Supplier Positions Vary on Refillable, Non-Refillable Dispenser Systems

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Supplier Positions Vary on Refillable, Non-Refillable Dispenser Systems

NATIONAL REPORT—In July, IHG announced that its entire hotel estate of almost 843,000 guestrooms would switch to bulk-size bathroom amenities, with the transition to be completed during 2021. Not included in the announcement was whether IHG had committed to refillable or non-refillable dispensers. In response to a Green Lodging News query, an IHG spokesman said, “Given that the team is currently in the process of working to establish the best bulk-amenity solutions for each brand based on market availability, brand expectations and environmental impact, it’s a bit too early to speak.”

In August, Marriott International announced that it’s expanding an initiative to replace tiny, single-use toiletry bottles of shampoo, conditioner and bath gel in guestroom showers with larger, pump-topped bottles. Most of its hotels are expected to make the switch by December 2020. Green Lodging News reached out to Marriott in regard to its leanings toward refillable or non-refillable dispensers.

“We are working hard on developing solutions for our guests that combine convenience, safety and a quality brand experience,” said Denise Naguib, VP Sustainability and Supplier Diversity for Marriott. “For most of our brands, we are moving forward with non-refillable, recyclable larger pump-topped bottles that allow customers to take as much product as they wish. For some of our luxury brands, a more bespoke approach may work best so for those we are testing ways to deliver product in bottles that can be refilled and sealed for safety. Training and clear processes are being implemented so that associates will know if tampering has occurred in order to replace the bottle immediately.”

Photo by Emily Morter on Unsplash

Questions & Then More Questions

If you thought there was a clear, agreed-upon industry answer about which of the two options—refillable or non-refillable—is better for the environment or easier on operations—you would be wrong. No unbiased third party has worked out the science for every potential refillable versus non-refillable scenario. Some suppliers sell both options while favoring one over the other, some sell just one of the two options, while others prefer not to take sides while appealing to all customer types.

While refillable dispensers have been sold for years now with no outcry about hygiene-related flaws, suppliers pushing non-refillables frequently cite refillables’ hygiene vulnerabilities—whether for competitive reasons or based on experiences they say their customers have had with refillables. A recent study conducted for Clean the World by the University of Arizona provides some third-party data to consider.

No matter the dispenser type, most—but not all—amenity suppliers agree that dispensers are a less environmentally impactful alternative than single-use containers. Plastics waste reduction is most often cited as the major upside to dispensers, but the cost savings is also often emphasized. A guest columnist on Green Lodging News also touts the numerous operational benefits of dispensers.

Refillable Dispensers

Ian Wallace, President at Dispenser Amenities, has been in the business of selling dispensers into the lodging industry for decades. He says 99 percent of the dispensers his company sells are refillable. “We are very much about reducing waste,” Wallace says. While Dispenser Amenities does sell closed, non-refillable dispensers, Wallace says they are “less of a good thing” for the environment and for operations. More plastic bottles must be disposed of and replaceable bottles dealt with by housekeepers. Wallace says his company has never had an issue with product contamination in its refillable dispensers.

Ray Burger, President of Pineapple Hospitality, says, “I am not a huge proponent of the closed systems because the refillables are much better environmentally and economically.” With the non-refillable disposable bottles, “You still have to do something with that plastic waste,” Regarding the gallon jugs used for refillable dispensers, Burger explains, “They are pretty valuable on the reuse market. They are pretty easily recycled.”

Pineapple Hospitality

Burger suggests there is an economical motivation for selling hoteliers disposable dispenser bottles. “Somebody somewhere is trying to hang on to more profit,” he says. “It could be more motivated by profit potential.” Burger believes the open, refillable dispensers will eventually win out. “Eventually money wins out,” he says. “Eventually, the better economic model wins. The savings are night and day [between refillables and non-refillables].” Burger says hotels experience a 30 to 70 percent cost savings with refillable dispensers as compared to single-use bottles. The savings with closed, non-refillable dispensers is more like 10 to 20 percent, he says.

One company that has almost entirely removed the question of plastic waste from the refillable dispenser itself is Kure. According to Jan McDougal, Co-Founder, her company’s dispensers are made from aluminum. “We thought hard about how to design dispensers—to design something easy to use but to help hotels meet their environmental goals,” she says. “It is an opportunity for hotels to do the right thing and make guests happier. Guests are delighted not to fiddle with the small plastic bottles.”

Aquamenities, on its website, acknowledges the potential for at least some contamination with its refillable bottles. “The opportunity for bacteria growth is limited as the fixture is never filled in the rooms, but conveniently filled in housekeeping (approximately every 20 days, based on your guest demographic),” the company says. “Nothing is filled in the room. Our fixtures come with two sets of bottles with pumps. Bottles are filled in housekeeping, then simply replaced when the level shows through the view window that a change is necessary.”

Non-Refillable Dispensers

While advocating for open, refillable systems, JRS Amenities Ltd. announced at last month’s HX: The Hotel Experience trade show that it has expanded its MOSAIC collection to include not only the MOSAIC Classic Open System but also the MOSAIC Classic Closed System that uses a cartridge pre-filled with a choice of more than 30 approved luxury brands. “The reason we came up with closed was because the market was asking for it,” says Ross Hales, Senior Account Manager for JRS Amenities.

Roys Laux, SVP, General Manager, Gilchrist & Soames, says she also sees a trend toward “hygienic closed systems as hotels make dispensing decisions to achieve their sustainability goals.” A key contributor she points to is “our society of heightened consumerism”—where every image and experience goes online for the world to see. “Risk management is becoming front of mind for hotels,” Laux says.


Guido Bonadonna, CEO, GFL SA, says his company just launched a non-refillable pump dispenser and he expects 90 percent of his company’s future dispenser business to be in non-refillables. GFL SA produces squeezable dispensers that are not refillable, non-refillable pump dispensers, and three models of refillable dispensers.

GFL SA’s story is proof that the comparison of refillable dispensers versus non-refillables is not just about plastic waste to landfill and hygiene. “All of our pump dispensers are made from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic,” Bonadonna says. “We design all our products to be recyclable after use. This is very important to us. For instance, on the dispenser we are not printing anymore the batch numbers with ink, but we use a laser which increases the quality of the recycled plastic. More important we use special labels with clean flake glue developed to improve recyclability. Also, to produce our dispensers we use only green certified energy.”

Traceability, Correct Management

When asked what main issues he has with refillable dispensers, Bonadonna says traceability and correct management. “If you refill a dispenser you lose the capacity to track what is inside,” he says. “We use a batch number on every product we ship and for every batch we have a long list of tests made in our company plus reference samples always available. If something occurs, we are immediately able to study, take responsibility if is our fault and in any case help the customer.”

In regard to whether or not a refillable dispenser is more or less hygienic than a non-refillable one, Bonadonna said, “Technically I can’t say that a refillable dispenser is less hygienic than a non-refillable, if you refill it in a sterile ambient like a cosmetic lab. The reality is this is not happening. In the toilet of one hotel there are too many dangers that can impact on the hygiene of the product. I can say that the problem is not the system itself but the actual impossibility to manage it in a correct way in a hotel room.”

Bonadonna says while liquid product theft is a low risk in a country like the United States, in a third world country it can be more common with refillable dispensers.

ADA Cosmetics International GmbH is another company whose No. 1 recommendation is closed dispensers. Ana Forister, Regional Vice President of Sales for the company, emphasizes four advantages of the closed systems: time and complexity of handling and replacement process for housekeeping staff and management; product safety and avoidance of hygiene risks for hotel guests; availability of products with recyclable packaging and of products made with recycled packaging; and waste prevention and the reduction of plastic waste through single-use container avoidance.

“I see a huge growth in closed systems,” Forister says. “The market is asking for them.”

RSA RoomService Amenities

RSA RoomService Amenities offers a family of closed, non-refillable dispensing systems. Its new EPURE Dispensing Unit uses sealed refill cartridges batch coded for traceability. In each description of its dispensers, RSA addresses the hygiene issue. “Ensure guest safety by preventing contamination risk when bulk liquids are poured into traditional dispenser bottles in an unsterile environment,” the company says. RSA says its cartridges contain an EcoPure organic bioadditive to facilitate and shorten the biodegradation process.

Somewhere in the Middle

Raymond Ferretti, VP Marketing & Brand Development, Marietta Hospitality, says his company, as a supplier of many amenity brands and dispensers, does not have a preference when it comes to refillables versus non-refillables. “We will meet the market’s needs,” he says. “There are others who believe they can set the market.”

No matter the dispenser type, dispensing systems benefit from a trusted brand, Ferretti says. “It elevates the view of the dispenser. Trusted brands fit hand in hand with dispensing systems.”

Ferretti says properties are currently grappling with the single use plastic versus dispenser choice. “Most guests today want to take small bottles home,” he says. “You eliminate what the guest viewed as a gift. You will see a pendulum swing back to small bottles at some point.”

In regard to refillable dispensers and hygiene, Ferretti says refillables require a much more diligent standard operating procedure.

JRS Amenities Ltd.

“The chains are all working through this and every chain has a preference about what works for them,” he says. “Some brands are supportive of bulk refill while others don’t want to deal with a secondary container. For us it is a very easy transition to move from small bottles to large bottles.”

All of the above said, at least one supplier, World Amenities, supports the continued use of single-use plastic containers because of their waste and cost advantage over refillable dispensers that are made of plastic and that require plastic jugs to refill them. “To make a general statement about dispensers is misleading,” says Paul Hodge, Owner and Managing Director at World Amenities, adding that 1 gallon bulk liquid bottles use more plastic than 128 x 1oz  biodegradable individual tubes.

Amenity suppliers will continue to have their own preferences for providing liquids to guests but Gilchrist & Soames’ Laux says the overall shift toward dispensers in recent years has been “significant” with most corporate RFPs now including large format packaging.

Glenn Hasek can be reached at