Plastic Pollution

You Know Those Adorable, Convenient Hotel Mini-Shampoos? California Banned Them

Of course they did.


If you're a Californian, the days of travel-size shampoo, conditioner, and soap bottles seen in hotels are nearing an end. Come January 1, 2023, they'll be illegal.

Governor Gavin Newsom signed Assembly Bill 1162 on Wednesday, sunsetting the small toiletry containers that some say are a noxious waste of single-use plastics. Establishments with more than 50 rooms must comply by 2023, while those with less than 50 rooms have until January 1, 2024.

A fine of $500 dollars will be assessed for the first violation and will increase to $2,000 for subsequent infractions. The law stipulates that a local agency may conduct inspections to ensure compliance.

But while the push to regulate plastic out of mainstream usage may be well-intentioned, it is not supported by data.

The panic is rooted in the presence of various plastics in the ocean. Those of the single-use variety—from straws, to plastic bags, to bottles—have become a fitting scapegoat for the plight of marine life, a concern that penetrated popular discourse after a viral video showed a sea turtle having a straw removed from its nose.

Environmental advocates aren't wrong about the underlying issue: 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. But as Andrew Glover notes at Quillette, a large part of that figure comes from microplastics: shards of debris that are less than 5 millimeters long. The majority of those aren't derived from the much-despised plastic bottles and straws, but rather from synthetic tires and the laundering of synthetic clothing. (It's worth mentioning that a study by the World Health Organization concluded that there were no "overt health concerns" to drinking water containing microplastics.)

Glover also highlights the excess of fishing-related accessories in the ocean, which account for 46 percent of the ocean's total plastic contents.

Yet that obviously isn't the entire picture. A study found that 40 percent of plastics are made to be single-use, some of which are bound to be dumped in the water. What activists fail to mention is that approximately 60 percent of plastic trash in the ocean comes from just five countries—China, Indonesia, The Philippines, Thailand, and Vietnam—which have notoriously inefficient waste management systems. America, meanwhile, contributes less than 1 percent.

Indeed, to actually make a dent in this problem—a problem which very much exists—requires global citizens to focus on waste management in the developing world and on the irresponsible disposal of fishing gear. A blanket ban on hotel toiletry containers is certain to have no effect whatsoever.

That may not have been the goal of the legislation, though. Roland Geyer, a professor of Environmental Science and Management at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and a supporter of the bill, told ABC News that the legislation is "mostly symbolic, but symbols can be powerful."

It's true that large companies may take notice and follow suit on their own. Some already have: Marriott International expressed that they will phase out the travel-size toiletries by the end of 2020. But that must also come with the understanding that it will have a near-negligible impact.