How Clean The World Nonprofit Recycles Hotel Soap For Those In Need

When hotel or motel guests check into their rooms, they at least expect to be greeted with a clean space, a made bed, and soap in the bathroom.

But what happens when you leave that soap behind?

They usually end up in the trash, said Shawn Siepler, founder of Clean the World, a nonprofit founded in 2009 that recycles bar soap from more than 8,000 hotel partners, including Marriott International and Walt Disney Resorts, for whom they need it. By collecting, melting, reforming, and packaging partially used soap left behind by hotel guests, the nonprofit organization has distributed nearly 70 million bars of soap in more than 120 countries, including Romania, where many Ukrainian refugees have arrived.

Clean the World is currently focused on reusing bar soap in seven warehouses around the world. Businesses can sign up for the program online and receive boxes to collect waste from their properties. Full boxes are shipped to the nonprofit’s warehouses.

The organization now has about 60 employees, but its beginnings were much more humble, with Siepler and a small group of family and acquaintances scraping up used soap by hand with potato peelers in a garage in Orlando.

“The first time the police came by the garage, they wanted to see what all of us Puerto Ricans were cooking. So I gave them a tour,” Siepler said during a video interview.

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

He was traveling: New York on Monday, Chicago on Tuesday, St. Louis on Wednesday, Los Angeles on Thursday, and vice versa, and two clients he personally managed were Target and Best Buy, both based in Minneapolis. He was in a Minneapolis hotel room when I came up with the concept of Clean Up the World.

In Minneapolis, I had to increase my alcohol intake to stay warm. So it was one of those nights where I’m like, “What about the soap?” and called the front desk to ask. And they said they threw it away, they actually told me to have another cocktail.

I was doing very well, but I felt like wanting to do something on my own and think about sustainability and green technology as an entrepreneur. And that led me to ask, “What about the soap?” I was looking for items that could be recycled.

I am originally from South Florida, born and raised, and we were collecting soap from hotels around the Orlando airport area in my cousin’s garage. We all sat on upside down pickle buckets with potato peelers, scraping the outside of the bars of soap to clean the surface.

My other cousin was in the meat grinder and was grinding it up. And then we had these Kenmore kitchens, and you cooked the soap. All the impurities would bubble up, and you’d clean them up, and it would become this paste.

Then we would make big wooden molds for soap, and the paste would dry the next day. We would cut the bars with wire, take them out and put them on racks.

We had to play music: salsa and merengue. Of course, we couldn’t get adequate power when the meat grinder was on, so the power would go out every 30 minutes.

We launched in the garage in February 2009.

We were distributing only to local charities in Orlando, and then we had the opportunity to go to Haiti in July 2009. We took 2,000 bars of soap and walked into a church that has 10,000 people. I remember saying, “We’re going back. Let’s get more soap. I promise.”

When we made that trip, our local Fox affiliate came with us and documented our work. When it aired in New York, it just so happened that Katie Couric was doing the CBS Evening News and a senior producer called us in late August or September 2009 and said, “We want to do a story on you.”

That was what forced us to leave the garage and go into the warehouse of a friend of ours. He gave us a little corner where we set up our operations.

We’ve been there since September 2009, and we started getting a lot of hotels contacting us from outside of Orlando, so that’s when we started setting up a shipping process to have the containers shipped to us from the hotels. About three months later, the Haiti earthquake occurs. We had just started moving into our first facility, a 3,000 square foot facility in Orlando, and the Haiti earthquake helped propel us into more advanced machines because demand really took off for our program.

We have the same kind of machines that a soap maker uses. When we get the soap, the first thing we do is pass it through what is called a plotter, and the end has a very fine filter that pushes out all the soap. And when the soap comes out, the filter catches the hair, paper and all the things on the surface.

That heat and that action sanitizes the soap, while the guys and gals at our facility, whom we call soap whisperers, have to feel the batch to see if it has the right moisture level so it doesn’t crumble when it goes into manufacturing. . or is not too wet.

We regularly send our soap to a third-party lab that tests it to ensure everything is clean.

If you stay in a hotel that doesn’t use our program, take the soap home, keep it out of landfills, use it in your homes. Unwrapped soap can be donated to a local homeless shelter or a local charity that you support. We would rather have a better life for it.

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