Lifestyle See and do

Soap in the trash now cleans the world

Written by Ben Blaschke

Mothers the world over have been telling their kids for years that the food they’ve left uneaten on the dinner plate could feed a starving child. Although it’s nothing more than a guilt trip aimed at encouraging kids to finish their food, it also happens to be true and we suspect that if there was a feasible method of transporting those leftovers to people in need, parents wouldn’t be so concerned about a half-eaten meal.

Now apply the same concept to soap and the bars you leave in hotel bathrooms every time you check out. That’s the thought that crossed Shawn Seipler’s mind while sitting in a Minneapolis hotel room in 2008.

Clean the World Executive Director and co-Founder Shawn Seipler (right) chats with WGM CEO Andrew W Scott at the Venetian Macao.

Clean the World Executive Director and co-Founder Shawn Seipler (right) chats with WGM CEO Andrew W Scott at the Venetian Macao.

“I called the front desk and asked them what happens to the bar of soap when I’m done using it,” Seipler told WGM during a visit to Macau this week. “They said, ‘We throw it away’ and I thought that was really interesting so I did some research and figured out that in the US we throw away about a million bars of soap every day and globally we throw away about five million bars a day.

“I thought that was a huge amount of waste and there had to be something we could do about it. Then I did some more research and found out that pneumonia and diarrheal disease are the number one and number two leading causes of death among children under the age of five worldwide. They kill a child every 15 seconds … and those two diseases could be cut in half if we just gave them soap and proper education on how and when to use it.”

The revelation led Seipler to form Clean the World with the aim of collecting these discarded soap bars and bottles from hotel rooms across the United States, treating and recycling them, then sending them out to children and families around the world. Incredibly, in the five years since, Clean the World has distributed more than 17 million bars of soap to children and families in 96 countries. They have also become the largest global recycler of hotel amenities with more than 2,000 hotel partners and 500 event partners worldwide.

“We began on a small scale just doing Florida locally but our first international distribution was to Haiti in mid-2009,” Seipler explained. “What was interesting about that was we received a some media coverage around our distribution to Haiti, then four months after that was when the devastating Haiti earthquake happened. Four million went homeless, several hundred thousand died but because of what we had done a few months earlier, the hospitality industry knew that if they wanted to help Haiti they could do so through Clean the World.

“That’s when we really began to take off in North America and having thoughts about spreading to the rest of the world.”

Given that death from diarrheal disease is particularly prevalent in south-east Asia, it’s no surprise that Clean the World has found support from the hotels of Macau and Hong Kong. Leading the way is Sands China Ltd, who now provide 100 percent of their used soap from more than 7,000 hotel rooms in Macau to the cause. Clean the World has already taken 20 tonnes of soap from Sands Macau properties alone while Wynn Macau and the Mandarin Oriental are also on board.

“The great thing about Sands is that it hasn’t just been about Sands properties, it’s been about getting all of Macau on board and the entire region recycling soap,” Seipler said. “We’ve got a socially responsible program happening and that’s very important to us because there is a lot of competitiveness within the industry but seeing them come together to help others is amazing. That spirit of working together to help others around the world is very encouraging. It’s nice that folks can come to Macau, have fun, enjoy themselves but then give back just by having a shower.”