So­cial Jus­tice

One man’s idea has de­vel­oped into a global op­er­a­tion sav­ing thou­sands of lives each year, all with a hum­ble bar of soap.

Good - - CONTENTS - Words Lindy Davis clean­the­world.org

Sav­ing lives with a hum­ble bar of soap

S hawn Seipler was just an­other Amer­i­can cor­po­rate work­ing for an e-com­merce tech­nol­ogy com­pany. As a fre­quent busi­ness flyer he was used to trav­el­ling from his base in Florida and stay­ing in ho­tels across the United States sev­eral days a week.

“One evening I was in Min­neapo­lis on busi­ness and af­ter a shower I had this thought and im­me­di­ately called the front desk. I asked them what they did with the soap once I checked out of my room. They in­formed me they threw it away,” says Seipler.

More than three mil­lion bars of par­tially used soap are dis­carded from ho­tels world­wide ev­ery day. The idea that the soap was con­sis­tently be­ing wasted got Seipler think­ing. He did some re­search to see if it was pos­si­ble for soap to be safely re­cy­cled.

“My eureka mo­ment came once I dis­cov­ered WHO [World Health Or­ga­ni­za­tion] stud­ies done in Africa and Asia that showed 9000 chil­dren un­der the age of five were dy­ing ev­ery day from pneu­mo­nia and di­ar­rhoeal dis­ease. I couldn’t help think­ing if we could some­how get that soap to these kids, it would make a dif­fer­ence,” he says.

The stud­ies showed these were lead­ing causes of death among chil­dren world­wide. How­ever, it was also ac­knowl­edged if chil­dren were given soap and taught proper hy­giene prac­tices, the rate could be halved.

Seipler re­searched the fea­si­bil­ity of re­cy­cling soap and trans­port­ing it to the coun­tries most in need. It be­came clear that soap alone wouldn’t be enough and an ef­fec­tive hy­giene-ed­u­ca­tion kit needed to ac­com­pany it. He re­signed from his sales and mar­ket­ing job and ap­proached sev­eral ho­tel chains with his idea. The Mar­riot Prop­er­ties were early adopters of the pro­gramme, fol­lowed by Walt Dis­ney World Re­sorts. He spent the next few months out­fit­ting a small re­cy­cling unit in his garage and get­ting vol­un­teers on board with the idea.

With the help of busi­ness part­ner Paul Till, he pur­chased a com­mer­cial meat grinder, four large cook­ers and other nec­es­sary equip­ment re­quired for re­cy­cling soap.

“My fam­ily were re­ally sup­port­ive. We lit­er­ally sat on plas­tic buck­ets around a cen­tral ta­ble for hours at a time us­ing potato peel­ers to scrape away the out­side layer and sur­face clean the soap. We’d shovel it into the meat grinders, be­fore putting it into the cook­ers to ster­ilise and re­duce it to a paste.”

The paste was then tipped into wax pa­per moulds and left to dry be­fore be­ing cut, pack­aged and boxed for dis­tri­bu­tion.

It wasn’t long be­fore the project out­grew the space and they moved into larger fac­tory premises in down­town Or­lando. Clean the World (CTW), founded in 2009, be­came the first and only high-vol­ume global soap re­cy­cling pro­gramme.

“We hadn’t in­tended for CTW to be­come a non-profit, we started out as a ‘green’ re­cy­cling busi­ness with an up­side to im­prov­ing the qual­ity of life for chil­dren. It be­came ob­vi­ous we couldn’t sus­tain it as a com­pletely vol­un­tary pro­gramme so we changed our busi­ness model to a so­cial en­tre­pre­neur­ial one, where ho­tels pay a fee to part­ner with CTW.” Ho­tels pay per month to have their used soap re­moved and in do­ing so, be­come part of an al­tru­is­tic global project.

Seipler says with­out a doubt CTW was the big­gest risk he’s ever taken. “I’d given up my job run­ning a global sales team to put all my time into CTW. I sold all my stock op­tions and blew my kids col­lege fund. The fi­nal point came when my car was re­pos­sessed. Ba­si­cally I spent ev­ery dol­lar to make this thing hap­pen.”

His re­solve paid off. To­day, CTW dis­trib­utes 40 mil­lion soap bars ev­ery year to 115 coun­tries. A re­cent WHO study shows the in­fant mor­tal­ity rate for chil­dren un­der five suf­fer­ing from di­ar­rhoeal dis­ease has re­duced by 35 per cent.

“We live in a world that’s full of chal­lenges and if we want sus­tain­able so­lu­tions to our prob­lems, we can’t rely on our gov­ern­ments. Char­i­ties and NGOs are on the job, but we re­ally need the pri­vate sec­tor to step up,” says Seipler.

“I re­ally wanted to help make a change in this world and the soap project was some­thing I be­lieved could hap­pen.”

“Char­i­ties and NGOs are on the job, but we need the pri­vate sec­tor to step up...”

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