But then there’s a third way, a winding journey slick with suds and good intentions.
Volunteering with Clean the World: How to get there, where to stay and more
It’s a way that came to Florida business traveler Shawn Seipler as he pondered the soap in his Minneapolis Holiday Inn room one day in 2008. Curious about the ultimate fate of the bar he’d barely used, he trotted down to the front desk to ask about its post-checkout destiny. It would be tossed, he learned. It was an answer he’d hear 30 more times during an informal poll of hotels conducted with his friend Paul Till.
The American hospitality industry is a big waster, creating nearly 200 million metric tons of solid waste per year, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Of that heap, only 30 percent, a few shovels’ worth, is recycled.
That wet bar of soap in a Midwestern hotel led Seipler and Till to found Clean the World, another blade in the hotel industry’s growing “green” movement. (Add to the burgeoning field: liquid dispensers in the showers, smaller soaps and less-full bottles of toiletries.) The Orlando-based organization opened in 2009 with the twin goals of protecting the environment and improving sanitation in developing nations to help combat the biggest health threats to children: acute lower-respiratory infection and diarrheal disease.
Since then, the group has partnered with nearly 1,300 lodgings in North America and Puerto Rico and has handed out more than 10 million bars of soap in 45 countries, including El Salvador, Zimbabwe, Mongolia and Romania. The soap you used after, say, a romp in Disney World could wind up in the clutches of a child in Mali or a family in Haiti.
“We knew that 1 million soaps were getting thrown away every day and that there were 9,000 children dying a day,” said Seipler. “This lights the fire to try to help and save them.”
Of course, recycling hotel toiletries isn’t Clean the World’s own eco-invention. Hotels have been doling out reprocessed soaps and toiletries for years, but on a much smaller scale. A quarter-century ago, according to Pat Maher, environmental consultant to the American Hotel & Lodging Association and a former Marriott executive, properties would allow their housekeeping staff to take the items home to use or share with their neighbors. At the turn of this century, a Texas organization started distributing hotel hygiene products to Mexican communities. Grass-roots groups also collected amenities and handed them out to local homeless shelters and hospitals.
Clean the World “took a lot of the little things that were going on and stepped them up,” said Maher. A critical expansion, considering that there are 4.8 million guest rooms in the United States, each one outfitted with an array of toiletries.