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Oh, How I’ll Miss You, Tiny Plastic Hotel Shampoo Bottles

I always took you home with me, but I never took you for granted

There are myriad reasons to love the hotel room: Crispy clean white sheets, environmentally destructive amounts of air conditioning at your fingertips, and of course, someone to clean up the messiest version of yourself on the daily. Personally though, no hotel room stay is complete unless I get to use those perky little bottles of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel. For one, I take great solace in knowing that no one else on this earth has wielded my particular tiny bottle to wash and condition their hair. Not to mention that I really appreciate the variety of sultry, often cylindrical designs and shapes bestowed on these tiny, baptismal tubes. 

But alas, the earth is dying, and in a last ditch effort to save the human race from annihilation, some hotels are beginning to murder those adorable plastic accoutrements. Because that’s what happens when the apocalypse is nigh: Those smaller, more marginalized groups who don’t have the means to save themselves, will die first. “InterContinental Group (IHG) is eliminating the travel-sized tubes of shampoo, conditioner and bath gel from its 843,000 rooms across its global chain of hotels,” reports CNN. “Guests will find bulk-sized toiletries beginning in 2021. IHG, which owns Holiday Inn, Crowne Plaza and Kimpton, said it’s the first major hotel chain to make the environmentally friendly change.” 

According to CNN, by switching from the roughly 200 million travel-sized tubes of shampoo, conditioner and shower gel to bulk-sized bottles, the hotel group expects to see a “significant reduction in plastic waste.”

Per the same report, other hospitality chains are doing away with mini bottles too. “In a smaller-scale initiative, Marriott announced in 2018 it was replacing miniature-sized plastic toiletries with bulk-sized dispensers at 1,500 hotels in North America,” reports CNN (again). “Hilton Hotels revealed this March that it’s recycling used soap, transforming it into new bars of soap after they’ve been crushed and sanitized.”

To be clear, this isn’t the hill I plan to die on. I love my mini travel size hotel bottles, but I like the earth approximately twice as much. Having said that, I can’t help but think that these hotel groups are less concerned about the environmental cost of these tiny bottles as they are their bottom line. “Budget hotels have always been more likely to have bulk shampoo and conditioner dispensers in the shower, and some also have them by the sink. The reason is cost,” Henry Harteveldt, a travel industry analyst, told the New York Times. “It costs them less to install and service these bulk dispensers than providing individual cakes of soap and bottles of shampoo, conditioner and the like.” In other words: Let’s tell the public we’re eliminating mini shampoo bottles to save the turtles, but really we just want to increase our profit margins. 

My only question then: How worried should I be about using a giant tube of hotel shampoo that the previous 800 guests have also touched, abused and tampered with? As I mentioned earlier, the best part about those tiny bottles isn’t the fact that you can take them home with you, but rather that you can be relatively sure they don’t contain someone else’s ejaculate.

If this 2019 study conducted by Treadmill Reviews on reusable water bottle germs is any indication, what we lose in environmental impact, we gain in potentially germ-infested plastic tubes. “Based on the 12 water bottles we tested, we found that reusable drinking containers may be crawling with an alarming number of viable bacteria cells: more than 300,000 colony-forming units per square centimeter,” per their report. “To put it bluntly, drinking from the average refillable bottle can be many times worse than licking your dog’s toy.” 

Still, a shampoo bottle isn’t exactly a refillable water bottle — for one, it literally lives in the shower, rather than the bottom of your sweaty gym bag. Plus, it’s (hopefully) unlikely for people to suck the shampoo and conditioner out of reusable bottles using their mouths. Either way, here’s hoping that most of our fellow hotel patrons are either disinclined or simply incapable of angling their ejaculate in such a way that it lands perfectly in that crusty spout.

As for myself, at least I’ve got a few dozen mini bottles stashed away that will accompany me on my hotel stays for the foreseeable future. To borrow from an old adage: You can take my mini bottles out of the hotel experience, but you can’t take the hotel experience out of my mini bottles.