Often in hotel bathrooms you will find a sign reminding you of the water conservation in hotels. Usually what they explain is that towels on the floor will be replaced while towels hung up will not. It does make sense; at home I wash my towels once a week so fresh towels every day does seem a bit unnecessary. I have found, however, that often even when you hang up your towels they end up getting replaced. Plus, to be honest, when I am staying in hotels I do like the luxury of fresh linens.
I have often wondered if this was truly about the environment or the hotel’s bottom line. Or the hotel’s image as being eco friendly.
Facing a drought, the state of California has enacted a regulation that all hotels must give guests the option of reusing their towels. From a press release from the California Water Board:
In addition, the same regulation mandates that restaurants may only serve patrons water IF they specifically ask for it.
While these efforts of water conservation in hotels mean well, the reality is that hotel towels and restaurant water glasses are not big players when it comes to drought.
The Daily Show has a great segment on this (skip to the 4:00 mark if you want to see about hotel regulation):
Direct use of water (meaning by humans for watering their lawns, washing their clothes and towels, drinking, etc) accounts for 4% of water usage in California. It is safe to assume that hotels are a fraction of that 4%. Compare that to alfalfa crops, which use a whopping 25% of water in the state! Meat and dairy accounts for 47% of water usage in California.
A different study found that 6% of water usage in California was consumed by industry, commercial operations (which would include hotel towel washing), and government. Most sources I read found that 80% of water is used by agriculture.
So if you are serious about water conservation, then you will save exponentially more water by not eating that burger or steak then reusing a towel. I appreciate the water conservation in hotels, but in the grand scheme of things it really is just a drop in the bucket.