By letting guests opt out of towel cleaning in the name of sustainability, hotels have been able to cut costs. They’re now extending this logic to shampoo, by replacing single-use shampoo containers with wall-mounted dispensers.
Tiny shampoo bottles are a high-waste product, since the bottle is thrown out if any of it is used, and the amount of plastic required per unit of shampoo is higher when the bottle is smaller. A dispenser can be cleaned off and topped up, at a lower marginal cost—and with less attention paid to keeping a stable inventory of small bottles. When Marriott started a plastic waste reduction program, they estimated it would cut their plastic use by 30%, eliminating 500 million bottles each year.
Shampoo dispensers, like pillow spray, were popularized by hotels but have started moving into homes as well. Wall-mounted dispensers don't just reduce physical clutter, but visual clutter, since they mean replacing a product that has a label with a dispenser that doesn't. Much like cereal storage containers), shampoo dispensers are a sort of in-home ad blocker, replacing a callout to a brand with a more minimalist display. Brands know that an appealing package can increase sales, and then increase usage after the sale; for customers who don’t want to be pitched products while they shower (even products they like), dispensers are a good solution.
Shampoo dispensers are part of a long-running evolution in how liquid consumer packaged goods get dispensed: when shampoo was first mass-produced in the early 1900s, bottles had unscrewable tops, followed by push buttons, then pumps. Single-serving dispensers may expand soon, into products like mouthwash; it’s already one of the popular features of the increasingly popular toothpaste tablets. Covid also affected the supply for dispensers, since it led to much higher deployment of hand sanitizer and touchless dispensers, and that manufacturing capacity can be redirected to other products afterwards.
There's a continuous tradeoff between usability, the cost of materials, and designs that increase usage and thus increase.