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The mammoth elephant in the room

The time has come for both the hospitality sector and the larger redevelopment and building industry to be held accountable when it comes to the disposal of assets, says CleanConscience’s Gwen Powell

When you see an announcement that a hotel is planning to undergo a complete refurbishment, with a budget of £40m plus, you would hope that due care and diligence will be given to the assets that will be made redundant, that still have a resource value, and that it will not form part of the demolition company’s contract, which means that it will be sent for disposal; either to landfill or, better case scenario, for incineration.

Shockingly, when following the best practice guidelines of DEFRA’s Waste Hierarchy, the UK waste industry managers can claim a 98 per cent recycling rate on these projects, when in fact by sending some items for incineration, as ‘EFW’ (energy-from-waste), the waste has been ‘recovered’.

Unfortunately, the hospitality industry has in the past had something of a ‘throw away’ culture, following the quicker and easier route of hiring a waste carrier to take care of unwanted items, that are considered not easy to redistribute.

The project delighted Buddhika Kurunduwage of Imperial London Hotels

Surely this has to change? Not just for the environment’s sake but also for future generations. Thousands of hotel quality mattresses are going into skips, while Barnardo’s just recently announced that more than one million children and their families suffer from ‘bed-poverty’. That’s not to mention the mountains of duvets, pillows, and curtains, again hotel quality, also ending up in skips. There is a small tide of hoteliers trying to set in motion a change in the way things are done but, frankly, they are still in the minority. One such business is the seventh-generation family-owned Imperial London Hotels (ILH), that in the aftermath of dealing with the Covid-19 lockdowns decided to ‘do things differently’. When the decision was made to refurbish Imperial Hotel Russell Square, Neil Braude, COO for ILH, put CleanConscience forward as a social enterprise that specialises in hotel decant and soft strip projects. David Potticary, group head of projects, safety and compliance for ILH, and Buddhika Kurunduwage, ILH’s newly-appointed group Head of ESG (Environmental, Social and Governance), were tasked with establishing a working partnership towards an outcome that meant a WIN, WIN, WIN, WIN!

It was to be a win for the environment, a win for the beneficiaries, a win for the hotel from a cost saving point, and a great ESG reporting opportunity, and a win for CleanConscience earning a fair income, rather than having to fundraise, or ask for monetary donations.

The hotel had seen better days, and a small inventory was put forward, with a budget of £15k being agreed. What then transpired was that CleanConscience would be able to salvage and redistribute mattresses, bedroom, bathroom and cupboard doors, shelving units, curtains, sofa beds, rolls of upholstery fabric and foam, bedroom chairs, coffee tables, restaurant tables and chairs, and stackable chairs and folding tables, and the budget ended up at £96k. For a hotel group to be this flexible and trusting in their dealings with a charitable organisation, with much smaller projects under their belt, is a true reflection of putting your money where your mouth is, and the outcomes are clear to see:

Project budget = £97k
Project Duration = six weeks
CO2e saved = 499 tonnes
Waste avoided = 111 tonnes
Waste Costs saved = £141k
Jobs saved = six
Estimated value of assets
donated to charity = £86k

In total, four 40-foot shipping containers and an articulated lorry were packed; with the containers’ contents benefiting three charities doing great work in Sierra Leone, and the lorry benefitting a group of volunteer firefighters in Lithuania that support orphanages and foster homes, domestic abuse survivors, and elderly care homes. It is estimated that the contents of the Imperial Hotel will touch in the region of 65,000 people and it is heartwarming to know the reclaimed goods benefitted so many people. Buddhika Kurunduwage explains: “Imperial London Hotels is not only fully committed to reducing greenhouse emissions in the critical fight against climate change but also supporting local and international communities wherever we can — so we were delighted to come across the amazing work of CleanConscience. “By choosing them as our partners to help us to redistribute and repurpose all our inventory from Imperial Hotel, we have been able to support some great causes at home and abroad – and in doing so have saved 499 CO2-eq Tonnes entering the atmosphere.”

The Waterloo team helped to collect up old sofa beds which could go to impoverished families greatly in need of additional sleeping facilities. Right, Bradley Werb, operations manager for Park Plaza Waterloo

None of these amazing outcomes would have been possible without the team which CleanConscience put together at such short notice. I headed up the project, assisted by Aleks Shapit-Baturo and Victoria Ricotta as projects leaders, Dennis Geertsen, Ejell Shapit-Baturo and Kony Gebremariam as assistant project leaders, and Eddy Peralta and Alex Flores as team leaders for the 12 volunteer labourers. The CleanConscience ethos is very much in line with The Green Key certificate system, a leading standard of excellence in the field of environmental responsibility and sustainable operation within the tourism industry. This prestigious certificate represents a commitment by businesses that their tourism establishments adhere to the strict criteria stipulated by the Foundation for Environmental Education (FEE). Emma Whitlock, Green Key manager in England, says: “The topic of waste is central to Green Key criteria. It is mandatory that establishments register their total amount of waste and have recycling facilities in place. In addition, the guideline criteria recommend that establishments have a waste plan in place, in order to reduce waste and donate materials that are no longer used to charitable organisations. “It is a requirement that all awarded hotels increase the number of guideline criteria being met each year that they apply, and we encourage them to seriously consider the amount of waste they create and what happens to it. Seeing redundant items reused and bringing real social benefit to communities in need, is far better than sending it to landfill or incineration.”

Gwen Powell’s first challenge was to greatly reduce the amount of hotel soap and toiletries sent to landfill or being incinerated

About Gwen Powell and CleanConscience

Gwen Powell is the founder and head of projects for CleanConscience. She is an Associate Member of the Chartered Institute of Wastes Management, with a 13-year career in the waste industry.

In 2015 a long-term client challenged Powell to come up with a solution to address the huge volume of hotel soap and toiletries being sent to landfill or being incinerated in the UK each year. Soap recovery and recycling was already well under way in many countries, but not the UK, and the full recovery and repurposing of the toiletries had not been done anywhere in the world.

Powell devised and built up CleanConscience, a charity which collects, processes and repackages these unused toiletries and, with partner charities, distributes them to people in need. Five years later, with Covid causing havoc to the London hotels that CleanConscience had partnered with to reprocess their soap and toiletries, Gwen had to think on her feet and seek alternative income streams. The charitable incorporated organisation has now grown to offer hotel clearances, and the redistribution of other end-of-life, surplus or redundant items that the hotels no longer need, or have space to store, and Gwen is seen as somewhat of a ‘matchmaker’ in the charitable world and wider hotel industry in the UK, matching those in need with those that have something to donate.

CleanConscience in turn supports 73 UK charities, three in Sierra Leone, and seven charities in Lithuania; so: ‘nothing goes to waste’! Over the past eight years more than 500,000 lives have been touched by the work they do. It’s not just the big decant and soft strip jobs they carry out, CleanConscience also assist when hotels are swapping over their sofa beds, mattresses, bedding and linen, such as at Park Plaza London Waterloo where a project to replace old sofa beds saw the charity ensure the redundant furniture would get a new lease of life, helping families living in poverty.

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