Hope on a Rope

January 3rd, 2011 by Andrea Bennett

Some new answers about where your used hotel soap goes.

Brought to you by Liberty Mutual's
The Responsibility Project

According to one estimate, the United States hotel industry throws away about 800 million bars of soap each year – that’s as many as 2.6 million bars a day. If you marvel at this unbelievable waste, most notably seen in the individually wrapped bars of hotel soap that hardly get used, you’re not alone.

For starters, a Ugandan man living in Atlanta received quite a bit of attention this past year for the Global Soap Project, a non-profit organization he started in which gently used hotel soaps are sterilized, melted down, reshaped into bigger bars and shipped to refugees in Uganda to help stop disease.

Derreck Kayongo, a long-time anti-poverty advocate, founded the organization after living in the U.S. for 20 years and still being amazed by a “subtle display of American wealth” – our seemingly endless supply of soap. An Associated Press interview with Kayongo revealed that in Uganda, a bar of soap can run the equivalent of 10 American cents, whereas many refugees subsist on roughly a dollar a day. Meanwhile, a 2004 report from the World Health Organization estimated that roughly 15 percent of deaths among Ugandan children under the age of five were the consequence of diseases that could have been prevented by hand sanitation.

The Global Soap Project’s end-of-year report noted that it had, among other things, collected more than 50 tons of soap, produced 30,000 new bars, and distributed 5,000 to Kenya, 2,000 to Uganda, 1,000 to St. Lucia, 900 to Swaziland, 1,600 to Haiti and 20,000 to Ghana.

The idea wasn’t unprecedented for Kayongo, whose own family once ran a successful soap business and printing press in Uganda before losing everything under the rule of former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin, but it’s also one that has quietly been gaining momentum before the Global Soap Project even launched.

In fact, according to the AP story, soap recycling is approaching fad status in the hospitality industry: “Patrick Maher, a consultant to the American Hotel & Lodging Association, said…’It’s one of the new things this year.’”

Clean the World, an Orlando nonprofit, recycles old hotel soaps into new soap and shampoo for impoverished countries and for homeless shelters in the U.S. Today, about 400 hotels and B&Bs collect used soap for Clean the World and donate it to recycling centers in Orlando, Las Vegas, Toronto and Vancouver. The list of participating hotels varies from the toniest of haute hotels to the budget brands – from the St. Regis in Aspen to the Super 8 Motel in Daytona Beach.

Clean the World cooks the soap in its Florida lab to remove impurities before reshaping it into two-ounce bars, according to the group’s website.  Since its start, the group has put more than 6 million “new” soap bars into use in 30 countries, diverting more than 390 tons of waste from landfills. In fact, so many hotels are joining so quickly, the website seems to be having a hard time keeping up with its own numbers (the most recent press release reported about 140 more hotel partners than the website’s FAQ).

Months prior to the devastating earthquake that hit Haiti, Clean the World partnered with RockResorts International – a Colorado hotel chain – to donate thousands of bars of soap to the impoverished country. One shipment, according to a RockResorts press release, included 100,000 bars of soap.  And when arrival to Haiti proved difficult for other logisticians, Royal Caribbean Cruise Lines offered cargo space to ensure bars of soap donated by casinos from Las Vegas would reach those in need.

I’m guessing these organizations aren’t the only ones with creative ideas for old soap. Have you heard of any others? Got one of your own? Share them here.