Make us your home page

Recycling hotel soap is helping to save lives

William Lowry, global operations director for Clean the World, distributes soap at a church in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, in July.

Clean the World

William Lowry, global operations director for Clean the World, distributes soap at a church in Cap-Haitien, Haiti, in July.

Sitting in his hotel room one night, tech executive and road warrior Shawn Seipler pondered a question: What happens to all those bars of barely used soap in the shower and sink?

He called a friend, Paul Till, who checked with 15 hotels in his hometown of Houston. Each said the little bars went out with the trash. Till also found on the Web that nearly 2 million children worldwide die each year from diarrheal disease. The best preventative: hand washing with soap.

Today, the men run an Orlando nonprofit called Clean the World that collects soap, plus tiny bottles of shampoo and lotion, from 125 hotels, mostly in Florida. The group distributed more than 230 tons of soap and bath amenities to Third World nations and U.S. shelters since starting in February.

Clean the World is riding a trend for hotels to act and look more green. Meeting planners ask what steps properties take to conserve energy, limit water use and reduce waste. State employee groups must hold meetings at properties that qualify under Florida's green lodging program.

"There's such a big movement in the hospitality industry to be eco-friendly," Seipler said. "They have all this soap and shampoo and tried to figure out what to do with it. We come in with a lifesaving solution."

An easy, cheap solution. Clean the World supplies videos and posters instructing housekeepers how to separate soap and "lightly used" liquids from trash. They dump the goods into hamper-sized plastic bins.

Staffers pick up the haul. Hotels pay 50 cents per room each month. At the InterContinental Hotel in Tampa's West Shore District, the bill comes to $150. "It's no-brainer," says Mary McCarthy, the hotel's engineering director.

Property owners can even claim the value of recycled soap and shampoo as a tax deduction, Seipler said, though some hotel accountants advise against it.

In a mini warehouse in Orlando, crews shave off the top layer of soap and run the bars through commercial food steamers for five minutes to kill bacteria. After bars dry, they're bundled into three-packs with plastic wrap.

Clean the World typically works through nongovernment aid agencies such as World Vision and Harvest Time International to get the soap and toiletries overseas. The group also leases space on ships out of Port Everglades in Fort Lauderdale to deliver directly to the Evangelical Church of Haiti and Cap-Haitien Health Partnership.

On a trip there, Seipler found soap selling for the equivalent of $1.80 for a three-pack in outdoor markets. Three-quarters of the nation's population lives on less than $2 a day.

Seipler and Till originally planned to recycle hotel soap for a profit but quickly learned there wasn't a market in the United States. They quit six-figure jobs to launch the nonprofit in February 2009. Seipler flew home to Orlando and began making cold calls, starting with a small $29-a-night motel in Kissimmee.

The manager agreed on the spot to sign up. So did bigger hotels around Orlando International: the Hilton Inn Select, the La Quinta, the Sheraton Suites. Since CBS Evening News ran a story in October, Seipler says, hotels have been seeking out Clean the World.

McCarthy, the InterContinental engineering boss, was tipped off by a public relations person for the owner, Destination Hotels. The chain wants to try out the nonprofit in Tampa and then perhaps expand to all 36 properties, she said.

Clean the World officials will make a pitch to the Pinellas County Tourist Development Council today for more hotels to sign up. Five Clearwater Beach properties already participate: the Sheraton Sand Key Resort, Hilton Clearwater Beach Resort, Shepard's Beach Resort, the Holiday Inn Beach Resort & Suites and Sandpearl Resort.

Steve Huettel can be reached at or (813) 226-3384.

Recycling hotel soap is helping to save lives 01/12/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, January 13, 2010 10:49am]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. New stores coming to Tyrone Square Mall, like Bath & Body Works


    Tyrone Square Mall will welcome a half dozen new stores, like Bath & Body Works and MidiCi's The Neapolitan Pizza Company, this summer.

  2. Target Corp. reaches $18.5 million settlement with 47 states over data breach


    Target Corp. has agreed to pay Florida $928,963 out of a newly-announced $18.5 million settlement over a huge data breach that occurred in late 2013.

    Forty-seven states and the District of Columbia have reached an $18.5 million settlement with Target Corp. to resolve the states' probe into the discounter's massive pre-Christmas data breach in 2013. 
[Associated Press]
  3. Gov. Rick Scott's family history of alcohol abuse could decide 'liquor wall' bill


    TALLAHASSEE — Gov. Rick Scott must decide Wednesday whether to let Walmart and other big-box stores sell liquor, and he says a factor in his decision is the history of alcohol abuse in his family.

    Florida Governor Rick Scott is considering a veto of a bill that would allow Walmart, Target and other big box retail stores to sell liquor. [Andres Leiva | Tampa Bay Times]
  4. As St. Petersburg's Jabil Circuit broadens its business, it shrinks its name to Jabil


    St. Petersburg's Fortune 500 company, Jabil Circuit, informally tossed aside the "Circuit" in its name some time ago. That's because circuit board manufacturing, the company's core business for decades, has been squeezed out by a broader business agenda ranging from consumer packaging to supply chain management.

    Jabil Circuit informally dropped "Circuit" from its marketing material and signage, like at its St. Petersburg headquarters, years ago. Now it's official.
[Times file photo]
  5. Kahwa Coffee to open second drive-thru store in St. Petersburg


    Kahwa Coffee will open its 12th location and fourth with a drive-thru in a former "farm store" in St. Petersburg.

    Kahwa Coffee will open its 12th location and fourth with a drive-thru in a former "farm store" in St. Petersburg.
[Times file photo]