What Happens to Hotel Soap After We Check Out

Even for those of us that do our best to reduce waste have left behind some gently used bars of soap in hotel rooms before. Here’s a common scenario:

We check into a hotel room, and after using the bathroom we crack open the new soap bar so that we can wash our hands. Later we hop in the shower and open the other bar of soap in there.

When we check out the next day, those two bars of soap, almost completely new, are left behind only to be thrown in the trash and replaced with new, unopened bars for the next guest.

Wash and repeat for the 4.6 million hotel rooms in the United States, and you start to understand the scale of this waste. An estimated 2.6 million bars of soap are thrown away each day in the US alone.

It’s not just the waste that’s the issue. While those tons of soap are being wasted and thrown in the trash, millions of other people in the world are struggling with diseases that can be prevented if they only had better access to soap.

This crazy imbalance was not lost on Derreck Kayongo, a Uganda native and former refugee, when he arrived in the US and stayed in a hotel room. Having come from a place where soap was scarce, he had the simple idea that hotels could collect all of this soap and instead of throwing it in the trash, the soap could be given to people that really need it.


It is such a simple yet innovative idea. Take waste and turn it into something life-saving. And with that, his idea for Global Soap Project was born and in 2009 the organization started with Derreck collecting soap and running things from his basement. To date, Atlanta-based Global Soap Project has distributed new soap through relief efforts and hygiene education programs in 32 countries on four continents.

Not only does the program repurpose a huge amount of potential waste, but according to UNICEF, handwashing with soap is among the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrhoeal diseases and pneumonia, which together account for 3.5 million child deaths annually.

And while millions of hotel soap bars are going to waste, more than 2.5 billion people, or 38% of the world’s population, lack adequate sanitation facilities. Handwashing with soap can reduce incidence of diarrhoea by 44%.

It’s not just a lack of soap causing the issue–extreme poverty, inequality, wars, disasters, lack of education, and a lack of infrastructure are just some of the underlying issues. But instead of waiting until those issues are all solved, organizations like Global Soap Project are making an immediate impact.


In an interview with CNN, Kayongo said:

“The issue is not the availability of soap. The issue is cost. Make $1 a day, and soap costs 25 cents. I’m not a good mathematician, but I’m telling you I’m not going to spend that 25 cents on a bar of soap. I’m going to buy sugar. I’m going to buy medicine. I’m going to do all the things I think are keeping me alive.

“When you fall sick because you didn’t wash up your hands, it’s more expensive to go to the hospital to get treated. And that’s where the problem begins and people end up dying.”

By recognizing a relatively easy solution to a complicated problem, Global Soap Project has partnered with a number of organizations to distribute soap and education to those in need. In recognition of their good work, Derreck and was named one of the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2011, and was honored with this video:

Also in 2011, Global Soap Project received a #1.3 million investment from Hilton Worldwide to improve its processing capabilities.

Global Soap Project is not the only organization to tackle this issue. Clean the World is another organization started by two individuals, Shawn Seipler and Paul Till, in 2009 to address similar issues.

Since inception, CTW has collected and distributed more than 12 million bars of soap to more than 65 countries worldwide including Zimbabwe, El Salvador, Nicaragua, Swaziland, Mali, Mongolia, Uganda, Honduras, and Romania while diverting more than 1.4 million lbs. (700 tons) of hotel waste from polluting local landfills.

Kudos to the people that decided to take action and start doing something about all of this waste and to the current employees, volunteers, and supporters of these great organizations.

How We Can Help
Both organizations offer a variety of ways to get involved, from cash donations and volunteering to helping raise awareness at hotels to encourage participation–or at least connecting with them on Facebook and Twitter. Be sure to visit http://www.globalsoap.org/ and http://cleantheworld.org/ to connect. I, for one, am going to make sure I mention this at all of my hotel stays going forward.

As for the bits of soap that you might typically throw away at home, neither organization accepts those due to the recycling process.

However, if you are keen to use all of your soap at home instead of throwing out that last 10% of the bar, I highly recommend this method that we use here at A Shifted Perspective headquarters. It simply requires fashioning a pouch in which you can place pieces of soap that not only reduces waste, but creates quite a nice foamy soap experience. The whole process is outlined here.

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