Day 6

'Wasted': Have you ever wondered what happens to your half-used bar of hotel soap?​

Clean the World recycles hotel soap, makes new soap and gives it to people in need to prevent hygiene-related illnesses.
Children wash their hands after receiving a hygiene kit containing soap. A team from Clean the World teaches the children how to properly wash their hands. (Clean the World)

Welcome to the sixth and final instalment of 'Wasted,' a Day 6 series about garbage and what we do with it. In this week's episode, we're taking a look what happens to hotel soap.

In our series "Wasted," we've already looked at greening plastic toys, China's ban on low-grade foreign recyclables, e-waste, thrift shops and plastic food packaging. This week, we look a little thing that can have a huge effect: hotel soap.

In some countries, soap is a lifesaving product.- Pierre Daigneault, executive director, Clean the World Canada

In 2008, Shawn Seipler was working for a global technology company. It was a job that involved a lot of travelling and Seipler often spent four nights a week in different hotels.

New soap comes off the line after being sanitized and recycled by Clean the World. (Clean the World)

Like many travellers, Seipler used the small bars of soap provided by the hotels he visited. Seipler was thinking about the fact that after every visit he left behind at least one used bar of soap, so one night he called the front desk of the hotel where he was staying to ask what happened to that soap. He was told that the soap is thrown away.

Seipler then called approximately 15 other American hotels and asked what happened to their soap, and how many bars of soap they threw away each day.

After some quick math, Seipler estimated that more than five million bars of soap were being thrown away by U.S. hotels every day.

Seipler went on to found Clean the World, an organization that recycles used hotel soap and shampoo, repurposes them into new soap, and then distributes the new bars of soap to people in need in an effort to fight hygiene-related illnesses.

Soap and shampoos from hotels await recycling after being sorted into bins. (Clean the World)

How soap is recycled

Clean the World, which is based in Florida, has a worldwide reach and a relatively new office in Montreal.

Pierre Daigneault is the executive director of Clean the World Canada. He says it's important to note the soap is cleaned and sanitized before it's recycled.

Worldwide, we actually recycle over 60 million kilograms or so that are diverted from the landfill.- Pierre Daigneault, executive director,  Clean the World Canada

"We sanitize the soap. Then we shred the soap we collect," explains Daigneault, who says the shreds are then reduced to a powder. "And at the end we come out with brand new bars of soap."

A Rohingya refugee child at the Balukhali refugee camp demonstrates the best way to wash hands. (Indranil MukherJee/Getty Images)

"Here in Canada," says Daigneault, "we are mandated to introduce this program of soap recycling to the Canadian hotels."

Daigneault says there are approximately 300 hotels across Canada that are part of the Clean the World program.

"It's a matter of … the hotel to know about this program. Once they know about it, for them it makes sense, considering the fact that the only other solution existing is to throw those soap and bottles into landfill."

At the moment, there is not a Clean the World soap recycling facility in Canada. But now that so many hotels have signed on to the program in Canada, a recycling facility may soon be in the works.

For now, soaps from these hotels are stored in a warehouse, awaiting the recycling process.

"Worldwide, we actually recycle over 60 million kilograms or so that are diverted from the landfill."



Giving back

"Once the soap is actually recycled it is distributed through different channels around the world, different countries around the world," says Daigneault.

"We gave over seven million bars of soap in 2017, to more than 100 countries," he adds. "In some countries, soap is a lifesaving product."

"We bring a program to teach them the best hygiene practices. So we give the soap but we also teach them what to do with it ... We have people go on the ground that go into schools and teach the best hygiene practice to the children in the schools."

Daigneault says Clean the World also provides soap in the countries where it's generated. So in Canada, soap will be donated to food banks, shelters and local organizations that help people in Canada.

"So it's everybody who's in this situation, actually."

(Clean the World)

To hear the full segment with Pierre Daigneault, click the 'Listen' button at the top of this page.

Click here for Part One, Two, Three, Four and Five of 'Wasted,' our series about trash — how we generate it, what happens to it, and how we can generally be better at dealing with garbage.