Changing the Lives of Millions With a Bar of Soap

NEW YORK—Have you ever wondered what happens to the soap you used and left in the hotel room after checking out?

One frequent business traveler did and dug deeper.

Shawn Siepler was the vice president of a global technology company, managing sales around the globe and traveling at least four times a week.

On one of his business trips, he called up the front desk and asked what will happen with the soap that he barely touches.

The front desk lady told him that the soap will be thrown away—an interesting fact that made him curious.

Shawn said after some research, he figured that if all the hotels around the world were throwing their soap away, collectively they would be disposing of more than 2 million soap bars every single day.

“That struck me,” he told NTD.

Single-Car Garage

Seeing all this waste, he started to research on how to recycle soap.

He realised that quite simply, they could be melted down and reformed into new bars.

Then, he read that there are 9,000 children under the age of five dying every single day due to hygiene-related illnesses.

He said, “If we just gave them soap and taught them how going to wash their hands, that we could cut those deaths in half.”

That was the moment he knew he had to do something.

With the help of his family, eight of them started scraping soap with potato peelers, cooking it, grinding it, and reforming it into new soap bars.

All in a single-car garage, ten years ago, Siepler started Clean the World. He had one goal in mind: “We were going to save millions of children’s lives around the world.”

Shawn Siepler started his soap recycling in a single-car garage. (Clean the World)

“We would go knock on the doors of hotels around Orlando and ask them to take their soaps and their bottled amenities,” Shawn said.

At first, it was quite easy as they didn’t have a business model, “so we would just ask them to give us for free. And they did.”

“You can’t get here without challenges,” he said.

As they needed to develop the business and create a sustainable model, they asked the hotels to financially participate in the program, which was quite new for the hospitality industry.

Soap Changes Lives

In July 2009, Shawn made his first international trip to Haiti—it was also the trip on which he got to witness how grateful and happy the mothers and children were after receiving their free gift of soap.

Seeing how meaningful the soap was for them, “[It] was really the moment for me where everything kind of went from my mind really into the heart, and it all just came together,” he said.

Shawn Siepler visited Haiti in July 2009 and saw the impact of the free soaps. (Clean the World)

“It was really crystal clear that what we are doing was amazing, is going to have an incredible impact.”

And it motivated him, even more, to continue the work he was doing.

“We’ve impacted the lives of 10 million people around the world. We’ve diverted 20 million pounds of waste,” he said. “In those 10 years, the death rate, the children under the age of five, dying to hygiene-related illnesses has reduced by 60 percent.”

Now, Clean the World has recycling centers in the United States and Hong Kong. The non-profit corporation has partnered with 8,000 hotels across the globe and recycles waste for almost half a million hotel rooms on a daily basis.

“We’ve always been grounded in the mission and in the result of what we’re doing,” he said. “And I think that’s helped us get through some of those tougher times.”

On Oct. 15 during Global Handwashing Day, the hospitality company Hilton opened ‘The World’s Most Valuable Collection at the Soap Museum” in New York City’s Hudson Yards to shed light on the hygiene epidemic and celebrate the expansion of Hilton’s global soap recycling program that partners with Clean the World.

Shawn Siepler had the heart to change the world, and he did with a bar of soap.

Next time you check out of a hotel, spare a thought for the barely touched bar of soap left behind in your room. It could just be on its way to save a life.


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Author: Shiwen Rong