Saving hotel soaps to end waste

Eve Troeh Jan 10, 2012

Jeremy Hobson: We all know you can recycle cans, bottles, boxes, and paper. But what about soap — like the bars of soap that you get at hotels, and only use a little bit of? Well as it turns out, recycled hotel soap is the latest frontier in corporate efforts to go green.

From the Marketplace Sustainability Desk, Eve Troeh reports.

Eve Troeh: When Derreck Kayongo came to the U.S. as a refugee from Uganda, a lot of American practices struck him as odd. His first time staying at a hotel, he wondered why the housekeeper replaced his bar of soap every day with a new one. So he asked the front desk.

Derreck Kayongo: What do you do with the partially used bar? He said we throw those out. I went back to my room and lost it. I understand what it means not to have amenities like soap. Soap is the first line of defense against germs and diseases.

Diseases that kill millions of poor people around the world and could be easily prevented. Years later, Derreck Kayongo has rented a warehouse in Atlanta. It’s full of huge bins, holding thousands of tiny soaps.

Kayongo: So each of these bins has half a ton.

His Global Soap Project collects them from hotels around the country. Volunteers scrape off the outer layer, grind up the soap underneath, and make new bars.

Kayongo: This is what we give to a family of four, and it lasts them about a month because take showers nots as often as we do, because of access to water and all those things.

The project’s been limited by shipping costs, for one. Soap is heavy — and Kayongo’s got just one grinder.

Kayongo: If I had five of these machines I would make a million bars.

A new partnership, with Hilton Hotels, might let him. The company’s offered not just soap, but expertise in global supply chains, and funding for equipment and transport.

Hilton’s vice president of sustainability, Christopher Corpuel says it’s not meant to sway individual customers to stay at his hotels. Environmental and social efforts give Hilton an edge for big corporate contracts.

Christopher Corpuel: Whether it’s meetings, events, large customers who do multiple rooms with us, those customers are wanting to know what we’re doing as a company as it relates to sustainability.

Because it helps those clients meet their goals and tell a good story, too.

I’m Eve Troeh for Marketplace.

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