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OPINION: Wooden Hotel Room Keys Are Stubborn.
They Splinter. They Break. Too Fragile!
By Kerry Dougherty, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.McClatchy-Tribune Regional News

Aug. 28, 2008 - DENVER

Here in the Mile High City, where Democrats boast that they're staging the "greenest national political convention ever," some hotels have switched from plastic to biodegradable wooden key cards to get guests in and out of their hotel rooms.

Temporarily, that is.

By next week, I bet most of this beaver food will be where it belongs. In the landfill of lousy ideas.

Wooden keys -- and I have one right here -- are about the same size as those durable, plastic credit cardlike keys that are used in saner places.

Only these are like George Washington's teeth. (Yes, I know his teeth were made of ivory. We're having some fun here.)

Trouble is, they don't open doors much better than George's choppers.

Many times, when walking the corridor of my hotel, I see frustrated guests locked out of their rooms and cussing their keys.

Wooden keys are stubborn. They splinter. They break. And they don't hold a magnetic charge.

"If it doesn't work, don't worry, we'll get you another one," the desk clerk assured me Saturday night as he handed me my wooden key, adding, "Be careful. They're pretty fragile."

Fragility. Just what you want in a hotel key.

At Sunday's green-themed extravaganza at the Red Rocks amphitheater, one of the speakers declared -- to thunderous applause -- that these biodegradable keys would keep 1,300 tons of plastic out of landfills.


A hotel key weighs almost nothing and can be reused. It's inconceivable that a city the size of Denver could discard more than a thousand tons of plastic hotel keys in a week. Perhaps last weekend, there was still a naive belief that the rest of the world would stampede to wooden hotel keys.

Not going to happen. The hotel I'm staying in reverts to plastic next week.

The convention has gone green in other ways, too. Using hybrid buses to ferry folks back and forth to the Pepsi Center makes sense.

College-educated Dumpster divers are another matter.

Marisa Katz, a manager with the program, told me these are green volunteers. About 950 of them are stationed around clusters of garbage cans. Their job? To ensure that conventioneers discard stuff in the proper bin: food in compost cans, aluminum and plastic in the recycling cylinder and trash in the landfill can.

These trash troops keep gloves handy in the event they have to fish through the refuse.

"Someone just dropped an apple core in the trash can, and I went in after it," declared Tina Jackson, a Colorado state employee who was perched next to a trio of cans in the convention hall.

Cutting back on waste is a good thing. But there's no point in taking it to nutty extremes, especially when you're trying to persuade voters to let you run the country.

Some of the greening of the convention reportedly came at the urging of Denver Mayor John Hickenlooper. I'd be careful before letting this man tell me what to do.

A billboard on a freeway skirting the city urges Denverites to conserve water. By recycling their underwear.

I'm not making this up.

It suggests that folks go four days in the same skivvies, turning them back to front and inside out before washing.

An idea only slightly worse than wooden hotel keys.

Kerry Dougherty, (757) 446-2306,


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Copyright (c) 2008, The Virginian-Pilot, Norfolk, Va.

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