As hospitality companies strive to increase sustainability and lessen their environmental footprint, hotels across the country and around the world are recycling used soap and other discarded amenities from guest rooms to reduce waste and even save lives.
Through Clean the World, an Orlando, Fla.-based social enterprise, hotels recycle soap and bottled shampoo, conditioners and lotions previously adding to the waste stream. The company, says founder and CEO, Shawn Seipler, is remanufacturing used soap and distributing it to impoverished people fighting diseases like pneumonia and cholera in countries in Africa, India and Central America.
Partnering since 2011, Las Vegas Sands (LVS), which owns hotels in the U.S. and Asia, including the Venetian and Palazzo resorts in Las Vegas, recycles with Clean the World as part of its global corporate program, Sands Cares, which works to reduce its global environmental impact.
Thus far, Clean the World has collected 166,225 pounds of soap from LVS properties worldwide, says Kristin McLarty LVS director of corporate communication. That’s the equivalent of 886,540 bars of soap to children and families around the globe. LVS also has diverted 49,347 pounds of bottled amenities, that’s 526,368 bottles of lotion, shampoo and conditioner for reuse by Clean the World.
McLarty says the company has diverted 108 tons of waste from landfill.
“We like to look at it as kind of a win, win, win,” she says. “The recycle, the reuse and then, of course, making a difference with the planet by keeping that from the landfills. So it’s been a great partnership and it’s been increasing since we’ve been with them.”
Lifecycle of the Soap
Hotel housekeeping collects discarded soap and bottled amenities in Clean the World-provided bins. Staff pre-sorts the items into bins–green for soap, blue for bottles. Next, as bins are nearing full, the recycler sends a prepaid UPS Carbon Free label for shipping to Sysco Guest Supply distribution centers across the U.S. that partner with Clean the World.
At Sysco facilities, bins are weighed and diversion rates calculated, before heading to one of Clean the World’s recycling centers in Orlando, Las Vegas or Hong Kong. Equipment grinds the soap into a powder; it’s sterilized and remanufactured into a 3-ounce bar of soap stamped with a Clean the World Logo and boxed for distribution by non-profit volunteer groups.
Clean the World keeps full or nearly full bottles for its One Project, where volunteers pack hygiene kits that include the soap and amenities for families in the U.S. who experience house fires, floods or other personal tragedies. The remaining bottles are sent to waste-to-energy facilities in South Florida and Utah.
The process today, Seipler says, is a long way off from where it began in a single-car Orlando garage in 2008, when they sat on upside-down pickle buckets, scraping the outside of soap bars with potato peelers and grinding soap in meat grinders. They melted it down in four Kenmore cookers he bought from Sears for $59.99. They were regularly priced $79.99, Seipler says.
They considered selling the repurposed soap, but soon realized preventable diseases were killing 9,000 children a day worldwide. Instead of charging for soap, they would charge for collecting and recycling it.
“Here we were, looking at a dozen studies that said if we gave them soap and taught them how and when to wash their hands that we could cut those deaths in half. At the same time, we figured out we’re tossing a million bars of soap every day and there are some easy ways to recycle it.”
Still Saving Lives and the Planet
Today 4,000 hotels recycle with Clean the World. Since its humble beginnings, the company has distributed 25 million bars of soap to kids and families in 99 countries and while diverting 7 million pounds of waste.
This month, Clean the World merged with Global Soap Project in Atlanta. Under the new structure, Clean the World Foundation manages soap and bottle collection and recycling in North America. Clean the World Asia oversees soap recycling in the Asian-Pacific region. Hilton Worldwide was the first major hospitality company to partner with Global Soap back in 2011 and will continue recycling under Clean the World.
As part of its global waste solutions program, RePurpose, 850 Hilton hotels are participating in the soap recycling program, and Hilton Worldwide properties have donated nearly 600,000 pounds of soap, the equivalent of one million new bars.
“Our partnership with Clean the World is a testament to the efforts of our hotels around the world to reduce our impact on the environment,” said Maxime Verstraete, vice president of sustainability, Hilton Worldwide, in a press release.
“Whether it’s soap or any other product that’s left behind, our guests count on us to manage our waste responsibly and develop solutions that enhance the guest experience,” she said.
Seipler estimates hotels toss 5 million bars of soap a day worldwide, while 2 million children a year die from preventable diarrhea and respiratory illnesses. The good news is, says Seipler, it’s working. He says fewer children under the age of five are dying–6,000 per day from 9,000 worldwide.
“That’s still one child every 15 seconds. Our goal is to eradicate those deaths,” he says.
“I think that’s due to a lot of organizations, no doubt, but that’s absolutely due to 25 million free bars of soap being flooded and all the education that we’ve driven. So all the hospitality industry and those folks who have supported it can feel good that we are making a difference around the world, and we are saving lives.”