Hotels and recycling programs: Apparently, it's complicated

Despite what the Starwood exec says below, the Westin New York at Times Square claims to recycle
Despite what the Starwood exec says below, the Westin New York at Times Square claims to recycle

The New York Times ran a story today attempting to explain the question many of us ask each time we resign ourselves to pitching empty water bottles into the single wastebaskets provided beneath our hotel room desks: uh, would it be so hard to drop a recycling bin here?

It seems the answer is more complicated than you might think. Adding a recycling program to a hotel involves more than just throwing a pretty-colored bin into a guest room -- well, some hotel execs tell the NYT so, at least:

“It’s challenging,” said Brian McGuinness, a senior vice president at Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which offers in-room recycling at its Element hotels and plans to introduce similar programs at other brands by the end of 2010. “These initiatives sound easy in theory, but in practice it’s quite a different story.”

Housekeeping carts have to be modified to keep recycled materials separate from other trash, workers have to be trained in new procedures that may involve union negotiations and the recyclables often have to be sorted and stored at the hotel before being taken away — but not too far away.

Mr. McGuinness said Starwood required that the recycling center “be within a 50-mile radius of any given property” and noted that some Starwood properties would therefore be exempt from the requirement. “Otherwise, we’re hauling recycling materials in a truck burning fuel for 80 miles.”

So it's hard -- we understand that. But is all the effort worth it? Possibly. According to the story, Kimpton Hotels -- the company behind 70 Park Avenue in New York and the EPIC Hotel in Miami -- has saved about $267,300 a year through the in-room recycling programs that have been in place across the boutique-y chain since 2004 (though -- *ahem* -- we do not spy any recycling bins in this 70 Park Avenue room). Per the Times: “Just cardboard recycling alone ranges from $12,000 to $20,000 a year in savings,” said Niki Leondakis, chief operating officer for Kimpton, which reduces its trash at its 47 hotels by more than 40 percent through recycling. Interesting. We know We're told that quite a bit of green initiatives go on behind the scenes -- composting, employee mass transit subsidies, getting electricity from renewable energy sources -- but an in-room recycling program is something the guest can see, contribute to, and appreciate -- and, eventually, it saves the hotel money. See? In the end, that extra little bin goes a long way.

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