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

When hotel or motel guests check into their rooms, they are expected to at least be greeted with a clean space, a made-up bed and a bathroom.

But what happens when you leave that soap behind?

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

Clean the World is currently focusing on repurposing bar soap in seven warehouses worldwide. Companies can enroll in the program online and receive boxes to collect discarded products at their properties. Full boxes are shipped to the nonprofit’s warehouses.

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

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

The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.

I was traveling – New York on Monday, Chicago on Tuesday, St. Louis. Louis on Wednesday, Los Angeles, Thursday and back – and two clients that I personally managed were Target and Best Buy, both headquartered in Minneapolis. I was in a hotel room in Minneapolis when I came up with the concept of Clean the World.

In Minneapolis, my alcohol consumption was increasing to stay warm. So it was one of those nights that I’m like, “What happens to the soap?” and called to the front desk. And they said it was thrown away – they actually told me to have another cocktail.

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

I’m an original born-and-raised South Floridian, and we were collecting soap from hotels in the Orlando airport area in my cousin’s garage. We’d all sit around on the upside-down pickle buckets with potato peelers, and we would scrape the outside of the bars to soap the surface to clean it.

My other cousin was on the meat grinder, and he would grind it down. And then we had these Kenmore cookers, and you would cook the soap. All the impurities would bubble up, and you’d wipe them off, and it would turn into this paste.

Then we made big wood soap molds, and the paste would dry the next day. We’d wire-cut the bars, take them out and put them on racks.

We had music on – salsa and merengue. Of course, we couldn’t get the power right when the meat grinder was on, so the power would cut out every 30 minutes.

We launched the garage in February 2009.

We were just distributing local charities in Orlando, and then we had an opportunity to go to Haiti in July of 2009. We took 2,000 bars of soap and went to a church that has 10,000 people in it. I remember just saying, “We’re gonna come back. We ‘re gonna bring more soap. I promise. “

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

That ‘s what forced us out of the garage and into a warehouse of a friend of ours. He gave us a little corner spot where we set up our operations.

We were there from September 2009, and we started to get a lot of hotels contacting us outside of Orlando, so that’s when we started setting up a shipping process to get hotel bins shipped to us. About three months later, the Haiti earthquake hits. We have begun to move into our first facility, a 3,000-square-foot facility in Orlando, and the Haiti earthquake helped drive us into more advanced machines because the demand really took off for our program.

We have the same type of machines that a soap manufacturer uses. When we get the soap, the first thing we do is run it through what is called a plotter, and the end of it has a very fine filter that is pushing all the soap through. And when the soap is coming out, the filter is catching the hair, paper and all the surface stuff.

That heat and action disinfect the soap, while the guys and gals in our facility, who we call the soap whisperers, have the feel to batch themselves if it has the right moisture level so that when it goes into manufacturing, it doesn’t crumbling. or it’s not too wet.

We send our soap to a third-party lab on a regular basis that tests it to make sure it is all coming through clean.

If you are staying at a hotel that does not use our program, take the soap home with you, keep it out of a landfill, use it in your homes. Unwrapped soap, can be donated to a local homeless shelter or a local charity that supports you. We’d much rather get a better life for it.

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