The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

October 9, 2012

Luxury Hotel Says No to Single-Sized Shampoo Bottles

Travel amenities at Sheraton Hotel in ChicagoEvery time I stay in a hotel (and nowadays, with all the travel I’m doing to promote my book, I’m getting to visit more and more of them), I inevitably roll my eyes at the preponderance of single-sized, plastic-packaged amenities: little bottles of shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and single-sized soaps.  Sure, many guests love them and stuff them in their luggage to take home, but does that justify their wasteful existence?  I’ve blogged many times before about saying no to single sizes, which have a higher ratio of plastic packaging to product than larger sizes, and now an Albuquerque luxury hotel is promoting the same message by providing a better alternative: bulk amenities.

Not Like At the Gym

But let me back up a bit because offering personal care products to guests is not a new idea.  The showers at my gym have dispensers for body wash/shampoo afixed to the wall, as do all of the hostels I have stayed in during my travels. The problem for hotels that cater to a more upscale class of traveler is that this doesn’t look so great:

I can advocate switching to bulk products until I’m blue in the face, but as one hotel manager explained to me a while back, guests don’t want to spend big bucks on a luxury room and then feel like they’re showering at the gym or at a hostel. You or I might not mind, but this message won’t get too far if we can’t convince the mainstream.

Back in 2010, I stayed at the Sheraton Delfina in Santa Monica, California, while in town for the TEDxGreatPacificGarbagePatch conference and was pleasantly surprised to find larger sized bottles of shampoo and conditioner in the shower.

However, I did wonder how the hotel kept guests from packing them up in their luggage to take home.  And sadly, the rest of the amenities in the room were still single-sized.

Hotel Andaluz Makes Bulk Beautiful

So last month, when I received an email press release from luxury Hotel Andaluz touting all the eco-friendly steps it had taken, I was particularly interested to notice at the bottom of a long list of environmental initiatives that included energy efficiency, sustainable materials, rainwater capture, and composting, there was a statement that all guest amenities come in refillable, fixed dispenser bottles.  Well, I thought, that’s a shift.  So I arranged to speak with the general manager, Howard Jacobs, to find out how the hotel managed to provide personal care products in bulk and still maintain its high end aesthetic.

Howard explained that after doing so much work to create a LEED certified building, they wanted to find more ways to sustain that model and noticed that they were discarding thousands of pounds of wasted product per year from the single-sized containers.  Sure, they can be recycled.  And unopened ones can be donated.  But a less wasteful system would be to eliminate the single-sized containers in the first place.  So they searched for a high quality brand of personal care products that could be purchased in bulk and mounted the bottles to the bathroom walls in such a way that they can’t easily be removed.


The brand they settled on is Molton Brown.  The ingredients of Molton Brown products are not listed on the website, but you can call or email customer service for that  information.  The point that interests me here is not so much the product but the means of dispensing it.  It’s clear from images I captured from the Hotel Andaluz website that the atmosphere of the guest bathrooms is not degraded in any way by the existence of bulk hair wash, conditioner, shower gel, lotion, and soap.

The bottles mounted to the wall each hold 10 oz of product, but they are refilled from 5 liter containers.  The wall mount hardware was put in previously by Pacific Products and ensures the bottles cannot be removed without a wrench.  Of course, the bottles and containers are plastic, and plastic-free bulk containers would be an even better solution.  (If they’re mounted to the wall and can’t break, why not make them out of glass?), but one step at a time, right?

What You Can Do

Of course, if you’re in Albuquerque and want to stay in a luxurious green hotel, you can support Hotel Andaluz’s efforts.  But I didn’t write this post to advertise for that hotel, and I have received nothing from the hotel in exchange.  (Although I have to say, if I get to come to Albuquerque to promote my book at some point, I would love to stay there.  Hint.  Hint.)  No, my main point is that this is a great example that other hotels could follow.

The next time you stay in a hotel that provides single-use plastic containers of personal care products, let the management know that you would prefer less wasteful, less plastic bulk products.  And then, you can point them to Hotel Andaluz as an example of how such a system can reduce waste without losing elegance.



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For me I prefer a more personalized tiny unopened shampoo conditioner and soap . If what your envisioned is to have a cleaner greener style in furnishing hotel bathroom there’s always alternative, it doesn’t have to be plastic. It could be glass . I am more comfortable if they still make a tiny shampoo samples, I’m not comfortable using an opened shampoo . Who knows someone might’ve put something in those shampoo and conditioner for the next guest .


Hi Beth, Terrific blog, I’m glad I found you! Although your blog about amenity products was from last fall it is timely for us. I agree about the over-use of small bottles and offered a refill program at our summer markets for our liquid soaps. We are working on a new project that has me researching alternative packaging options and I came across your blog. I added your link in my blog :
Will be back for more inspiring reads! Laura and Miranda

Beth Terry

Awesome. Thanks for the mention. And as Ericka said, please do keep us posted on packaging updates.


I have to admit, as long as most cheap hotels have not gone green, I find the travel sized shampoos incredibly convenient. If I have to fly, I don’t want to risk a giant bottle of shampoo opening in my luggage.
I find the best compromise is to take any half-used shampoos and use them up. I’m ALWAYS looking for teeny bottles for homemade beauty products. Or I can refill them with my own shampoo and take them on visits, trips, etc. That way they will never go in the landfill. If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em.

Beth Terry

Hi. Have you tried shampoo and conditioner bars instead of liquid shampoo? When I’m at home, I use the No Poo method ( to wash my hair, but when I travel, I bring solid shampoo and conditioner bars with me. No worries about spilling liquid.


I agree, the small bottles are convenient. I have a few that I have collected that I reuse over and over. I take them to my gym and on the road when I travel.


If you are in Melbourne, Australia, the Alto Hotel on Bourke St does something similar. They are carbon neutral and having stayed there once, I can recommend them if you need somewhere in the CBD to stay.

Beth Terry

I would love a reason to come to Australia, but right now my conscience won’t allow me to spend that kind of carbon. :-)


I was in Vietnam a few years ago and stayed at a small mid-range hotel that used small clay jug-style pots with cork stoppers to store the liquid toiletries, and had solid soaps with no wrapping. Each clay pot had a little tag around it saying (in English) what it was. I was very impressed as the pots were obviously refilled from bulk.


Wow! This is a fantastic article. I found this blog for the first time because I was intrigued by the idea of going plastic-less in our modern world, which is absolutely incredible! KUDOS to the author! As for this article, as a college student, I never thought about how wasteful the hotel shower shampoos and conditioner bottles truly where. I just took them for what they were and threw them out (or took them home) when I was done. But, this article has shown that being environmentally friendly can be done without compromising high end aesthetic, and vice versa. And,… Read more »


I also bring my own toiletries on holidays and leave a simple note to let the cleaning lady know that the travel size stuff are not opened. That is the best I can do so far.


Are the bottles tamper-resistant? I’d be happy to use then if I could feel resonably confident that some previous guest hadn’t unscrewed the cap and added hair remover or something worse (since unlike stores that sell unsealed bottles, hotel rooms don’t have security cameras or lots of people and employees walking around).

Beth Terry

Umm… because people regularly open bottles of shampoo and add hair remover, right?


@Beth Terry I can’t see someone adding hair remove but I can definitely seeing someone spitting or something in them. There are a lot of gross, childish people out there.


OK… I know… locking bulk shampoo bottles!

Simply Aware

This is a brilliant and is a great way to send other luxury hotels a message. One of the most frustrating things about our culture is that we spend so much energy trying to more convenient or sanitary. I don’t think there is any problem with refillable dispensers, especially because they are so securely attached to the wall that there’s no way it could get contaminated between guests. Yay Hotel Andaluz!


I think it’s gross and unsanitary. Housekeeping is given 20-30 minutes to totally clean a room from top to bottom, including wiping down and refilling those dispensers. Wanna guess what items won’t get a good cleaning when a maid is pressed for time? Just leave off the complimentary toiletries all together, I can bring my own. I’ve cleaned high end hotels and motels and know just how gross some guests can be, I don’t want to share any more of their microbes than I have to thank you very much.

Beth Terry

It isn’t any more gross than all the other communal things we touch on a daily basis. It’s fine for you to bring your own… that’s what I do. But for people who don’t bring their own, this is a much less wasteful way than providing them with individual-sized bottles.


I understand your concern, but the fact is that the world just isn’t a clean place. The average desktop computer contains 400 times the amount of bacteria as the average toilet seat.

I guess I just think that the fear of microbes thing is a bit overblown.

Eve Stavros

Funny, I never worry about microbes on soap dispensers because, oh yeah, they diispense soap, which destroys them…

Hannah H

I’m so glad to see these changes in big hotels! Especially luxury ones. I very rarely stay in hotels, but it honestly feels more “luxurious” to see the larger fixed containers than a bunch of small disposable ones. I always make a big point of bringing my own products and reusing things. I find it’s actually effective to leave a note for the room service staff to NOT change out soap you’ve only used once, etc. Thanks for the great post! It’s always heartening to read about change.


Certainly a step in the right direction. When I used to run a music school, many of our teachers would tour all summer and they would come home with grocery sacks full of that sort of stuff. Since musicians tend to be “financially challenged” none of the product ever went to waste, but the containers sure are wasteful. I haven’t stayed in a hotel in MANY years, but my strategy was to always just leave that stuff undisturbed and unopened in hopes that they’d just leave it for the next guest. I hope they didn’t just toss it. But this… Read more »

Beth Terry

I actually know lots of people who love to scoop up those hotel freebies and will seek out the maids cart to grab even more.


Sigh. I suppose that shouldn’t surprise me since people steal meaningless crap like ashtrays from hotels. I wonder how much of the “psychology of free” comes into effect here. I mean, just thinking about the example of the touring musicians – clearly they didn’t actually have a use for all of the freebies that they collected, or else they wouldn’t have been showing up at school giving away grocery sacks full of the stuff. I just wonder how much of that sort of thing gets tossed in the garbage when people realize that they’ll never use it. But it was… Read more »


I swim twice a week at a local college pool that does not provide soap, shampoo or conditioner in the communal shower room. I use the shampoos, etc. that I bring home from hotel stays that way.

BTW, how do you keep your hair clean without using shampoo?

Beth Terry

Well, I’m heartened to learn that they are at least getting used! :-)

I use the “no poo” method too – although I had to modify it a bit to deal with the particulars of my hair and our really hard water. Here’s my ridiculously long and detailed post about it in case you have a few hours to kill. ;)


There are more attractive dispensers out there now, so high-end hotels have fewer excuses. I stayed at a very nice b&b this weekend and they had dispensers that looked similar to this one:


or we could all wash our hair with baking soda. and cut shampoo out completely.

Beth Terry

I do in fact wash my hair with baking soda: However, you can’t expect a hotel to provide baking soda to its guests and tell them to use that to wash their hair. The point here is that there are better alternatives for hotels to provide than little plastic bottles. You and I can choose not to use the shampoo at all, but for those who will, bulk is better. :-)

Connie Curtis

its great and now we can recommend glass containers but this a is great example so hotels can see it can work


Awesome! The Gladstone Hotel in Toronto puts solid lotion and soap and shampoo bars in their rooms – only a little paper band around them, with all ingredients disclosed. To my delight, they are made by a crafty cohort from our pre professional maker days, Here is the Gladstone Hotel’s Green Policy page: A lot of our waste as a society comes from what we IMAGINE “people” want. Of course, people don’t want explicitly to create tons of plastic product waste. What they really want is something that looks and feels luxurious and that is clean. Dispensors give… Read more »


When we traveled to Europe this summer all the hotels had bulk dispensers for shampoo and soap. I liked that they weren’t being wasteful and it made for less packaging.


It’s pretty common here in the UK too – often Molton Brown – although we do still have far too many single servings too!


Nice! Stainless steel bottles would look nice as well.

Cynthia Gonzales

I love the Neil George products.