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.