The afterlife of hotel soap

A Guatemalan child holds bars of soap Clean the World distributed in 2015.

Story highlights

Proper hygiene could help save lives, the nonprofit's founder says

His group melts down and sterilizes used soap to ship to places that need it

CNN  — 

Have you ever thought about what happens to that bar of soap in your hotel room you only used once? Shawn Seipler did while visiting Minneapolis in 2008.

“I called the front desk and asked,” he says. “They said they threw it away.”

That’s when the idea for recycling soap came to him.

Pointing to World Health Organization statistics on childhood mortality, which lists diarrhea among the leading causes of death for children under 5, Seipler argues proper hygiene using soap could help save lives.

“Next thing you know, me and the Puerto Rican half of the family were sitting on upside-down pickle buckets in a garage in Orlando with vegetable peelers, cooking soap,” he says.

Seipler’s charity, Clean the World, was born.

How soap is recycled

The recycling process is simple. Clean the World provides collection materials, training and packaging to a hotel’s housekeeping staff. The staff then collects soap, shampoo, conditioner and body washes and ships it all to the charity’s recycling centers.

The items are melted down, sterilized and reformed into new bars.

Today, Seipler runs five recycling plants to collect soap and bottled amenities from approximately 4,000 partner hotels, including Walt Disney Parks and Resorts.

The recycling service costs hotels 75 cents per room per month and allows Clean the World to distribute its soap around the globe, Seipler says.

Lather it up

Clean the World has distributed 40 million bars of soap to 115 countries since 2009, Seipler says. The organization has operations on the ground in countries including Kenya, Tanzania and Haiti, but they also partner with NGOs such as Children International and Rise Against Hunger to reach more locations and people.

For organizations that want to get involved closer to home, Clean the World sells hygiene kits that companies can donate to charities. The kits can also be specialized to meet the needs of women, children or veterans.

Looking to the future, Seipler says he has big plans.

“Immediately, our next step is to expand into mainland China and the Middle East,” he says.

He is also interested in having his organization help small soap makers in impoverished parts of the globe.

“We are looking at foundation micro-enterprising – how do we help [local soap makers] create a demand for their soap or become re-sellers so they have an economic value,” he explains.

Seipler credits the industry he now serves with his success.

“This year we had $20 million combined revenue and 70 global team members,” he says. “We were in a garage eight years ago. That is a real testament to the hospitality industry and their commitment to making an impact.”