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Why those teeny bottles of hotel shampoo might become obsolete

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The folks in charge at the Prince George Hotel in Halifax identified the best way to tackle single-use plastics at the business years ago. They got rid of those little plastic bottles in the bathrooms. 

“Those are the small plastic containers the shampoo, the mouthwash, the conditioner, the hand cream, any number of things that our guests will expect to have for their room while they stay with us,” said general manager Scott Travis.

The problem was finding a replacement that guests would accept as offering the same level of class, comfort and convenience.

The hotel solved the problem by providing amenities in bulk, allowing shampoo and conditioner to be squeezed from reusable and refillable pumps in the shower.

Travis wasn’t at the helm when the change was made at the Prince George, but he heard about the response.

“To be honest, the staff took a bit of grief in the beginning because a lot of people didn’t think it was high-end enough,” he said. “They weren’t prepared to leave behind the comforts of home and they wanted an individual shampoo and an individual container.” 

Going bulk costs more

The hotel stuck to its new policy even though Travis said the plastic bottles are so inexpensive it actually makes less sense economically to go bulk. 

“The per-unit price is something we’ve taken against our bigger-bottle per-unit price,” he said.

“So, when you add up what is used from the big bottle, plus what’s left over, it actually costs us more than if we went with a smaller-serve individual package.”

The hotel donates anything left in a bulk container after the guest departs to a local women’s shelter.  

Alt Hotels provides shampoo, conditioner and shower gel in bulk containers that can be refilled. (Submitted by Group Germain)

The hotel industry is wrestling with environmental issues at least partly driven by customer demand. People want to know that the hotels where they are staying are making efforts to reduce waste.

Single-use plastics are but one part of a much broader equation, which includes reducing energy, using less water and diverting anything that might be headed to a landfill. 

More hotels drop use of amenity bottles

The Alt Hotels, with locations in Halifax and St. John’s, are part of the Group Germain, which has 17 locations across Canada. They also found it a challenge to move to bulk amenities in the bathrooms of their hotels. 

“A lot of people were wondering why,” said Marie Pier Germain, the operations director.

The Alt Hotel chain, which operates a hotel at the Halifax Stanfield International Airport, introduced refillable bottles 10 years ago. (Alt Hotels)

“People like to take away things and bring it back home. They take the shampoo bottle with them. When the shampoo bottle is screwed on the wall, it’s hard to leave with it.”

Alt Hotels introduced refillable bottles 10 years ago, she said.

“We actually had to challenge our suppliers. They weren’t ready to embark on this journey with us. So we produced a bottle that was made just for us and we produced the stand that was just for the bottle. We incurred a lot of costs.” 

When the Germain Group launched a new hotel in Montreal, the company went so far as to work with an entrepreneur to design the soap that goes in the bottle.

“That was part of creating the brand, part of the design process,” said Germain. “In the end, you can’t take the bottle, but if you like it, you can buy the bigger version and go home with it. The quality is actually superior to other products we would’ve thought of using originally.” 

Leftovers shipped to developing countries

The Holiday Inn Express and Suites in Bedford, N.S., has partnered with an organization called Clean The World. It takes partly used bars of soap, as well as those small amenity bottles, and ships them to developing nations where lack of hygiene can lead to chronic disease and high rates of infant mortality. 

“We save those after a guest leaves, collect them up,” said general manager Kathy Perrier.

“Clean The World picks them up at the hotel, they recycle them, and they create hygiene kits. They go to countries in need.”

In 2018, the hotel gave 1,178 bars of soap and more than 60 kilograms of bottled toiletry items to Clean The World.

The partnership is only a temporary solution for the hotel.

By the end of 2019, all InterContinental Group (IHG) Hotels in Canada, which includes the Holiday Inn brand, will move to the bulk amenities in bathrooms.

“It will be definitely a learning curve,” says Perrier. “It’s been rolling out in the United States in the hotels, and it’s coming here by the end of next year.” 

Plastic straws in hotel restaurants on the way out

The Holiday Inn also offers a free breakfast to its guests. Single-use plastic is a big concern in food service in hotels, as it is in restaurants in general. 

“We’re currently still using disposable product,” says Perrier, about the take-out plates they use in their restaurant.

Plastic drinking straws are being eliminated in the restaurants at some hotel chains. (Dmitry Galaganov/Shutterstock)

“But we’ve converted from Styrofoam to more of a paper, compostable product. That’s, obviously, operationally very important to our guests and important to us. We’re not wasting as much as we used to on a day-to-day basis.”

IHG hotels plan to remove plastic straws from their restaurants worldwide by the end of 2019. Marriott plans to remove straws from its restaurants by July 2019, while Alt Hotels have already done away with them.

“It’s such a quick win, I don’t understand why we’re still talking about straws,” says Germain. “That being said, we still have some challenges.” 

She mentions the self-serve food containers guests can use to heat food in a microwave at Alt Hotels’ on-site food service locations.

“What is available on the market now, that is [the biodegradable container] we would like to use, doesn’t go in the microwave.”

Plastic water bottles less available as room amenity

The Alt Hotels did away with plastic water bottles in rooms years ago.

“We have them available for purchase, but we don’t put them in guest rooms anymore. We have a water jar available for guests with water at the front desk. It’s available in the lobby at all times.” 

Travis suggests that any hotel offering a free breakfast should be using as much real ceramic as possible to save money on anything disposable.

“Hotels have spent a tremendous amount of money on paper supplies, whether that’s doilies for your room or straws or different ways to serve your food,” he said.

“Everybody’s looking to utilize less of those, and components that can be reused.  Every day you’re serving breakfast for sometimes a couple hundred people, you want to be using stuff that’s going to be washed as opposed to be thrown into a garbage.”

Some guests grumble at changes 

Germain said some changes made for the environment go hand in hand with economic savings, but, for some people, luxury is part of the hotel experience and they won’t be satisfied with what they might consider to be less for their money.

“Some guests want the service, and want to be pampered,” she said.

“When you spend a lot of money to go to the hotel and to have a great service, this is the experience you’re looking for. It’s not up to us to the make decisions for the guests, but we have to provide the flexibility for our guests to make these decisions on their own.” 

Travis also sees the demand for comfort and luxury, but says it’s actually customer pressure forcing the hotel industry to get on board with changes. 

“I would like to suggest that we’ve educated some of our guests, but the reality is a lot of our guests have educated us,” he said.

“I think the feedback has softened because everybody’s more concerned about the environment than they were five or 10 years ago.” 

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Waterloo drone-maker Aeryon Labs bought by U.S. company for $265M

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Waterloo’s Aeryon Labs has been bought by Oregon-based FLIR Systems Inc. for $256 million, or $200 million US.

The acquisition was announced Monday. 

Dave Kroetsch, co-founder and chief technology officer of Aeryon Labs, says not much will change in the foreseeable future.

“The Waterloo operations of Aeryon Labs will actually continue as they did yesterday with manufacturing, engineering and all the functions staying intact in Waterloo and ultimately, we see growing,” he said.

“The business here is very valuable to FLIR and our ability to sell internationally is a key piece of keeping these components of the business here in Canada.”

Aeroyn Labs builds high-performance drones that are sold to a variety of customers including military, police services and commercial businesses. The drones can provide high-resolution images for surveillance and reconnaissance.

The drones already include cameras and thermal technology from FLIR. Jim Cannon, president and CEO of FLIR Systems, said acquiring Aeryon Labs is part of the company’s strategy to move beyond sensors “to the development of complete solutions that save lives and livelihoods.”

‘A piece of a bigger solution’

Kroetsch said this is a good way for the company to grow into something bigger.

“We see the business evolving in much the direction our business has been headed over the last couple of years. And that’s moving beyond the drone as a product in and of itself as a drone as a piece of a bigger solution,” he said.

For example, FLIR bought a drone company that builds smaller drones that look like little helicopters.

“We can imagine integrating those with our drones, perhaps having ours carry their drones and drop them off,” he said.

FLIR also does border security systems, which Kroetsch says could use the drones to allow border agents to look over a hill where there have been issues.

“We see the opportunity there as something that we never could have done on our own but being involved with and part of a larger company that’s already providing these solutions today gives us access not only to these great applications, but also to some fantastic technologies,” he said.

Aeryon Labs has done a lot of work during emergency disasters, including in Philippines after Typhoon Hagupit in 2014, Ecuador after an earthquake in 2016 and the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

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Inuvik infrastructure may not be ready for climate change, says study

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The Arctic is expected to get warmer and wetter by the end of this century and new research says that could mean trouble for infrastructure in Inuvik.

The study from Global Water Futures looked at how climate change could impact Havipak Creek — which crosses the Dempster Highway in Inuvik, N.W.T. — and it predicts some major water changes.

“They were quite distressing,” John Pomeroy, director of Global Water Futures and the study’s lead author, said of the findings.

Researchers used a climate model and a hydrological model to predict future weather and climate patterns in the region. They also looked at data gathered from 1960 to the present. 

If greenhouse gas emissions continue at their current rate — which Pomeroy said they are on track to do — the study projects the region will be 6.1 C warmer by 2099 and precipitation, particularly rain, will increase by almost 40 per cent.

The study also found that the spring flood will be earlier and twice as large, and the permafrost will thaw an additional 25 centimetres. While the soil is expected to be wetter early in the summer, the study said it will be drier in late summer, meaning a higher risk of wildfires.

John Pomeroy is the director of Global Water Futures. (Erin Collins/CBC)

“The model’s painting kind of a different world than we’re living in right now for the Mackenzie Delta region,” Pomeroy said.

He noted these changes are not only expected for Havipak Creek, but also for “many, many creeks along the northern part of the Dempster [Highway].”

Pomeroy said the deeper permafrost thaw and a bigger spring flood could pose challenges for buildings, roads, culverts and crossings in the area that were designed with the 20th century climate in mind.

He said the projected growth of the snowpack and the spring flood are “of grave concern because that’s what washes out the Dempster [Highway] and damages infrastructure in the area.”

Culverts and bridges may have to be adjusted to allow room for greater stream flows, Pomeroy said. And building foundations that are dependent upon the ground staying frozen will have to be reinforced or redesigned.

Pomeroy said the ultimate solution is for humans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This study is the future we’re heading for, but it’s not the future we necessarily have if we can find a way to reduce those gases,” he said.  

“It’d be far smarter to get those emissions under control than to pay the terrible expenses for infrastructure and endangered safety of humans and destroyed ecosystems.”

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DFO tries to allay fishermen’s fears that protected area would impact livelihood

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The two-lane highway along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore is dotted with dozens of signs declaring “No Marine Protected Area Here!”

It’s a sign, literally, of organized opposition to a proposed 2,000-square-kilometre marine protected area.

The Eastern Shore Islands area is the first coastal candidate in Canada with an active inshore commercial fishery, albeit a small one with just 150 lobster fishermen. Still, they are a mainstay of the local economy and leading the opposition.

The fishermen fear a marine protected area, or MPA, would automatically lead to so-called no-take zones, barring industrial activities like harvesting.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans is moving to put those fears at rest.

“We will not be making a recommendation for there to be a zone of high protection within the MPA,” said Wendy Williams, director of DFO Maritimes Oceans Management.

A “No Marine Protected Area Here!” sign is seen along Nova Scotia’s Eastern Shore. (Robert Short/CBC)

Last week, the department presented the results of a draft risk assessment to an advisory committee established to recommend what should or should not be allowed inside Eastern Shore Islands.

The committee was created after the department declared the unspoiled archipelago of hundreds of islands an area of interest. It is the first step on the road to designation as a marine protected area under the federal Oceans Act.

The risk assessment concluded the lobster fishery would not harm the kelp beds, eel grass and cod nursery the federal government wants to protect.

“The predominant activity that takes place there is the lobster fishery. It’s a low-impact fishery. It only operates two months a year, so we feel it’s not necessary to have a no-take,” Williams said in an interview.

“We talked to the advisory committee about that and what we heard and unanimously around the table is that they felt the same way. So in our design going forward we will not be incorporating a no-take zone.”

Fishermen seek assurances

But fisherman Peter Connors is not declaring victory.

“You have to remember this is deathbed conversion,” he said.

As president of the Eastern Shore Fishermen’s Protective Association, Connors represents the 150 active lobster fishermen in the area.

He does not trust DFO and is seeking some sort of legally binding commitment from federal Fisheries Minister Jonathan Wilkinson honouring Williams’s promise.

As president of the Eastern Shore Fishermen’s Protective Association, Peter Connors represents the 150 active lobster fishermen in the area. (Robert Short/CBC)

“I want to know the mechanism that he’s going to use and just how he intends to secure that for future generations,” said Connors. “I don’t want a trust me proposition and I don’t want a temporary reprieve … just because they are facing a lot of opposition now.”

Connors acknowledged a marine protected area on the Eastern Shore could help “Canada’s brand” from a marketing perspective. The country has committed to protecting 10 per cent of its ocean by 2020.

‘Give and take’

Environmentalists have watched in frustration as opposition to Eastern Shore Islands galvanized over the prospect of no-take zones.

Susanna Fuller, senior projects manager for conservation organization Oceans North, urged DFO to eliminate no-take zones from the discussion last year.

“Since it has been such an issue of contention, we are hoping that this gives the community and the fishermen a sense that they are being heard,” said Fuller.

“For this process to go forward there needs to be some give and take.”

While DFO has decided to allow unrestricted lobster fishing inside Eastern Shore Islands, Williams said no precedent has been set.

“Every MPA is different. If people have their expectations raised in any particular way because of what we’re looking at now for this MPA, they really shouldn’t. Everything is unique and we need to look at it that way,” she said.

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