NEW YORK—Have you ever wondered what happens to the soap you used and left in the hotel room after checking out?
One frequent business traveler did and dug deeper.
Shawn Seipler was the vice president of a global technology company, managing sales around the globe and traveling at least four times a week.
On one of his business trips, he called the front desk to ask what would happen with the soap that he barely touched. He was told that the soap would be thrown away—a fact that sparked his curiosity.
Seipler, after some research, figured that if all the hotels around the world were throwing soap away, collectively they would be disposing of more than 2 million pieces every single day.
“That struck me,” he said.
Seeing all that waste inspired him to do research about how to recycle soap. He realized that quite simply, the scraps could be melted down and re-formed into new bars.
Then, he read that 9,000 children under the age of 5 die every single day from hygiene-related illnesses.
He said, “If we just gave them soap and teach them how to wash their hands, we could cut those deaths in half.”
That was the moment he knew he had to do something.
In a single-car garage 10 years ago, Seipler started Clean the World, with one goal in mind: “We were going to save millions of children’s lives around the world.”
With the help of his family, eight of them started scraping soap with potato peelers, cooking it, grinding it, and re-forming it into new soap bars.
“We would go knock on the doors of hotels around Orlando and ask [for] their soaps and their bottled amenities,” Seipler said. “We would ask them to give things to us for free. And they did.”
Before long, as the business developed to create a sustainable model, hotels were asked to financially participate in the program, which was quite new for the hospitality industry.
“You can’t get here without challenges,” he said.
Soap Changes Lives
In July 2009, Seipler made his first international trip to Haiti—that was when he got to witness how grateful and happy the mothers and children were after receiving their free gift of soap.
Seeing how meaningful the soap was for them, “[It] was really the moment for me where everything kind of went from my mind really into the heart, and it all just came together,” he said.
“It was really crystal-clear that what we are doing is amazing, is going to have an incredible impact.”
That motivated him even more to continue the work he was doing.
“We’ve impacted the lives of 10 million people around the world. We’ve diverted 20 million pounds of waste,” he said. “In those 10 years, the death rate [of] children under the age of 5 dying to hygiene-related illnesses has reduced by 60 percent.”
Now, Clean the World has recycling centers in the United States and Hong Kong. The nonprofit organization has partnered with 8,000 hotels across the globe and recycles waste for almost a half-million hotel rooms daily.
“We’ve always been grounded in the mission and in the result of what we’re doing,” Seipler said. “And I think that’s helped us get through some of those tougher times.”
On Oct. 15, during Global Handwashing Day, the hospitality company Hilton opened ‘The World’s Most Valuable Collection at the Soap Museum” in New York’s Hudson Yards, to shed light on hygiene issues and celebrate the expansion of Hilton’s global soap recycling program, which partners with Clean the World.
Seipler had the heart to change the world, and all it took was a discarded bar of soap.
Next time you check out of a hotel, spare a thought for the barely touched bar of soap left behind in your room. It could just be on its way to saving a life.