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Circular economy in the accommodation sector

By Billy Bishop, 1st October 2022

In this article, Travelife for Accommodation discusses the circular economy and how this framework can be used within the tourism industry to ensure resilience.

Circular economy, at it’s most simple, is a model of production and consumption which aims to reduce the amount of waste produced. Circular economy principles grew out of a concern about the impact our mass production and consumption habits are having, particularly on the environment. The pressure which we have placed on the environment in our normal model has resulted in essential ecosystem services being pushed to their limits. 

The common model which most economies follow is the linear economy. The linear economy is also known as the take-make-dispose approach, as it involves the collection of raw materials to produce goods and products and these one day become waste, once the customer is finished with them.

The circular economy instead offers a closed loop system where no resources are lost and products can be used indefinitely. Within the circular economy, waste does not exist. Products are created so that they can be disassembled and reused. Another key factor in the circular economy is the use of renewable energy. It is vital that throughout the whole cycle, renewable energy is prioritised so that resource dependence is reduced, pollution is eliminated, and the system is more resilient against market shocks. Circular economy focuses on eliminating waste and pollution from the initial phases of design and production, so that the product is more sustainable even from the start of its life.

Is the circular economy not just recycling?

It might sound similar, but circular economy involves creating products which are made to last several lifecycles, this may be through maintenance, repair, redistribution, refurbishment or re-manufacturing. Whereas recycling only encourages the current business-as-usual linear economy, because it involves creating products, consuming them and recycling them at the disposal stage.

Circular economy in tourism and accommodation businesses

The circular economy has mostly been focused on by the production industries. It is certainly easy to recognise how the circular economy fits into the manufacturing sector, however, there is a strong but less visible link between circularity and tourism.

The UNWTO believe that the travel and tourism sector is well positioned to act as a powerful enable of circularity, and it will benefit from circular value creation and value capture within chains. The travel and tourism sectors are dependent on agriculture, food, the built environment and transport for its resource flows, assets and commodity value chains. All these dependencies can follow circular economy principles and should do.

Accommodations are considered asset heavy businesses. Within these asset heavy businesses, circular procurement enables circularity in the supply chain, which enables processes which extend and optimise product usage and avoids waste. Accommodations require the mass use of material resources, including, energy, water, food, furniture, building materials etc. that could drastically become more sustainability of the business pursues circular economy principles and solutions. Additionally, greenhouse gas consumption in accommodations is large, there circular economies reliance upon renewables is encouraged within tourism to reduce resource dependence and increase the businesses resilience against market shocks.  

Accommodations can look at their procurement; prioritising products which are produced under the circular economy framework will be essential to being part of the circular economy. Food waste is a big part of tourism, but it can be avoided. Under circular economy, the food system should not create waste. There are methods to prevent food waste (e.g. storage, monitoring), surplus edible food should be redistributed to those who need it and other food should become new products (e.g. compost).

What are the benefits of the circular economy for accommodation providers?

An improved brand image relating to sustainability is now essential. Consumers, in our case, tourists, are becoming increasingly aware of environmental impacts. Adopting circular economy strategies helps you to reduce your environmental footprint and stand out from the crowd.

Reduced exposure to rising resource costs is a large benefit, particularly now. The price of non-renewable sources of energy is increasing,

Cost savings from purchases. The concept of circularity means that products are designed to last and be repaired, therefore the need to buy new products is removed.

What measures could an accommodation provider implement?

Some of the circular actions which an accommodation could undertake are set out below:

Rainwater harvesting

This involves collecting and storing rainwater to use for non-sanitary and non-drinking purposes. This reuses water, reduces waste, and keeps a product in use.


Collecting organic waste and composting this on site, or with an external provider, will cut down waste and the end product can be used as a pesticide and fertiliser.

Oil collection

Using a supplier who collects used cooking oil and turns it into biodiesel, animal feeds, or other products gives the product another purpose and reduces waste.

Plant a garden

Planting a garden will improve the businesses ecological footprint, reduce waste, and help to regenerate the ecosystem.

Staff training

When implementing environmental policies, it is necessary to train staff so that they follow more sustainable practices in their work. This is already a Travelife requirement, therefore helping businesses transfer to circularity.

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