Recently, I had the opportunity to spend two weeks traveling throughout England, Ireland, and Scotland.
Though each of the places we visited were very distinct from one another – the hotels that we stayed at had one thing in common – bulk dispensers of personal care products in the bathroom.
It didn’t matter if you were staying in a budget hotel in Edinburgh, Scotland, or a very nice resort in Limerick, Ireland, bulk dispensers greeted every guest in the shower. In some hotels, there was only one “shower gel” product offered, which was identified as being interchangeably soap and shampoo.
Unfortunately, this is what’s in store for all guests at California hotels. Gov. Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1162 into law, banning hotels from handing out little shampoo bottles. The ban, authored by Asm. Ash Kalra of San Jose, takes effect in 2023 for large hotels and in 2024 for hotels with fewer than 50 rooms.
It’s the latest effort from what PRI’s Kerry Jackson calls “California’s plastic police”. Other targets this year have been plastic straws, utensils and bags, and polystyrene containers.
AB 1162 is more about signaling virtue than solving a problem. In my research for this article, I couldn’t find any reports of guests littering hotel parking lots with empty bottles. Most people, like I do, take the bottles with them to use at home. As one commenter wrote on USA Today’s story on the legislation – “With all of California’s problems, this is what they’re focusing on?”
Hotels like the ban because they no longer have to provide expensive luxury personal care products for their guests. As I wrote earlier this year, hotel chains that have voluntarily embraced the ban like Marriott will save by switching to bulk dispensers – an estimated $1,000 to $2,000 for each hotel owner.
Meanwhile, not all guests are happy by the move. As I previously noted, some guests on message boards called Marriott’s move to bulk dispensers as “madness” and “highly unsanitary.”
Based on my recent travel experience, I would agree. The bulk dispensers that I faced each morning did not seem fresh, inviting, or sanitary. And I wasn’t really enthused to use something that could allegedly pass as both soap and shampoo.
My trip proves that California won’t reduce nearly the amount of plastic that they think they will under the ban. My toiletries bag always includes little plastic bottles of Gilchrist and Soames shampoo, conditioner, lotion, and shower gel, which I obtained while staying in the past at a luxury hotel. In fact, I used what I brought at most of the hotels that I stayed at during my trip. And that’s what I’ll probably do in the future when staying at a California hotel (Gilchrist and Soames sell travel sizes online for $19 for a travel pack!)
Unfortunately, this is a microcosm of what typically happens when the Legislature decides to “make a statement” like banning little bottles of shampoo at California hotels.
Customers will bring their own little plastic bottles whether the Legislature likes it or not, but they’re going to have pay out of their own pocket to buy them. In the end, we’re not really going to reduce any plastic usage – but hey, don’t we feel good about making a political statement?
Tim Anaya is the Pacific Research Institute’s communications director.