Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Revisit to Hotel Soap Waste

As my faithful readers will recall, I wrote about a marketing ploy in which a soap manufacturer was marketing a new soap shape that supposedly reduced waste. I discussed this in Holey Soap: When Hotels and Green Marketing Collide. Since then, there have been others that have also found this product silly including Green Chemicals and

While it was satisfying to expose this marketing ploy, I felt that I left the problem only partially resolved. Sure, the truth was now out there, but what about the other unanswered questions?
1. Does the soap break down faster than a normal bar?
2. What alternatives are there for hotels looking to reduce their environmental impact when it comes to soap usage?

In this article, I hope to explore these two points.

After the Holey Soap was originally posted, I tried the holey soap and found that, as frequent reader and commenter Tom pointed out, the hollow nature of the bar caused it to break apart faster than a solid bar. This rapid breakdown was due to the increased surface area inherent to the design. The resulting pieces were not at all comfortable to use as the bar had only been designed to be comfortable when intact; I ended up mashing them together in order to continue using the bar. Unfortunately, I didn't take notes on the breakdown of the soap, but it seemed that the soap fractured after about 5 days and was completely used up within about 2 weeks.

I expected a bar with the weight of the holey soap (50 grams) to last quite a bit longer than it did. Unfortunately, I don't have another bar, so I'll have to leave a solid comparison of soaps to someone else. All things considered, this is not a product that can deliver on its claims, but what are the alternatives for a hotel looking for greener soap?

Traditional Bars
Traditional bars of similar or lesser weight will last longer than the hollow soap, so they won't need to be replaced as frequently. Finding the correct size and shape is difficult though, and guests will rarely finish a bar to completion so there is still a waste issue. With a larger bar, a lot of soap will be thrown away. With a smaller bar, more packaging waste generated each time the bar is replaced. Hotels must find a balance between these two waste generators.

Bulk Body Wash/Shampoo
This option is popular in some parts of Europe and in Asia. A liquid soap dispenser mounted in the shower stall, and guests use what they need. The dispenser is refilled from a larger container so that material and packaging waste is reduced. While I really like this option, it is not without problems. Liquid soap has a lot of water in it, weighs more, it takes up more space in a truck and in turn, has a higher carbon footprint than bar soap.

Bar soap is a dry good, so it is cheaper to ship per amount of usable product, but it is wasteful in the areas of product usage and packaging. Liquid soap has a bigger carbon footprint, but it is superior in the waste and packaging areas. If only there was a product that could be parsed out of a dispenser like liquid soap, but was dry and easy to ship...

Powdered Soap
Rarely seen now but still available, a powdered soap could fit the bill nicely. The powdered soap that I've used in the past has worked quite well, but it was formulated as a hand soap which may not work so well for the rest of the body. A new powdered soap for washing the entire body would be needed. There would also need to be a dispenser in or near the shower, but, if well executed, it may be the best solution to the hotel shower soap problem yet.

I'm sure that this article will generate more questions that need to be explored, but, right now, I feel much better about the situation as alternatives to this product have now been presented. Please feel free to comment about this article in the comments section below.

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Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Trapped in a Revolving Door

Getting trapped in a revolving door may sound unlikely, but it has happened to me twice. It could happen to you, so please learn from my experiences and be prepared in the event that you find yourself in this embarrassing situation.

I recently traveled to Nova Scotia on business trip. On the day of my departure, I took a taxi to the Halifax airport. After unloading my bags from the taxi, I quickly gained my bearings and headed toward a revolving door in front of the departure terminal. I approached the door from the side and figured that I would be able to make it through the briskly moving revolving door without waiting for the next revolution so I entered. I crossed the threshold with my bags in tow as the revolving door slowed to a halt, trapping me within the metal and Plexiglas cage. I didn’t panic.

The reason why I didn’t panic was that I had been in this situation once before. It was a much smaller revolving door that time, but I figured that the same technique that had gotten me out of a jam before could be employed this time as well. On the ceiling of powered revolving doors, you’ll find a motion sensor that can be triggered by waving your hand across it. This is a handy, yet poorly documented, safety feature that keeps people from getting trapped in revolving doors. I hope that this article helps rectify the lack of knowledge of this safety feature.

I scanned the ceiling looking for the dark rectangular piece of plastic that housed my ticket out of the revolving door. Towards the back of the door, I found what I was looking for. I confidently waved my hand across the plastic. I heard a click and then nothing. Usually the door would start moving, but all I got was a click. I tried twice more, just to make sure that I hadn’t waved my hand incorrectly, but all I ever got was that stupid click.

Since the motion sensor failed to work, I turned to the old standby of yelling while pounding on the wall and flailing my arms wildly to attract attention and hopefully someone who can help. There wasn’t anyone nearby so my pounding and yelling went unnoticed.

About the time that I realized that no one was near enough to hear my calls for help, an airport shuttle came by and unloaded its cargo. A couple made their way toward me, and the door began to revolve; freeing me at last. I waited until they passed safely, and I thanked them for releasing me.

All of this took place within a minute, but it’s never fun to be trapped, even if just for a brief amount of time. So that you may avoid this situation, I provide here a practical guide to avoid becoming stuck in a powered revolving door and what to do if you do happen to get stuck:

How to avoid getting stuck:
-Don’t enter a revolving door from the side; always approach it head on so that you trigger a fresh revolution cycle.
-Don’t enter on the last part of someone’s revolution unless there is someone behind you; wait until the person in front of you passes and then enter on your own. This should trigger a new cycle and let you pass safely.
-When in a group, don’t be the last one to pass through the revolving door.
-Use the traditional door; this is usually located right next to the revolving door.

What to do if you get stuck:
-Stay calm, don’t panic.
-Look for the motion sensor and trigger it.
-Attract the attention of someone outside the door; their approach should trigger the door and free you.
-Wait for help to arrive.

Even if you are prepared, this won’t guarantee you passage through a revolving door. Lindi of Leaving a Trail entered a revolving door just before the power to it was shut off and was stuck for 30 minutes.

If you’ve ever been trapped in a revolving door, I’d love to hear your story. Please add a comment below.

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Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Oregon Road Trip: Trail to The Treehouse Hotel

Photos by Nicole Holt

Prior to leaving for Massachusetts, my wife and I went on one last Oregon adventure: a road trip down to Southern Oregon so that we could stay at the Treehouse Hotel in Cave Junction.

We got off to a fairly good start from Eugene heading down I-5 smoothly until we hit some traffic which was caused by a high-speed chase. Two disabled vehicles with shredded tires and used spike strips littered the side of the road, and rubbernecking caused the slowdown. As per usual, the human body knows just when you can’t pull over on the freeway to relieve yourself, and mine chose this time to insist on bladder relief. We decided to take the next exit that appeared to have even the slightest promise of a restroom.

Fortunately for us, the next exit had a Pilot gas station. Since we knew that it would have a clean restroom and, most likely, a pinball machine, we figured that this was a pretty safe bet.

Much to our surprise, this exit (148, Oakland) is home to a picturesque slice of Route 66-style nostalgia. There was a drive in made out of two trailers that served up decent milkshakes, a garage with an original Michelin Man standing out front and another garage with a sign on the roof that read simply “GAR”. Best of all, there was a motel that was comprised of a large triangular shaped building next to a row of several smaller triangle structures; each smaller triangle was a room. This motel reminded us of the Cozy Cone in Pixar’s animated feature Cars.

For all of its charm, I’ll forgive the modern motel and adult shop that also populate the area. After utilizing the restroom at the Pilot station and spending a few quarters on a couple games of pinball, we picked two chocolate milkshakes and returned to the highway.

Nothing of note occurred until just before we entered Cave Junction, OR. We approached a field and saw a sign that proudly advertised “SWEET CRON”. Unfortunately, the sweet cron stand was closed as we did not visit during cron season. I’m still trying to decide if this was an honest mistake or marketing genius. I would have quickly forgotten about a sign for “SWEET CORN”, but I’m still talking about sweet cron.

The Treehouse Hotel is a collection of tree houses situated in a remote part of Oregon that was supposedly chosen as the ideal place to ride out a nuclear holocaust. Being that we hadn’t yet had a need for a nuclear haven, the owners of the property, who happen to be tree house enthusiasts, decided to create a unique B&B experience.

I had first heard of this property years ago on the Travel Channel and I thought it would be a fun place to visit should the opportunity present itself. As it turns out, for my wife and myself, it was not a fun place to visit.

I had imagined a romantic getaway high above the ground in a tree house with the comforts of a B&B: clean sheets, comfortable beds and fellow guests of the non-creepy variety. What we found was that the Treehouse Hotel takes all of the best parts of camping and the best parts of staying at a B&B, and it avoids them at all costs. Bedding was uncomfortable and of dubious cleanliness; the "cleaning fairies" to which the generally invisible staff referred to in the information sheet left in our room definitely did not visit our treehouse during our visit. In addition, children ran wild in the morning and visitors from Portland drank cheap beer and bad rum around the campfire well past 2am.

Security is not a concern at the Treehouse Hotel as there are no locks on the doors; I had to bar the door with a piece of plywood that I found in order to have some sense of security. The windows had no screens on them, so while in theory you could open them to cool down the rooms, it wasn’t practical because you’d let bugs in. We were uncomfortable as soon as we arrived, and it was a relief to be on our way away from the Treehouse Hotel.

The only redeeming quality of the Treehouse hotel was its proximity to Taylor’s Country Sausage in Cave Junction (30 minutes by car). Here you can find all kinds of meat and meat-related products, and you can even sample their products in their dining area. I had the most amazing steak sandwich; it was marinated in something a little sweet, and it was was burnt around the edges yet still remained juicy. If you ever make it out to Cave Junction, OR, I highly recommend stopping by Taylor's.

While spending a couple nights in a treehouse wasn’t exactly what we expected, it was great to go on one last road trip in Oregon before moving across the country to Massachusetts. Some things you just have to try. They may be terrible, but you’ll never know if you don’t give them a shot. The Treehouse Hotel sounds great on paper, but in reality, left much to be desired.

Have you ever visited a novelty B&B? Were you disappointed? Please comment below.

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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Walking Across the George Washington Bridge

For the past 5 years or so, I have made regular trips to Fort Lee, NJ, which is just a short trip over the George Washington Bridge (GWB) from Manhattan. For 5 years I've been meaning to walk across this bridge, to see it in more than just a 2 minute long blur at highway speeds. For 5 years I've found convenient excuses not to do it including bad weather, injuries and just plain laziness. For 5 years the GWB mocked me every time that I saw it out of the window of my in law’s apartment or when we drove over it.

"You have no idea", it seemed to say as we took the jitney across to catch the subway. It bothered me that something as simple as walking across a bridge had haunted me in such a way for such a long time. It was kind of like when you see an older person on the bus, you know that they've led an interesting life and you want to ask about their story, but you don't because it seems like a strange thing to do while riding the bus.

This past Memorial Day weekend, I put my 5 year long procrastination streak to rest and, along with my wife, walked the length of the GWB from New Jersey to New York.

As soon as we left the apartment building, we knew that we were in for a treat as the wind was blowing quite stiffly in the parking lot. Without any wind breaks around, we would surely encounter some impressive gusts once on the bridge.

We made our way to the GWB pedestrian walkway access point and noticed that there were a lot of cyclists about. These weren't the kind of casual cyclists that have a basket on the front of their bike that could hold something as practical as groceries or something as inviting as a puppy. These were the weekend warrior type cyclists that don't believe in kickstands, eat power gel and wear lycra riding suits plastered with corporate logos and team names. As far as I can tell, these cyclists use the GWB for training on how to deal with gusts of wind while cycling.

The cyclists were riding in groups of four or more and I knew that the walking path couldn't be very wide so I mentally prepared for a bit of bicycle dodging. At points, the walking path narrows, so that pedestrians and cyclists engage in a complicated dance of sorts where the cyclist tries not to fall down while the pedestrian tries not to get knocked over. Amazingly, everyone’s self preservation instincts kicked in during these dances, and I didn’t see anyone sustain any injuries.

The GWB is one of the busiest bridges in the world, spanning the gap between Fort Lee, NJ (home to more banks than you can shake a stick at) and Washington Heights, NY for nearly 30,0000 vehicles daily. The toll to cross the bridge from NJ to NY is currently $8 for 2 axle vehicles paying in cash (crossing the other way is free), so that would be close to $120,000 daily income before maintenance, payroll and those sorts of things. Still, that's not too shabby. There is no fee to cross the bridge on foot or bicycle.

The GWB is an industrial gray that you can't quite appreciate until you are right there walking it. It's almost as if it could completely disappear against the sky if the conditions were right. Walking to the first tower, the enormity of the bridge finally started to sink in.

As I craned my neck back in order to see the top of the tower from where I was standing at its base, I remember thinking how amazing it is that something like this could ever be built in the first place. I don't know how much steel and concrete are in the GWB, but I'm sure that the statistic would be impressive.

After the novelty of walking on the bridge started to fade into the background, I was able to focus on the scenery beyond the steel around me. The Palisades Interstate Park which runs along the Hudson River on the NJ side, gently jutted out, buildings emerging beyond the slope of trees, just past the cliffs while Manhattan, still in the distance, came just a little closer with each passing step. Nothing of the famous skyline stood out to me aside from the enormity of it all along with the smallness of myself.

At about the halfway point on our journey across the bridge, my wife casually mentioned that jumpers sometimes come to the GWB to end their lives. The practical downside of this is that whenever a jumper is present, it brings traffic on one of the busiest bridges in the world to a crawl.

My mind began to wander and I looked over the edge of the railing, thinking that this is the view that people have seen right before they ended it all: the noise of the cars, the gusts of wind and the unrelenting water of the Hudson so very far below. A jump from this height would certainly do the trick.

While doing a bit of research for this article, I thought I'd look up how many suicides per year took place on the GWB, but I didn't find anything very helpful. There was reference to some 2003 data that mentioned the figure 10 jumpers per year, but I couldn't find anything more recent or more concrete.

What I did find was an article about suicide tourism. It turns out that about 10% of the suicides in Manhattan are by non-residents. It's believed that not all of these people traveled with the intention to kill themselves, but I'm sure that some of them do. The more I thought about it, the more I thought that suicide tourism sounded like a plot from a science fiction movie about a dystopian future. The tag line could be: Suicide Tourism- It’s the way to go!

As the walk continued, we realized that, due to an unfortunate footwear choice, we would be unable to walk across the bridge to return to Fort Lee. On the short walk to the GWB bus terminal at W 175th Street to pick up the jitney back, I saw a dead pigeon in a gutter while across the street I saw a miniature schnauzer that was just happy to have a building to pee on.

After catching the first jitney across the GWB, we sat in reflection of our small adventure. The small bus starkly contrasted the airiness of the walk that we had just taken. The smells of a thousand people, accumulated over untold time, confined to the small bus attacked us while we remained captive in our uncomfortable seats. Being there just didn't feel right while the wind was blowing outside; it didn't feel natural. I looked out to the pedestrian/biking path at the cyclists and I fully appreciated what they had.

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