When hotel or motel guests check into their rooms, they expect to be greeted with at least a clean place, a ready-made bed, and soap in the bathroom.
But what happens when you leave that soap behind?
Shawn Sipler, founder of Clean the World, a non-profit organization founded in 2009, said they usually end up in the trash, recycling bar soap from more than 8,000 hospitality partners, including Marriott International and Walt Disney Resort, for those in need. The hotel distributed non-profits about 70 million times, through the collection, melting, refining and packaging of partially used soap left by guests. Soap in more than 120 countries, including Romania, where many Ukrainian refugees have arrived.
Clean the World currently focuses on reusing bar soap in seven warehouses worldwide. Companies can enroll in online programs and receive boxes to collect discarded products on their property. Complete boxes are shipped to non-profit warehouses.
The company now has an estimated 60 employees, but its beginnings were much more modest, with Mr. Sipler and a small group of family and acquaintances scraping hand-used soap with potato peelings in a garage in Orlando.
“The first time the police came to the garage, they wanted to see what we Puerto Ricans were cooking. So I gave them a tour, “Mr. Siepler said in a video interview.
The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Before you started Clean the World, you traveled a lot as a sales executive. How did your work lead you to nonprofit?
I was traveling – New York on Monday, Chicago on Tuesday, St. Louis on Wednesday, Los Angeles, Thursday and back – and the two clients I have personally managed are headquartered in Minneapolis, both Target and Best Buy. I was in a hotel room in Minneapolis when I came up with the idea of Clean the World.
In Minneapolis, I had to increase my alcohol intake to stay warm. So it was one of those nights that I thought, “What about the soap?” And call the front desk to ask. And they said it was discarded – they actually told me to have another cocktail.
I was doing very well, but there was an itch to want to do something on my own and think about sustainability and green technology as an entrepreneur. And it forced me to ask, “What happens to soap?” I was looking for items that could be reused.
The company started in your cousin’s single-car garage – tell me what those early days were like.
I was originally born and raised in South Florida, and we were collecting soap from a hotel near the Orlando Airport area in my cousin’s garage. We would all sit in the pickle bucket with the peel of the potato and scrape the outside of the soap bars to clean it.
My other cousin had a meat grinder, and he would crush it down. And then we had this Kenmore cooker, and you would be cooking soap. All impurities will bubble, and you will remove them and it will turn into this paste.
We would then make a large wooden soap mold and the paste would dry the next day. We would cut the bars into wires, take them out and put them on the rack.
We had to have music – Salsa and Merengu. Of course, we didn’t get the energy when the meat grinder was on, so the energy would be cut off every 30 minutes.
How did Clean the World operation become today?
We launched in the garage in February 2009.
We were just distributing to local charities in Orlando, and then in July 2009 we had the opportunity to go to Haiti. We took soap 2,000 times and went to a church where there are 10,000 people. I just remember saying, “We’ll be back. We will bring more soap. I promise. “
When we made that trip, our local Fox affiliate went with us and registered our work. When it moved to New York, it just so happened that Katie Currick was doing CBS Evening News and a senior producer called us in late August or September 2009 and said, “We want to do a job on you.”
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That’s what took us out of the garage and into a friend’s warehouse. He gave us a small corner space where we set up our operation.
We’ve been there since September 2009, and we started getting a lot of hotels to contact us from outside of Orlando, so when we started setting up a shipping process to send hotel bins to us. About three months later, an earthquake shook Haiti. We started moving to our first facility, a 3,000-square-foot facility in Orlando, and the Haiti earthquake helped us drive more advanced machines because demand really stopped for our program.
Tell me about the process of cleaning and reusing soap.
We have the same type of machine that a soap maker uses. When we get the soap, the first thing we do is call it a plotter, and at the end there is a very fine filter that pushes all the soap. And when the soap comes out, the filter catches hair, paper and all surface stuff.
That heat and action disinfect the soap, while the boys and girls at our convenience, whom we call soap whisperers, need to feel for themselves that the batch has the right moisture so that it does not break down during production. Or it’s not too wet.
We regularly send our soap to a third party lab which tests on it to make sure it is coming through all the cleaning.
What should travelers think when using soap in their hotel room?
If you are in a hotel that does not use our program, take the soap home with you, keep it out of the landfill, use it in your home. Wrapping soap can be donated to a local homeless shelter or to a local charity that supports you. We want to get a better life for it.