clean the world

On a BUSI­NESS trip, Shawn Seipler found IN­SPI­RA­TION in a ho­tel BATH­ROOM. To­day, his so­cial en­ter­prise is SAV­ING lives – with waste TOI­LETRIES.


Every day, mil­lions of peo­ple wake up in an un­fa­mil­iar bed. Ideally, they’ve had a great night’s sleep, as they’ve gen­er­ally paid hand­somely for the priv­i­lege of spend­ing the night in a ho­tel or mo­tel. But it’s not what hap­pens dur­ing the night that had for­mer tech ex­ec­u­tive Shawn Seipler in­trigued: he was more cu­ri­ous about what hap­pened when guests stepped into the shower.

Or, more ac­cu­rately, what hap­pened af­ter­wards when the tiny, briefly-used por­tions of soap and sham­poo were left be­hind in the bath­rooms.

As a vice pres­i­dent of sales and mar­ket­ing for a tech­nol­ogy com­pany, Shawn spent about 150 nights a year in ho­tel rooms by his cal­cu­la­tions. It didn’t take long for him to won­der, “What hap­pens to all those lit­tle bars of soap af­ter I check out?”

One ho­tel visit, he called the front desk one day to pose that ex­act ques­tion, and was in­formed that the used toi­letries were binned. This lead him on a re­search mis­sion, where he soon dis­cov­ered the star­tling truth.

“More than two mil­lion bars of ho­tel soap are thrown away every day in the United States,” Shawn shares.

That fig­ure can likely be tre­bled (and then some!) if you take into ac­count the num­ber of soaps, body gels and sham­poos dis­carded glob­ally. With tens of mil­lions of prac­ti­cally-new hy­giene prod­ucts lost every week, he was mo­ti­vated to look for a so­lu­tion – and his so­cial en­ter­prise, Clean the World was born.

“When peo­ple first hear about Clean the World, they are of­ten shocked by the amount of waste that these hy­giene ameni­ties con­trib­ute to land­fills,” says Shawn, who launched it in 2009, out of his one-car garage in Or­lando, Florida. “Af­ter learn­ing that hand-wash­ing with soap could po­ten­tially pre­vent the deaths of mil­lions of chil­dren every year, I looked into launch­ing a busi­ness to re­cy­cle soap and save lives. Peo­ple are also chal­lenged to think about the ar­eas of the world where soap isn’t as ac­ces­si­ble or af­ford­able as most of us are ac­cus­tomed to.”

It started as a self-funded en­tity, with Shawn re­cruit­ing friends to help re­pur­pose used soap into fresh bars. Potato peel­ers, meat grinders and cook­ers were their tools of the trade, and he be­gan sourc­ing soaps by reach­ing out to in­di­vid­ual ho­tels and ask­ing for dona­tions of un­wanted toi­letries, des­tined for the dump­ster.

Soon, he dis­cov­ered that soap re­cy­cling on a grander scale had the po­ten­tial to be­come a supremely com­pli­cated process. “There’s a huge move­ment to­wards sus­tain­abil­ity and cor­po­rate so­cial re­spon­si­bil­ity, es­pe­cially in the hospi­tal­ity in­dus­try, so get­ting ho­tels to agree to do­nate their par­tially used soaps and bot­tled ameni­ties was the easy part,” he says.

“Soap is ex­tremely ex­pen­sive to ship, re­cy­cle and distribute, so get­ting it from the ho­tels to our re­cy­cling fa­cil­i­ties and back out to at-risk chil­dren and fam­i­lies across the world is costly. Used hand soaps and bot­tle ameni­ties must be sani­tised, re­cy­cled and re­pur­posed. It’s not easy sav­ing lives.”

The chal­lenge was mam­moth, to say the least. But Shawn was de­ter­mined to work out how to turn used toi­letries into new hope, in a way that could make an im­pact in a big way. To date, Clean the World has dis­trib­uted more than 44 mil­lion bars of soap to over 127 coun­tries. And, they’re not done yet.

A key to their suc­cess has been Shawn’s early de­ci­sion to pur­pose­fully treat the busi­ness as ex­actly that – a busi­ness. “When I started Clean the World, I felt it was im­por­tant to run it like any other busi­ness, even though it’s a non-profit en­tity,” he says. “I in­vested money to pur­chase in­no­va­tive re­cy­cling equip­ment to de­liver a best-in-class pro­gram.”

They also cre­ated com­pre­hen­sive re­cy­cling pro­grams for ho­tel part­ners in­clud­ing staff train­ing, mar­ket­ing ma­te­ri­als, and soap col­lec­tion bins. >

More than two MIL­LION bars of ho­tel SOAP are thrown away EVERY DAY in the UNITED STATES.

Hy­giene-re­lated ill­nesses are the lead­ing causes of death for chil­dren glob­ally, claim­ing the lives of over 5,500 chil­dren un­der the age of five every sin­gle day.

Since then, the home-based ini­tia­tive has grown to in­clude re­cy­cling fa­cil­i­ties and op­er­a­tions cen­tres in Shawn’s home city of Or­lando, along with hubs at Las Ve­gas, Hong Kong, Mon­treal, Lon­don and Hanover – all big cities, where tourism num­bers are high and ho­tels are pro­lific, and used sham­poos and bars of soap are in con­stant sup­ply.

To­day, large-scale in­dus­trial pro­cesses are used to finely shred the col­lected soap be­fore it’s run through ma­chines that re­move resid­ual bac­te­ria. “Every bar of soap that comes into our fa­cil­ity goes through an ex­ten­sive clean­ing process,” Shawn con­firms. “We thor­oughly sani­tise the soap and melt it down, and make brand new soap out of it.”

The fresh bars are then pack­aged up and dis­trib­uted, land­ing in places as di­verse as home­less shel­ters in the United States, through to ru­ral com­mu­ni­ties in Asia and Africa

The group part­ners with aid and non-gov­ern­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tions to help with dis­tri­bu­tion and ed­u­ca­tion – both of which are cru­cial to the or­gan­i­sa­tion’s suc­cess.

They rou­tinely send teams into at-risk com­mu­ni­ties around the world, to per­son­ally hand-de­liver hy­giene prod­ucts and teach the lo­cals about the im­por­tance of clean­li­ness and hy­giene.

“Hy­giene-re­lated ill­nesses are the lead­ing causes of death for chil­dren glob­ally, claim­ing the lives of over 5,500 chil­dren un­der the age of five every sin­gle day – more than AIDS, malaria, and tu­ber­cu­lo­sis com­bined,” says Shawn. “Stud­ies have proven that hand­wash­ing with soap is the sin­gle most ef­fec­tive way to pre­vent those deaths, re­duc­ing mor­bid­ity rates by 50 per­cent or more.”

With Clean the World, the goal is to im­prove global health by de­liv­er­ing soap, hy­giene sup­plies, and hy­giene ed­u­ca­tion to the world’s most vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple.

To­day, the en­ter­prise part­ners with over 5,000 ho­tels and has nu­mer­ous hospi­tal­ity part­ners around the world, and 50 full-time, global em­ploy­ees.

“Since we launched, we’ve dis­trib­uted more than 40 mil­lion bars of soap and di­verted 14.8 mil­lion pounds of ho­tel waste from pol­lut­ing land­fills in North Amer­ica,” says Shawn. “We also op­er­ate Soap in Schools hy­gie­n­ee­d­u­ca­tion pro­grams in Kenya, Tan­za­nia, In­dia, Haiti, and the United States.”

In Oc­to­ber 2018, it was an­nounced that hospi­tal­ity chains Semi­nole Gam­ing and Hard Rock would do­nate 30,000 con­tain­ers of soap, sham­poo, shower gel and body lo­tion for dis­tri­bu­tion to vic­tims of Hur­ri­cane Michael, through Clean the World’s dis­tri­bu­tion chain.

In ad­di­tion, the en­ter­prise en­sures com­mu­ni­ties have life­long ac­cess to soap and proper hand­wash­ing be­hav­iours through their Soap in Schools pro­gram, hy­giene kit dis­tri­bu­tion, emer­gency re­lief ef­forts, and mi­cro-lend­ing pro­grams.

“The great­est chal­lenge Clean the World faces is get­ting these ba­sic ameni­ties into the hands of mil­lions of chil­dren and fam­i­lies across the world,” says Shawn. “We rely on gen­er­ous dona­tions from cor­po­rate spon­sors, part­ners and peo­ple to help us grow, so we can ul­ti­mately serve more peo­ple in more places.”

Since we launched, we’ve dis­trib­uted more than 40 mil­lion bars of soap and di­verted 14.8 mil­lion pounds of ho­tel waste from pol­lut­ing land­fills in North Amer­ica.

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