Do you ever wonder what happens to those barely-used little bars of soap and bottles of shampoo you leave behind in hotel rooms?
At TakeOffeh.com, we just figured most of it got thrown out, in another example of a wasteful society. But we were pleased to find out from National Geographic Traveler that a 15 month-old non-profit group is working to change that.
Florida-based Clean the World collects, sterilizes and recycles old hotel soaps, shampoos and conditioners into clean products, then distributes them to impoverished countries and U.S. homeless shelters. The primary goal is to help developing countries combat diarrheal diseases that cause nearly 1.8 million childhood deaths per year. As well as clean drinking water sources, regular hand-washing can help avoid these unnecessary deaths.
Like so many great ideas, this one seems like a no-brainer, but Clean the World is the result of a great deal of effort by founders Shawn Seipler and Paul Till, who, like many hotel guests, asked themselves what happened to all that abandoned soap, found out, and then did something about it.
Today, about 175 hotels and B&Bs collect used soap for Clean the World. Since the group’s inception, it says it has recycled 4 million soap bars and 200,000 pounds of shampoo and conditioner. In its Florida lab, Clean the World cooks the soap to remove impurities before reshaping it into 2-ounce bars and sending it off to where it’s needed. There are also recycling centres in Orlando, Houston and Atlanta.
The hotels participating in the program are doing so mostly on an ad hoc rather than chain-wide basis. The list of donors runs the gamut from a five-star Ritz-Carlton to a mid-market Quality Inn, a boutique hotel in Times Square to a business-oriented Embassy Suites hotel. The effort seems to be gaining momentum, with Walt Disney World Resort hotels pledging their support in February.
Clean the World has received a lot of press and TV coverage in the U.S. of late, mostly focused around an airlift of supplies to Haiti. But even before the earthquake Clean the World was there, distributing 200,000 bars of soap in 2009 alone. 8,000 Haitian children die annually from diarrheal disease; a terrible number that Clean the World says could be reduced by 60% through proper hand washing.
Let’s hope this is one idea that ‘goes viral’ – there’s absolutely no reason why barely-used product should be bubbling up in landfill sites.