I just returned from a quick vacation. A few days away, wandering around a city, and staying each night in a nice hotel. I will admit that while I notice the toiletries available in a hotel room, I completely take them for granted. I did wonder this time – staying in a very large hotel – just how much waste there might be. A quick search answered some of my questions and highlighted the impact one person who questions and acts can have on the world.
Packaged soap is the #1 most commonly used hotel amenity – 86% of guests who stay at a hotel for 1-2 nights use it. Yay for hand washing!
But talking about numbers, there are roughly 5 million hotel rooms in the United States alone. The pre-pandemic occupancy rate was about 66%, meaning hotels would go through 3.3 MILLION bars of soap DAILY. So what happens to leftover soap?
In 2008, tech executive Shawn Seipler asked that question, and his life changed. Shawn spent 150 days a year in a hotel for work. One night he wondered what became of unused hotel room soap. He called down to the front desk and asked a confused clerk who ultimately told him it was thrown away, that it all goes to the landfill.
Doing some quick math, Shawn soon realized the scope of how much perfectly salvageable soap was going to waste. Back home he gathered used soap from local hotels and he and some friends set up a workshop in a garage. Sitting on upside down pickle buckets, the crew scraped the outside of the bars off with potato peelers, ground them up in a meat grinder, and melted them down in slow cookers. The mixture was then poured into soap molds and dried overnight.
Best-case, Shawn and crew could turn out about 500 new bars of soap a day. What to do with them? Shawn learned that, at the time, about 9,000 children worldwide died from hygiene-related illnesses each day. Studies showed that regular hand washing could cut those deaths in half.
Shawn launched Clean the World, a non-profit designed to save hotel soap waste and turn it into something that could help save lives around the world.
He realized to have real impact he would have to scale up his operation, so he came up with an annuity model. Hotels would pay a small fee (50 cents to $1 per room, per month) to participate in a soap recycling program. They would receive bins to collect the bars and staff training. They also got impact reports, showing the social and environmental impact of their donations.
Today, Clean the World partners with 8,000 hotels – approximately 1.4 million rooms in total. Clients include major hotel chains like Hyatt, Marriott, and Hilton. They have a main production facility in Orlando and multiple satellite facilities.
Since 2009, Clean the World has collected 13 million pounds of discarded soap. They have distributed 68 million bars of reprocessed soap to 127 countries, and diverted 23 million pounds of plastic and soap waste from landfills.
One the repurposed soap is ready, Clean the World works with humanitarian organizations like UNICEF and Children International to determine where the soap is needed, then work with local clinics and schools where they distribute soap and teach kids hygiene.
As the largest hotel soap recycler in the world, Clean the World has helped lead to a 60% reduction in the number of children who die from diarrheal diseases each year.
Shawn has seen mothers cry with joy when they’re given soap. “I know it sounds funny,” he said, “but that little bar of soap on the counter in your hotel room — that thing can literally save a life.”
A tiny bar of hotel soap. A small, completely commonplace item that I’m sure many of us barely notice. How inspiring that the curiosity and problem solving and caring of one person has evolved to do so much – impacting lives and the Earth. Be inspired – one person can do so much, and let your curiosity be your guide!
Written by Michelle O’Brien, Manager of Marketing & Communications
Source: Crockett, Zachary. The surprising afterlife of used hotel soap. thehustle.co