California is banning the tiny bottles of shampoo you get in hotels

The glorious future.
The glorious future.
Image: AP Photo/Dan Huff
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It’s one of the smallest perks of staying in even budget hotels: teeny bottles of shampoo, body lotion, and shower gel, standing two or three inches high. You use them, secret them away, and take them home, where they molder in your medicine cabinet (and make you feel like you got your money’s worth.)

But not for much longer. A bill signed Oct. 9 by California governor Gavin Newsom will ban the state’s large hotels from supplying these little bottles from 2023. Smaller hotels with fewer than 50 rooms will follow suit in 2024. (Hospitals, nursing homes, jails, shelters, and other such forms of residential care will not be affected.)

Many hotels have already committed to phasing out the bottles even sooner than that. The Marriott International chain, for instance, intends to phase out the bottles worldwide by the end of next year, taking about 500 million tiny bottles each year out of landfill. Instead, they’ll move to using larger, refillable bottles mounted on walls, of the sort you might see in gyms. (For hotels, it will likely be a cost saving, and is likely one reason the hotel lobby supported the bill.)

But those unwilling to cooperate, or who find the seductive call of mini-shampoo too great to ignore, will be subject to $500 fines for every day they are in violation, with further infringements resulting in a $2,000 fine. According to Marriott estimates, a single 140-room hotel could save in the region of 250 pounds (120 kg) of plastic each year, or around 23,000 plastic bottles.

It’s a small step, on a par with banning straws—almost as minute in the grand scheme of things as the bottles themselves. But it may be one of many steps that help to eat away at the US dependence on single-use plastics. Americans use three million plastic water bottles an hour, the vast majority of which are not recycled.