Full disclosure: I love hotel soaps and have been known to wrap up a gently used bar of Malin + Goetz or Miller Harris and take it home. But I don’t always and I’ve wondered – what happens to the hundreds of thousands of lightly used soaps and shampoos hotels collect each week?
Landfills are the final resting place for most. But green-minded hotels looking for alternatives to the trash bin are turning to recycling organizations like Clean the World, based in Orlando, and Global Soap Project, based in Atlanta. The recyclers collect used soaps from hotels, sanitize them and distribute them to people in need in US homeless shelters and overseas.
Hotel soap recycling is in the news. On Earth Day last week Starwood Hotels & Resorts Worldwide announced an agreement with Clean the World that could bring as many as 500 hotels into the soap-redistribution fold. Starwood’s brands, which touch a lot of bases, include The Luxury Collection, St. Regis, Westin, W, Meridien, Sheraton, Four Points, Element and Aloft.
Just two years in business, Clean the World has teamed with more than 1,000
properties, including individual Marriotts, Hiltons, Wyndhams and the San Francisco-based Joie de Vivre group. But Starwood, with some 176,000 rooms in North America alone, is their biggest corporate catch yet.
Recycling hotel soap seems a win/win proposition. With 4.6 million hotel rooms in the US, between 1 and 1.5 million bars of soap are tossed out daily, according to the organization. The result is 380 tons of waste destined for landfills each year. And that’s before shampoo, conditioner and shower gel bottles are added to the mix.
Meanwhile, diarrheal disease caused by lack of sanitation is the world’s second largest killer of children, resulting in 9 million deaths a year, according to the World Health Organization. But studies show simple hand washing with soap could prevent 60 percent of those deaths. “We’re trying to create a hygiene revolution,” says company co-founder Shawn Seipler, dubbed the Pied Piper of Soap by CBS News.
Countless nights in hotels as road warriors gave Seipler and company co-founder Paul Till, both former corporate salesmen, the idea of recycling hotel soap and giving it to the needy.
To date, the organization has distributed more than 8 million soap bars in the US as well as more than 40 countries including Haiti, Uganda, Zimbabwe, India, Honduras, Mexico, Albania and following the recent earthquake, Japan.
Clean the World charges hotels 65 cents a room to collect, clean and redistribute soaps and shampoo bottles, according to USA Today. Hotel staff deposit used soaps, shampoos and conditioners into individual bins, collected weekly and shipped to recycling plants. Heavily used soaps are cooked to remove impurities and re-cast into two-ounce bars. Lightly used soaps — 90 percent of those collected — are steam-cleaned after soaking in a sanitizing solution.
Though a non-profit, the company, with participating hotels in 48 states and Canada, plans to initiate a for-profit branch to sell its services to hotels. Among other things, the money would create localized recycling plants, supplementing those in Orlando, Las Vegas, Vancouver and Toronto.
At present 26 New York City hotels participate in the program, not counting the Starwood additions. Among them areMorgans, 70 Park Avenue, Ink48, the Muse, Hudson, Royalton, the Sherry Netherland, the Peninsula, the Benjamin, the Mandarin Oriental, the New York Palace, the Chambers, the Duane Street and select branches of Holiday Inn Express and Hampton Inn.
Global Soap Project, also a nonprofit, operates in much the same way. Participating hotels hail from 30 states and Canada and include three hotels in New York City – the Greenwich Hotel, Hotel Mela and the MAve.