Clean the World with recycled amenities
Hotels are discovering they can save money on trash removal, save lives and help victims of natural disasters, at the same time.

More than one million amenity-sized bars of soap are thrown out daily by hotel and B&B housekeepers around the world. Increasingly, these half-used soaps, along with bath gels, shampoos and conditioners, are finding new homes thanks to Clean the World.

The largest and best known recycling program for hotel bathroom amenities, Clean the World collects, sanitizes and redistributes soaps and other hotel hygiene items to the poor in 70 countries. Since 2009, the organization based in Orlando, Florida has distributed nearly 15 million bars of soap.

Clean the World also assists in disaster relief. In 2012 and 2013, Clean the World sent more than 20,000 hygiene kits and other cleaning supplies to U.S. victims of Superstorm Sandy in the Northeast and the Oklahoma tornadoes.

The program is mandated by Disney Resorts and Caesar Resorts, says Clean the World CEO Shawn Seipler, who co-founded the group in 2009 after wondering what happens to all those products guest leave behind. Other participating properties range from four- and five-star chains including Peninsula, Four Seasons, Ritz Carlton and Mandarin Oriental to budget-priced chains such as Holiday Inn Express.

Chains such as Hyatt encourage participation without mandating it, said Marc Schneider, director of rooms at the Park Hyatt Beaver Creek, in Colorado. “Trash removal is tonnage. You pay to get rid of it either way, so you may as well recycle it and do some good,” he adds. To date, participating Hyatt hotels have collected 23,000 pounds, or close to 120,000 bars of soap, according to corporate spokesperson Katie Rakoff.

“Recycling partially consumed bars of soap is doubly impactful; we provide a basic necessity to communities lacking sanitation while reducing the overall waste stream from our hotel,” says Erin Osborne, representing Seattle’s Pan Pacific Hotel. Since joining the program in 2011, the hotel has donated more than 3,000 pounds of soap to create 16,000 new bars.

Currently, Clean the World recycles amenities from more than 2,000 properties in the United States, a total of nearly 400,000 rooms. Still, that’s just 8% of the total. The program recently launched in China, in an operational partnership with Sisco, to recycle amenities from Sands Macau and Disney Hong Kong, a total of more than 15,000 rooms. And there are plans to expand to Africa and South America.

They also work with amenity provider Gilchrist & Soames, and with the Professional Association of Innkeepers International, which represents thousands of individually-owned B&Bs. One participating B&B, Fairbanks House in Amelia Island, Florida, regularly drives a load of soaps to the Orlando recycling center.

“It’s a huge area of advocacy” both internally and externally, says Seipler. Internally, it’s a morale booster, especially for hotel employees originally from one of those 70 countries where the recycled amenities are donated to the poor. Externally, it is a positive example of socially responsible operation to market to individual guests and to meeting planners who look for “green” hotels and sustainable programs.

Clean the World’s Siepler says amenity donations from luxury properties are especially appealing, since they tend to hold their fragrance even after sterilization. “In many countries we distribute to, scent is more important than how effective it cleans. Thousands of people handed soap — the first thing they do is smell it.”

“Certainly what Clean the World is doing is admirable, but whenever possible we try to help and enrich the local community,” says Kerri Holden, a spokesperson for Four Seasons Austin. “As such, we donate soap and other toiletries to a local church that provides them to women and families in need. We are able to do this for free — versus Clean the World's nearly $3,000 annual fee for marketing — which allows us to allot that money toward other charitable causes important to the hotel.”

Last Updated: October 3, 2013