Have you ever stopped to think about all the millions of bars of soap and tiny, partially empty bottles of shampoo that are thrown away at hotels around the world each and every day? They are abandoned by the guests who just didn’t take the opportunity to use them completely.
The most common thing that happens to those leftover toiletries is that they end up in a landfill. The maids will pick them up and throw them in the trash bag and add to the environmental disaster that is unfolding in front of our eyes. What is worse is the fact that people worldwide are doing without proper sanitation while hotels in the developing world are tossing them to the curb.
According to the World Health Organization, millions of lives could be saved if people had access to proper sanitary items, such as soap. Most of us just take soap for granted and we use it on a regular basis, but we don’t think about how it is really a lifesaving item.
Shawn Seipler is a Florida resident and entrepreneur who had an idea that was just crazy enough to work. At the time, he was working for a major tech company with a high profile job but he left that world behind to recycle hotel toiletries. It was a career change that very few people would make but it was something that was an inspiration for him.
“I called the front desk of the hotel and asked them what happened to the soap when I was done with it,” he told Telegraph Travel. “Of course they said ‘well we throw it away’.”
Seipler decided he would do something about it. He did some rough calculations and found out that millions of partially used bars of soap were sent to the dump every day. He knew that poor sanitation was also killing people worldwide in developing countries.
That is when he had a ‘eureka moment’. In 2009, he started to collect the leftover toiletries from hotels in Florida and recycle them in his Orlando garage. In the process, Clean the World was created.
“We would sit around on upside down pickle buckets with potato peelers and scrape the outside of bars of soap to surface clean them,” Seipler recalled. “We had meat grinders to grind down the soap, cookers to cook it into a paste and soap moulds, which we poured the paste into.”
How many toiletries are wasted? The numbers are staggering!
2 million – the amount of partially used bars of soap thrown away every day in the US
40 million – bars of soap distributed by Clean the World to date
14 million – lbs of waste diverted from landfill by Clean the World
115 – countries that Clean the World operates in
1.8 billion – number of people globally who don’t have access to adequate sanitation
35 percent – of the developing world that has nowhere for healthcare professionals or hospital patients to wash their hands
At one time much of the work was done by him but now it is fully automated. This includes killing germs with an antibacterial agent. Clean the World has now been responsible for distributing over 40 million bars of soap to people in 150 impoverished countries.
Recycling centers are now cropping up in different areas including in Orlando, Montréal, Hong Kong and Vegas. A European location is currently being considered, even though they are already collecting items in Hanover and Birmingham.
Some of the larger hotel chains that contribute to this cause include Hilton, IHG and Disney. For a nominal fee, those companies have the opportunity to do the socially respectable thing.
“We now have 303 hotels participating in the programme,” said Paul Snyder, vice president of corporate responsibility at IHG.
“Clean the World has recycled 603,810lbs of soap and amenity waste from our hotels which has helped create more than 1.9 million bars of soap.”
The majority of the hotels that take part in the program are located in North America. Clean the World has also started collecting from European hotels which include the London Heathrow Marriott.
Hotels around the world are also taking steps to minimize waste. Individual toiletries have already been done away with in The Hoxton, which has locations in Amsterdam, Shoreditch and elsewhere.
“We’ve recently switched to using larger shampoo and conditioner dispensers in our rooms, which we refill to reduce waste,” said Alice Tate, Hoxton’s communications manager.
Refillable dispensers are now being used at some of the Marriott properties. Guests of hotels may take advantage of these benefits but they can also do their part. Quite simply, they can take some of the leftover toiletries with them and use them at home or donate them to a local shelter.