Reducing plastic waste in hotels

I’ve been working on another project for nearly two months. This one is purposely designed for reducing plastic waste in hotels. As a natural wanderer, I usually take two to three overseas trips a year. I love exploring new places and food and staying in nice hotels.

So, when some of the major hotels made public commitments to reduce their plastic waste, I wondered what they would do. Many have opted to use dispensers or larger bottles.

However, I’ve never been a fan of these myself. For one, it’s too easy for people to tamper with the refillable bottles when they are staying in private rooms. Can you imagine the temptation for pranksters to put bodily fluids or something worse into those bottles?

It also doesn’t support the higher end brands who have worked so hard to build a certain feel. To me, a dispenser on the wall feels more like a locker room shower rather than a four or five-star luxury hotel no matter how fancy the bottles are.

Furthermore, many travellers like to take home the little hotel amenities as souvenirs from their holidays and perhaps to use them at the gym or while camping later. I personally stockpiled them for my own guests when I had a bigger home. It made their stay feel a little more luxurious then my normal guest bedroom.

So, what to do? I’ve already presented some alternative packaging ideas to a few hotels in Canberra, and they’ve been very receptive. If all goes well, I hope to get a commitment to run a pilot soon.

The main challenge for me right now is not the packaging, it’s the cost of all natural ingredients for the products themselves. While many hotels are not as concerned about what’s on the inside of the container, I am. I cannot with good conscious offer a product to reduce plastic waste and put something in it that’s not just as eco-friendly.

If I can overcome these cost barriers by doing more of the work myself or perhaps partnering with a local business (discussions still in progress), then I feel like we can have something ready to go as early as next month.

Fingers crossed! I need a few more things to line up first, but this idea to reduce plastic waste in hotels seems to have a solid customer demand.

Plastic water bottles

Recycled polyester product line research

Since the day I knew that the pet barrier wasn’t going to meet the crowdfunding goal, I have been trying to coming up with another product line that didn’t require the heavy upfront capital costs of a steel mould. It’s not that I’ve given up on the “Stray No More” line. It’s just that I desperately feel the need to get some runs on the board with less investment.

As I recalled many conversations both on my podcast and in other places, it seemed like I should look at textiles – specifically recycled polyester from PET water bottles.

The product? I won’t give away too much yet, but let’s just say that I’ll give Sara Blakley, the founder of Spanx credit for this idea if successful.

How to find a recycled polyester manufacturer?

Trying to identify a manufacturer to get the sample material hasn’t been that easy. There are no companies in Australia that make this material, but at least it would still be made from recycled bottles if I can find a certified version elsewhere.

I found a list of potential manufacturers from Bluesign – a global certification company for textiles, but there were hundreds of companies on there. Where to start? I asked a contact in Paris for advice. She has a business where she provides coaching to would be fashion designers that are clueless about running an actual business.

She suggested that I consider some of the Taiwanese companies due to all of the dramas in China and Hong Kong right now. I do remember Stephanie Stubbe from Anipal saying in the podcast interview that the Taiwanese English was also typically better than in China too. Their websites provided proof of this.

So, earlier in this week, I started leaving messages with any company that appeared to carry a line of recycled materials on their website. My screening question was: do you have a washable, breathable, waterproof recycled polyester material.

I went through 73 websites and contacted 13 companies in Taiwan, S. Korea and the US. Three of these companies responded (all from Taiwan) – two said yes, one said no. Those two companies asked me to send them more specific requirements. Crickets sang in my ears. I had no idea what else I needed, and still don’t.

As I did more research, I stumbled upon a company in Taiwan that also showed a Melbourne office number. Fortunately, a guy named Michael answered, and it turns out that he’s an agent for a bunch of material manufacturers in Asia. He was a wealth of knowledge as a former manufacturer itself, and if all goes well I could have some samples shortly to test my newest product line idea.

They say that when the student is ready, the teacher appears. I’m cautiously optimistic, but hopefully I found my teacher for recycled polyester and textile manufacturing in general! Time will soon tell.

Understanding the mind of a consumer

People are interesting. They don’t always do what they say they will do, and thus understanding the mind of a consumer is difficult.

Based on feedback so far of the pet barrier, I do believe that I could sell quite a few of the product. My challenge is that they don’t want to pre-order the product through the crowd-funding campaign. Instead, they want to buy it now – not wait for it or invest in it.

Hershey the Dog
Hershey, another successful prototype tester.

Of course my challenge is the ability to pay for the moulds so that they can be made in the first place. Could I sell 1000 units to break-even if I invested the money up front? I think yes if I did home shows and expos, but really I need to get it into a major retailer to make any real money off of them. And to fulfill that order, I would once again need more cash.

So, I’m pushing forward on the digging product which requires less capital. I spoke to my manufacturer last week, and he’s only capable of injection moulding which is what my original design was based upon.

However, I’m considering the fact that many people have larger yards and probably don’t want to put down one 25cm of the “no dig” product at a time to cover their fence line or yard in general. For them, a different type of product design would be more suitable.

So, I have a chat scheduled with a different kind of manufacturer next week that does more garden product type manufacturing. The good thing about this product is that it can definitely be made with 100% recycled plastics including possibly soft-plastic rubbish too.

I’m trying to line up some focus group conversations now for the digging product. Understanding the mind of a consumer is critical so that I don’t lose a ton of money by making the wrong product. Gee, this would be so much easier if I could just read their minds and of course, have a bank account full of cash.

Would you pay to recycle?

I had just arrived at my parents’ house on Wednesday, and my mother insisted that their curbside recycling bin would take any form of plastic. I was sceptical because in all my research, I hadn’t heard of such a generous recycling program anywhere. So, I looked it up to verify and sure enough, she was right.

Their city website confirmed that Plastics #1 – #7 were accepted in their curb-side recycling bins as part of their mandatory recycling program.

Materials that can be recycled
Current recyclables in my parent’s hometown

“Wow! I’m really surprised that they can take anything when no other place in Australia or America seems to be able to do this,” I told my father.

“Yeah, but they’re about to change it in terms of what we can recycle,” he said but wasn’t sure what the changes were.

The Future of Recycling

I did a little bit of research to find that the city will no longer require mandatory recycling starting in September 2019. Instead it will only provide it as an optional curb-side pick up for $10/week. Furthermore, while they’ve been taking any form of plastic up until now, they’ll only accept plastics that are clear or white in the future.

Yes, they will now have to pay to recycle far fewer materials!

With my parents on pensions, the extra $520 a year is a pretty big burden especially when the city will no longer accept other materials like paper or glass either. I suspect that they and many others will quit recycling all together because it’s too hard and expensive.

Below shows the reduced list of recyclable materials for them.

Reduced list of recycled materials
Reduced list of recycled materials starting in September 2019

On this cross-country trip across the US to visit family members, I’ve found that the smaller towns and cities are struggling the most since China and other countries quit accepting our rubbish as imports. Today, it’s costing the recyclers money to get rid of the materials where they use to sell it for a profit just last year.

This is exactly the problem I feared when I started The Refoundry. Now, I feel the sense of urgency to move forward faster to expand the business into the US.

Question for you: Would you pay to recycle if your city quit offering it for free?

I’m afraid that this may be the way of the future for many places.

It’s a go!

Received back 43 market surveys within 3 hours of it being posted on that Facebook group’s page – almost all very positively in favour of my product idea (#1), and just as many were willing to test my prototype. They also brought up a need for a Product #3 in the survey results. How can I not do this if so many people are looking (and in some cases begging) for these types of solutions?

Bought the business and product domains that I think I’ll need. I’m into this business with both feet now. I feel certain that I can help both people and the environment now.

Searching for manufacturers and parts

Went to hardware store to see if there were any standard parts that I might be able to use for Product #1 or #2. Nope! And nothing like these products really exist there.

Put together a rough budget with no real idea about how much it’s going to cost to get these products manufactured. I heard that simple moulds could cost about $20k each. This is definitely going to be the most expensive business I have after started.

Found an Australian product designer/manufacturer online – Manufacturer #1. I liked what they had done for another business in their case studies – makes me think that our values are aligned. I need to put together some sort of product requirements doc for a prototype before I call them. I’m not really sure how to do that, but I suppose I can use a similar format that I would have used for software development in my old IT days

DILO 2/5/19

Did more market research for competitor products for Product #1 and #2. There are a lot of DYI projects, but very few options off the shelf even in the US.