California Lawmakers Beat Back The Scourge of Hotel Shampoo Bottles

There’s a new target in California’s war on plastics: those handy bottles of shampoo, conditioner, body wash, and lotion that hotels hand out to guests.

Assembly Bill 1162, approved by the Natural Resources Committee and surely to get the same favorable treatment from the full chamber, save for a few votes of opposition, would ban hotels “from providing a small plastic bottle containing a personal care product to a person staying in a sleeping room accommodation” after Jan. 1, 2023.

But wait, there’s more. There’s always more to the state’s efforts to manage our private lives. Under the law, scolds of the bureaucracy will send out agents “with authority to inspect sleeping accommodations in a lodging establishment to notify lodging establishments of this requirement.”

Violating the directive could result in citations, and penalties of up to $2,000 a year.

While policymakers race to eradicate plastic from California, piece by piece, the private sector has moved ahead of them. Marriott hotels are already transitioning from the small complementary containers of personal products to refillable bulk dispensers. The hospitality giant says a 140-room hotel will use 250 pounds less plastic in a year due to the change. That’s the marketing department speaking. Marriott, a for-profit company, is likely more interested in the cost savings, which could be $1,000 to $2,000 for each hotel owner.

Marriott’s bulk dispensers have not been universally accepted, though. There has been some backlash among guests. They’ve been called “madness,” “highly unsanitary,” and unbecoming of a hotel of Marriott’s stature.

Concerns about cleanliness are legitimate. A study published in the journal Applied and Environmental Microbiology a few years back found that “bulk-soap-refillable dispensers are prone to extrinsic bacterial contamination.” It further reported “approximately one in four dispensers in public restrooms are contaminated.” If “liquid soap can become contaminated with bacteria and poses a recognized health risk in health care settings,” so can shampoo, conditioner, and body wash mounted to the wall in a hotel shower.

Of course, if there’s enough opposition to refillable dispensers, the company can return to the traditional small bottles, which feel more personal and remind guests less of prison showers.

But not in California, not if AB 1162 becomes law. That choice will be taken away from private citizens. Marriott will be forced to continue using the community dispensers that irk some guests (or simply stop providing personal products altogether), and every other hotel in the state will either have to comply or face fines. It appears the law would also bar homeowners who rent out a room or second/vacation home via Airbnb or Vrbo from offering the courtesy.  Businesses will hope to avoid unexpected and unwelcome “visits” from the plastic police as much as possible.

Kerry Jackson is a fellow with the Center for California Reform at the Pacific Research Institute.


Nothing contained in this blog is to be construed as necessarily reflecting the views of the Pacific Research Institute or as an attempt to thwart or aid the passage of any legislation.

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