Addressing the Plastic Crisis through Crypto Anchors & Blockchain Technology

The Plastic Crisis: Out of Sight, Out of Mind

From automated daily digests to dinner table conversations, the omnipresence of the Covid-19 pandemic has successfully managed to overshadow other – yet no less important – global challenges.

In 2019, plastic was already recognized as one of the most pernicious contributors to the environmental crisis. Changing consumer behavior, spurred by greater awareness and concern for such matters, led hospitality giants such as AccorHotels to pledge the elimination of select, if not all, single-use plastics within their operations. While some may be easily removed, such as straws, water bottles or toothbrushes – 15 percent of all plastic items within the hospitality industry are redundant (Travel Without Plastic, 2019) – others would be harder to replace.

These efforts were however thwarted amid rising health and safety concerns, as shifting priorities resulted in the increasing demand for petroleum-based items such as bottles of sanitizer, gloves and face shields. Understandably, this has significantly complicated hoteliers’ task; the previously elusive goal now seemed impossible to attain.

Luckily, there are other ways of tackling the challenge posed by plastic. Indeed, if it may be impossible to remove or replace a given item, drastically reducing its environmental impact by engaging in a zero-waste circular plastic economy has recently become possible.

Unlocking the Combined Power of Crypto Anchors and Blockchain Technology

The Ellen McArthur Foundation, an active player in promoting such processes, describes the circular economy as based on the principles of designing out waste and pollution, keeping products and materials in use, and regenerating natural systems. Applying this to plastic in the hospitality industry, it would require the ability to accurately identify and track each item throughout organizations’ value chains. Recent technological innovations in the field of crypto anchors and blockchain technology have paved the way to make it a reality.

Tracking an object throughout its lifecycle requires a tight link between the physical object and its digital twin. This is generally done through UIDs, or unique identifiers (usually tags or stickers), which carry information such as manufacturer, site location, etc. However, these can be easily tampered with, and hence fail to accurately identify the object. Cryptographic (crypto) anchors, while serving the same function, are able to remedy these shortcomings. Indeed, the UID is tied to the physical object in such a way that it cannot be removed or copied, at the risk of destroying it or inhibiting its function.

Should we connect crypto anchors to blockchain technology (defined by IBM as an immutable ledger that facilitates the process of recording transactions and tracking assets in a business network), one would be able to track, trace and pinpoint the exact chain of custody (ownership from producer to end consumer) of a given item through time.

Applications in the Hospitality Industry

These are simply endless. From supply chain to end user, the item’s associated blockchain will invariably be updated, coming to include information such as plastic type, name of manufacturer, intermediaries, names of buyers, date of purchase, etc. The data can either be publicly available, or rendered private if necessary, to hide sensitive information, such as cost.

Tracking and Benchmarking Plastic Usage. Hospitality firms may use this data to track every single plastic item that comes through the purchasing department, determine their lifecycle, and get actionable data in terms of consumption. This should enable them to benchmark and track their performance, which in turn should help them cut costs by reducing usage where possible. Indeed, the first step to removing an item is knowing it is there.

Facilitate Plastic Recycling. Not knowing whether an item can or cannot be recycled is one of the major barriers to effective plastic waste management. The information contained in the blockchain would help sorting facilities identify the type (or types) of plastic used, and adequately determine how to process the item.

These are but two examples of how one could ally both technologies. Of course, nothing prevents it from being applied to other industries, on the contrary: pilot programs already exist in regard to transparency in supply chain management. Yet, its application to the hospitality industry through the means of a circular economy of plastic offers a more sustainable alternative to the traditional economic model, while refraining from eliminating all plastic during these troublesome times.

This blog post was awarded First Place in the Spring 2021 HFTP/MS Global Hospitality Business Graduate Student Blog Competition presented by the HFTP Foundation. Participants are students earning their HFTP-UH Global Masters Certificate, a program with candidates of the Master of Science in Global Hospitality Business. This program is a partnership between the CN Hilton College at the University of Houston, the School of Hotel and Tourism Management at Hong Kong Polytechnic University and EHL. The three blog posts that received the top scores will be published on HFTP Connect through July 2021.

Joana Denelle is a master’s student from France, currently pursuing the Master of Science in Global Hospitality Business program, which is in partnership of three schools: EHL, the Hong Kong Polytechnic University, and University of Houston.

You May Also Like

About the Author: Contributor