Planet or Plastic?
A million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute. That number will jump another 20 per cent by 2021.
By then, the demand for plastic drinking bottles will increase to 583.3bn, according to estimates from euromonitor International’s global packaging trends report. Further, 5tn single-use plastic bags are used worldwide every year according to an UN environment Programme estimate. half of all plastic produced is designed to be used only once - and then thrown away.
That accounts for about 300mn tonnes of plastic waste produced every year – equivalent to the weight of the entire human population. Between 5mn and 13mn tonnes of plastic ends up in the world’s oceans each year to be ingested by sea birds, fish and other organisms. By 2050 the ocean - earth’s last sink - will contain more plastic by weight than fish.
It’s not uncommon to find some of the plastic carelessly tossed into the sea on the other side of earth show up on Muscat’s beaches in ocean drift. These bottles are showing up in pristine Omani beaches, including Barr al hikman. Mission to eliminate plastics Man made plastic; now we’re downing in it.
Thankfully, there are some who haven’t just taken notice, but also swung into action. Crowne Plaza Muscat, Oman exhibition & convention centre (OCEC) has adopted a proactive approach to the situation. It claims to be on a mission to eliminate the use of plastics in the hotel. Officially opened in December 2017, the hotel has never used a plastic bag or plastic takeaway packaging, it states on a note in its new Year’s gift to corporate clients.
Starting January 2020, all plastic pens have been replaced with innovative paper pens. Individual plastic bathroom amenities will be 100 per cent plastic free starting April.
Currently, all coffee cup lids and room key cards are 100 per cent plastic free. additionally, the 295-room hotel does not receive fresh juice or soft drinks in plastic bottles, eggs in plastic trays nor laundry and dry cleaning wrapped in plastic. Its corporate gift at the beginning of the year was a calendar, a pen and pencil. each month of the calendar is printed on a piece of seed-embedded paper. If sowed in soil, January would reap tulsi plants. February will reap tomatoes and March marigold.
Once written till its end, if sowed in soil, spinach will sprout from seeds in a capsule attached to the pencil stub. and once the pen runs dry, plant it to see marigold bloom. Paul Schenk, hotel manager, is the man driving these changes at crowne Plaza Muscat, OCEC. he encountered the full extent of the scourge of plastics pollution for the first time in kota kinabalu, Malaysia, in 2010.
“It’s paradise on earth. I was walking on the beach, and behind the beach was a lagoon. I went up a hill to look at the lagoon – the entire lagoon as far as my eyes could see was 3ft under plastic bottles.” It was a revelation. “I thought, this is in the middle of nowhere! how did this happen? It’s obviously drifted in from the ocean. It couldn’t have been a dumping ground for locals. I just couldn’t believe it. It really disturbed me – this is truly a disaster.
Why isn’t anybody talking about it? I thought,” Schenk recalls. he had a similar encounter with plastics in Barr al Hikman in 2017 around the time of the hotel’s opening and decided to lock horns with the problem. he doesn’t shy away from calling the changes being implemented at Crowne Plaza Muscat OCEC a revolution. “I think it was at this point that I really made a decision to make a difference. I have a voice, I have a position and the opportunity to change what we do here and perhaps influence some people as well,” Schenk said.
When the hotel opened, some features were already in place to safeguard the environment. Built by Omran, it was Gold leeD certified with solar panels on the roof that provide 80 per cent of the hotel’s hot water, among other features. The first change Schenk implemented was getting rid of plastics from the mini bar and the hotel never had plastic straws.
“We’ve adopted technology to eliminate plastic. We’ve had no guest room directories from the beginning. normally there’s a thick directory of laminated pages telling you about the hotel in every room. We’ve made it all digital, so all the information is on the TV. and normally in hotels, you have signs to say, ‘Do not disturb’ or ‘Make up my room’, all made in plastic. We said we won’t have this. It’s all on digital panels in our hotel.” Despite putting to commercial use items that aren’t yet standard industry practice, Schenk says all the changes he’s implemented have saved the hotel money.
“We’ve done full return of investment on all our strategies and every single one has proven to be a saver.” Buying power of seven Schenk is now negotiating with the supplier for an eco-friendly garbage bag that’s twice the price of a normal garbage bag.
“We’re negotiating a contract for the seven IHG hotels in Oman, and if they give it to us at a bulk rate, the price is going to come right down. We have the buying power of seven hotels now.” Thanks to the backing of the Intercontinental hotels Group’s corporate office in London, and the support of his team in the hotel, he moved quickly to make the changes.
“We’re now adopting a lot of these changes to other IHG properties in Oman. “everybody thinks going green is expensive, or there’s a cost associated. If you’re the pioneer, there is a cost associated. But once things become normal, it becomes a normal practice, and then there’s no longer a cost associated with it,” he said. But not all change comes easily.
“I’m talking to suppliers and very politely asking them to change, and if they don’t change, then I’m just getting rid of them, changing them for somebody else. If you’re not willing to adopt, or adapt with this movement, then you’re not part of our vision.”
Also, being the first to put an eco-friendly item to use, finding suppliers is a challenge. “now I’m making it easier for everybody. everybody wants the wooden room key cards now. every single IHG hotel in the Middle east has this wooden room key now. everybody wants the paper pen.”
The wooden room key cards which once cost four times the regular plastic ones, now cost less than the latter. next on the agenda are the wet and dry amenities in the hotel’s bathrooms. Schenk is working directly with a German company and close to finalisation.
“The new products will be 100 per cent non-plastic. It’ll be revolutionary. We’ll be the first hotel possibly in the world to have plastic-free dry amenities.” These include wooden toothbrushes with carbon fibre bristles. also on the agenda is a water plant on the hotel premises to bottle its own water.
“It’s a truly revolutionary product, because it’s circular economy. We will never waste anything, there’s no waste with this,” he said, adding that his 360° sustainable approach includes keeping beehives and raising chickens sometime in the future.