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Recycling Hotel Soap

By Kim Robson:

Recently, we discussed the pros and cons of bar soap vs. liquid soap. But what happens to all those little bars of soap in the hotels where we stay? Most are used only once or twice, and while we love to take home those little bottles of shampoo and hand lotion, we nevertake home the rest of that bar of soap. In fact, in five-star hotels, the staff are required to replace your soap daily, even untouched or unwrapped bars.

So where do all those once-used or never-used bars go? Sadly, in combination, travelers and hotels in the U.S. toss out approximately a million bars a day, and about five million bars a day worldwide. That’s a LOT of wasted soap going into landfills.

More and more hotels are joining a program that collects used hotel soap, melts it down, then makes new soap to send to impoverished countries in order to fight diseases around the world. An Orlando-based company called Clean the World(CTW) is saving landfill space locally, and saving lives globally.

Founder Shawn Seipler’s former job with a tech company required him to be on the road nearly five months out of the year. One night he pondered the fate of a bar of soap he’d used only once, so “I called down to the front desk and asked what they did with all the leftover soap,” Seipler says. Of course, it was just thrown into the garbage.

Recycling & Repurposing

Seipler researched the situation and was appalled at the scale of waste in the U.S. “That,” he says, “is when I learned about rebatching.”

Rebatching is a method of converting old soap into fresh soap by melting it down, reforming it, and turning it back out like new. In his research, Seipler learned that, worldwide, thousands of children die every day from common conditions including pneumonia and diarrhea, both highly preventable with proper hygiene, according to the World Health Organization.

“Then it was just a matter of figuring out how to get the soap to recycle, and getting [it] into their hands,” he said. “It was an aha moment, and I realized this was my calling. I called my Puerto Rican relatives and they said ‘let’s do it.’ Pretty soon we were sitting in my garage on pickle buckets with vegetable peelers, cooking soap.” Soon, Seipler had his company up and running.

Hotels partner with Clean the World and pay them fifty cents per room per month to have their used soaps recycled. CTW provides bins, pickup, delivery, shipping, and training of the housekeeping staff. CTW then trucks the bins to one of the company’s processing plants in Orlando, Las Vegas, Hong Kong, Montreal and India. In giant, fragrant warehouses, the hotel soaps are combined with reject soaps from cosmetics companies like Unilever. Workers melt down the soap, reform it, and pack the new bars into boxes that they send to NGOs and charities including the Red Cross and Salvation Army.

Soap is Just the Beginning

Clean the World doesn’t stop at soaps. They also partner with hotels to recycle those little unused or partially used shampoo, conditioner and body wash bottles. At the warehouse, the bottles are examined by one of 20,000 CTW volunteers. If they’re at least three-quarters full, the bottles are cleaned and included in hygiene kits along with toothbrushes, toothpaste, hand sanitizer and other items which are sent to homeless shelters around the world. Empty bottles are recycled.

All this amounts to a whole lot of hygiene supplies. Last year Clean the World distributed 400,000 hygiene kits and made more than seven million bars of soap, including half a million bars that were sent to Haiti and the Bahamas after Hurricane Matthew.

Since Clean the World started to recycle soap seven years ago, we have seen a worldwide decline in the number of child deaths. Still, some 16,000 children under the age of five die every day, a quarter of whom are succumbing to pneumonia and diarrhea. “That’s still about one every fifteen seconds,” Seipler adds. “So we still have a lot of work to do.”

Who’s Participating?

Currently, about 5,000 U.S. hotels are participating in the program, including all of Disney’s properties, most of the Las Vegas strip, and dozens in New York and Chicago. Internationally, participation includes most of the Macau strip, as well as hotels in Hong Kong, London and many other popular destinations. The company provides hotels with placards and information cards to put into rooms so guests know their unused soap is going to a good cause.

In addition to hotels, United Airlines has agreed to donate unused items from its first class passenger kits, including sleep masks and ear plugs — a godsend for people staying in bright, noisy shelters. Seipler also hopes to enlist cruise lines and possibly hospitals in the future. “There’s a whole world of hotels out there we can get to start donating,” he says. “Right now, we’ve got twenty percent of all hotels in the U.S. That’s a lot of room to grow, and a lot of soap to make.”

The next time you travel, check to see if your hotel is part of Clean the World. If so, that soap you don’t use might go toward saving a life halfway around the world. They always are grateful for donationsor volunteersas well.

About Kim Robson

Kim Robson lives and works with her husband in the Cuyamaca Mountains an hour east of San Diego. She enjoys reading, writing, hiking, cooking, and animals. She has written a blog since 2006 at kimkiminy.wordpress.com. Her interests include the environment, dark skies, astronomy and physics, geology and rock collecting, living simply and cleanly, wilderness and wildlife conservation, and eating locally.

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