Should We Help Save Water at Hotels?

Dec 2, 2019

When you stay at a hotel, you can reuse dirty towels and sheets to help the hotel save water. In this week’s Wildlife Matters, the Masked Biologist ponders the value or need to voluntarily help hotels save water.

When I go to a hotel, the most important factor in my satisfaction with the room is cleanliness. I can live with a low quality television or outdated bedclothes, but it has to be clean, even if it is shabby or dumpy. When I shower, I want clean towels and I only use them once. Just like at home. and although I need to have clean sheets when I arrive, I don’t need the sheets changed until after I check out, unless I spill something on the bed. I don’t think that’s unreasonable. When I see placards or door hangers promoting the cause of reducing laundry to save water, I am instantly skeptical. Really, why does the hotel want to put the effort into saving water?

To me, the top reason is obvious – dollars are always the bottom line. It was not difficult for me to find information about costs related to water usage in hotels. Water is often a significant cost, as much as 10% in some cases. And that’s just water supply. whatever water they pay to pipe in, they also have to pay to pipe out in the form of sewer or wastewater. And don’t forget they also have pools, ice machines, and sprinkler systems; there’s no doubt water is a big part of the operation of a hotel. If they cut the number of sheets and towels washed in half every day, they can cut water consumption and waste generation by half as well, thereby generating significant savings. They don’t reduce the cost of your room if you do less laundry – you pay the same price and give up a luxurious service of your own volition.

I could end the story there, right? Hotels are trying to save a buck at our expense. But I am not going to do that, because that is only part of the story. We have a global water crisis, a shortage that will cost human lives in our lifetime. Around the world, demand for water is projected to exceed supply by 40% by 2030, a mere 10 years from January. And by that same year, 2030, half of the world’s population will be living in high water stress locations. We don’t really feel that here, because we are surrounded by the largest system of fresh water on earth. Over 80% of North America’s fresh surface water and about 20% of the world’s fresh surface water resides in the great lakes. In the upper Midwest, we are water rich, to the point of embarrassment.

So businesses have a moral imperative to reduce their fresh water consumption whenever possible. When I have traveled out west, like to Portland Oregon this summer, I have seen that water shortages in heavily populated areas are all too real. Hotels in major metropolitan areas can reduce water usage, making it more readily available for local residents, and having greater availability also helps keep the cost of clean fresh water within reach. And if a chain implements a policy to reduce water usage, whether in Wausau or San Francisco, it is worth taking note and participating in the big picture.

You have probably heard me speak in the past about runoff and rain gardens, and how road salt pollutes riverways. I have written about pharmaceuticals and plastic particles in wastewater. And what about phosphorous loading? The discharge of detergent and cleansers that impacts water quality downstream of hotels, businesses and homes resulting in unwanted nutrient loading and an imbalance can lead to algae growth and negatively impact our native aquatic plant species. All of these issues affect water quality for us as well as the fish and wildlife that depend on healthy water for their survival.

No matter what the reasons, no matter what the cost, taking measures to reduce consumption of clean water and discharge of waste water is important to the future of our planet. Make wise choices at home and on the road and let your consumer dollar speak for your conscience.