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KAUAI — Kauai is rightfully called the Garden Isle. It is home to Mount Waialeale, often called the “wettest place on earth” and the genesis for the island’s seven rivers. This network of rivers feeds Kauai’s incredibly green landscape and countless cascading waterfalls between the mountain ridges. In Hanalei Bay, one of the wetter, lusher parts of the island where passing rain showers are a daily occurrence, Kauai’s raw beauty is on full display.
This is exactly what Kauai’s newest hotel overlooking the bay, 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay, is seeking to capture.
The open-air hotel is designed to blur the boundaries between the inside and outside, creating a seamless oasis (which requires less lighting). Native and tropical plants greet guests as they arrive on the property, and because this is their natural environment, require less water and maintenance to thrive.
The building itself is painted a muted green from a formerly bright white to reduce light pollution and blend into the landscape to avoid distracting birds. Green roofs feature drought-tolerant indigenous plants like pili grass to reduce the need for air-conditioning. Even the fitness center uses recycled rubber flooring.
I saw plastic just once during my two-night stay at 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay. Otherwise, the zero-waste transition felt pretty seamless. “In a luxury experience, you don’t want to be thinking about your trash,” Sustainability Director for 1 Hotel Corinne Hanson said.
The hotel is 1 Hotel’s flagship property, meant to fully embody the hospitality brand’s vision of honoring nature and being a platform for change and sustainability through its luxury properties like New York, West Hollywood and London.
What can guests expect from a zero-waste hotel experience?
The mission is especially imperative for Kauai, an island that’s part of the most isolated archipelago in the world, and where sustainability is a pressing issue that requires immediate action – and buy-in from the hospitality industry. Just one landfill serves the entire island, and it’s quickly approaching maximum capacity.
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Besides being LEED-certified and 100% CarbonNeutral-certified, the hotel is on track to be the state’s first TRUE Zero Waste-certified hotel, meaning 90% or more of its waste will be diverted from landfills.
Some of the sustainable highlights for guests included:
- All common space bathrooms had hand towels rather than paper towels.
- In the room, toiletries were wrapped in paper, not plastic.
- The shower offered bulk shampoo and condition in glass dispensers, rather than those mini plastic bottles.
- Daily snacks were provided in little jars.
- Napkins in the restaurants were linen.
- Straws and to-go utensils were compostable.
- Each hotel room had a recycling and trash bin, plus I spotted composting bins around the property.
- My favorite feature was how each room also has its own faucet for filtered drinking water so there was no scouring the hallways at night for a refillable water station.
The hotel is speaking to a growing demographic of travelers. Nearly three out of four people want to be more sustainable in their travels, an increase from 2021, according to Booking.com’s Sustainable Travel Report 2022. And about 78% of people want to stay in sustainable accommodations at least once in the coming year.
Just how wasteful are hotels?
Although more hotels are figuring out how to be more sustainable, the hospitality industry has a heavy reliance on single-use plastic because it’s cheap and accessible, according to a 2019 investigation by Skift.
Think about your last hotel stay. You likely had plastic toiletries and disposable coffee cups in your room. Maybe you were given a reusable water bottle to refill around the property.
“A lot of other industries made gains in sustainability than hospitality and real estate,” Hanson said. “Because of its fixed infrastructure, it’s harder to get (hotels) to transition and there are so many partners involved in making sustainable choices. You’re moving a pretty large glacier forward. It’s difficult to do.”
There’s also food waste, which is an especially bad problem for all-inclusive resorts or hotels with buffets since food is constantly being made. When food goes into the trash, the energy, water and other resources that went into producing that food also go to waste. In Hawaii, over $1 billion worth of food is wasted each year.
There was a moment during breakfast when I was clearing my table in the cafe (the time I did use plastic) and felt unsure of what went into the recycling or the trash. Some posted guidelines would have been helpful. Although, even if you mess up, staff will correctly sort your waste on the backend.
Food is closely tied to sustainability for an island chain like Hawaii. Nearly 90% of Hawaii’s foods are imported, which is costly and takes energy to be transported. Local food not only supports Hawaii’s farmers – and economy – but requires less energy to get to your plate. 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay sources 95% of its produce and 50% of its protein locally – even down to the grains of rice, which are from Kauai-based Jerry’s Rice Farm.
By the end of my stay, I felt good knowing I produced little to no trash, and that the hotel made it so easy to do this.
1 Hotel wants to be a “resource for other” hotels to be able to implement more sustainable initiatives, according to Hanson.
How do you know if your hotel is zero waste?
Becoming TRUE Zero Waste certified requires a facility to divert 90% or more of your total waste into secondary streams for 12 consecutive months, Hanson explained. 1 Hotel Hanalei Bay won’t be certified until February 2024 at the earliest since it just opened its doors, but is right on track.
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To find what fits best with Kauai’s resources and needs, teams worked closely with local organizations and small businesses and even tapped into Native Hawaiian intelligence.
“This would not have been possible if we had not found the right partnerships,” Hanson said.
► Currently, the hotel donates food waste to local food pantries and to a Kauai farm owned by Lauren and Kimo Rosa to use as pig feed.
► The hotel also has a partnership with local composting facility Heart & Soul Organics to turn food waste and compostable foodware into fertilizer that’s used in its rooftop garden and landscaping along the property.
► Coffee grounds from the hotel are upcycled in the spa and bars to be used in treatments and cocktails.
Although the state of Hawaii has yet to have a fully certified TRUE Zero Waste hotel, there is one that’s pre-certified: the Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, located on Kaanapali Beach in Maui. The hotel recently underwent a renovation between 2019 and 2020 to implement trash diversion strategies, like decreasing the portion sizes in its restaurants to cut down on food waste.
“Hawaii has always been an extremely popular destination for travelers and we believe it will continue to be far into the future,” Krystle Alcain, director of marketing and communications for the hotel, said. “At Hyatt Regency Maui Resort and Spa, it is our duty to provide an incredible experience for our guests while ensuring that we are protecting the beautiful island of Maui.”
Everywhere you go in the 1 Hotel, Hanalei Bay is made to be the focal point, whether you’re hanging out in the infinity pool, dining on the terrace or looking out through the floor-to-ceiling glass windows. The Elysian view serves as a reminder about to everyone – from visitors to the hotel industry and the community – about their role in choosing to be more sustainable so that places as pristine as Hanalei can remain that way.
Do hotel green practices influence your decision to stay there? Why or why not?
Kathleen Wong is a travel reporter for USA TODAY based in Hawaii. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org