhi has acquired the dubious distinction of being one of the most polluted cities in the world and generates 9000 metric tonnes of waste every day. The problem is so out of control that three out of its four operational landfills have ‘trash’ skyscrapers that rival Qutub Minar, the world’s tallest brick minaret. Both individuals and industries - like the hospitality industry contribute significantly to this problem, generating municipal solid waste, every single day. However, the problem is universal and not confined to Delhi or India alone.

Image Courtesy: Indian Express Courtesy: Indian Express

Hospitality Industry - A Big Offender

For instance, hotels generate a staggering 289,700 tonnes of waste each year in the UK [PDF, 414KB]. A hotel’s purchasing department may dump cardboard and wooden boxes, its conferences create paper and plastic waste. A restaurant throws away glass jars, metal cans and creates organic kitchen waste. We also have to account for garbage created by food leftovers and remember that, on an average, every guest generates one kilogramme of waste per night of stay. Most of this waste is hauled off to landfills at a great cost to the establishment and to the environment.

Working Towards Business and Environmental Gains

However, some hospitality establishments are revolutionising the landscape by developing innovative waste disposal mechanisms to reduce, reuse and recycle. The ITC group of hotels in India is an exemplary player, with the ITC Gardenia property in Bangalore achieving the much sought after LEED Platinum certification, becoming the first hotel in Asia to earn this accolade. The building has been designed to minimise energy and water consumption without compromising on luxury. For example, in order to recycle wastewater, water from washbasins and bathtubs is captured, filtered and used for landscaping and gardening. In addition to storm and rainwater harvesting, the hotel also uses only grey water to flush toilets. Rooms do not stock plastic water bottles but offer ITC branded water in glass bottles.

One-Time Infrastructural Solutions to Waste Management

The group has also found a sustainable solution to compost organic waste on premises. ITC Maurya installed an organic waste converter (OWC) on site in 2008, to process segregated wet waste using friendly bacteria. The process takes a couple weeks and yields high-quality manure. This one-time investment has significantly reduced costs, in the long run, they no longer have to pay collection agencies to transport waste to landfills, and use less plastic and garbage bags as well. These measures have helped ITC Hotels become carbon positive, water positive, and solid waste recycling positive.

The 5-star Hotel Lalit Ashok has created an in-situ vermicompost unit to prevent biodegradable waste from reaching the landfill. They also re-purpose used cooking oil and sell it to run machinery.  The sumptuously appointed Hotel Leela Palace in Bangalore segregates its waste at source, yielding nearly two tonnes of wet waste a day, and 3.5 tonnes of dry waste every week. The wet waste is transported to a poultry farm for feed, and the dry waste is sold to a local waste recycling vendor, thrice a week. Waste paper is reused to print in-house reports.

Big Problems Can Lead to Big Opportunities

Responding to this demand for environmentally-sound solutions, innovative business players like NobleExchange Environment Solutions have entered the fray. This Pune-based company runs the world’s largest food waste processing plant in the city. NobleExchange has entered into contracts with city municipality and hotel associations to collect, and process transport food waste. They anaerobically break down wet waste to create highly purified methane. This methane is pressurised and put into cylinders and brought back to hotels to replace a wide range of fossil fuels. This fuel can replace furnace oil, and can even be used for public transport (a pilot is planned). ITC Gardenia uses this gas to replace diesel used in the broiler, each 400-kilo canister set saves the hotel 670 litres of diesel. NobleExchange is living upto its name by delivering savings of 15% on conventional fuels and supplying 100% combustible gas with 0 emissions. As NobleExchange has discovered, the need for sustainable waste management solutions for the hospitality business presents a huge opportunity. Those looking to offer products, and services to hotels in India stand to gain by entering this market at the right time. And these new entrants would be well advised to partner with speciality firms like Arsha Consulting who can offer guidance, and share their India-specific experience and insights with international players who wish to expand their operations to India.

Small Steps to Sustainability

Even small hotels are turning to innovative waste management solutions to save big. In the UK, Strattons, an independent, family-run hotel in Norfolk [PDF, 266KB] has managed to save more than £16,000 or 20,000 USD in a year, by reducing food and packaging waste and upping recycling to a 98%. The British establishment did away with miniature bottles of toiletries in every room. When they found that discarded 30ml bottles still contained 70% of their contents, Strattons replaced individual bottles with 35lt refillable pump dispensers in rooms. Another small step that made a big difference was using discarded, dried coffee grinds for horticultural purposes - reducing food waste by 332 kilos per year. Their restaurant makes food to order, using the fresh produce they grow themselves. Strattons also sources meat from a local butcher and uses only free-range eggs. Customers appreciate their farm to table policy and the hotel generates less packaging waste.

These case studies are ample proof that hospitality businesses of every size can stand to learn a lot from each of these initiatives. And if hotels can go from being big offenders to thoughtfully-run businesses, doing their bit to save money and save natural resources, we will all be a little closer to saving the world.

Preeti Prakash | Journalist

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