How Northern California hotels are turning leftover soap slivers into new bars for those in need

You may not be the last person to use that bar of soap you left behind in your hotel room.

That’s because lodging properties throughout the world, including several in the North Bay, are taking steps to turn used bars of soap into new ones. And instead of the garbage, renewed soap bars can land in the hands of impoverished people.

“It actually costs us money, but it is just the right thing to do,” said Gary Stymus, general manager of the Best Western Corte Madera Inn in Marin County. “It’s not really anything we have advertised. It’s just part of our general recycling program.”

More than 25 North Bay hotels have signed on with Orlando-based Clean the World and in total have collected 17,562 pounds of soap, one small bar at a time.

It’s easy to collect that much soap based on a 2019 study by Boston University revealing the No. 1 amenity hotel guests use is that supplied bar of soap.

North Bay properties

Chris Johansen, one of the owners of Embrace Calistoga, a five-room property in Napa County, has been working with Clean the World since opening n 2011.

“We pay the membership and we pay for the postage (to ship the soap to Florida),” Johansen told the Business Journal. “It’s not about saving any money. But it’s better than every week putting I don't how many plastic things in recycling, and the bar soap would go in the garbage to a landfill.”

Whether a product has obviously been used or not, each one is replaced at Embrace Calistoga.

At the Farmhouse Inn in Forestville in Sonoma County guests are encouraged to cut what soap they need from a long specialty bar and are then take what remains with them at the end of their stay.

The days of small toiletry bottles are numbered in California. Beginning Jan. 1, 2023, properties with more than 50 rooms cannot legally provide those tiny bottles of shampoo and the like. In 2024, the same law applies to all lodging establishments.

Wall dispensers will be OK, as will be bottles that are at least 6 ounces. Those tiny bottles that are the norm today usually don’t have more than 3 ounces of product.

Benefits of recycling

Since starting, Clean the World has delivered 70 million bars of soap to 127 countries.

“When we started the business in 2009, 9,000 kids a day were dying from pneumonia and diarrheal diseases. In 2020, before COVID, that was reduced by 65%,” founder Shawn Seipler told the North Bay Business Journal.

By supplying soap to countries with hygiene issues, Clean the World is helping people live longer, he said.

While the impact is huge, Seipler points out 2 million children in the world (pre-pandemic) were dying of diseases that could be prevented with proper hygiene.

He said it’s tough to assess the needs today, especially with the war in Ukraine and the ongoing pandemic.

“I would not say need is dwindling,” Seipler said. “There is always humanitarian responses that need to happen.”

Clean the World has provided hygiene kits to those at the U.S.-Mexico border, as well as to those affected by natural disasters, including wildfire victims in the North Bay.

During the height of the pandemic Clean the World reconfigured its hygiene kit building program. Pre-COVID this was often a team building exercise or volunteer opportunity offered to corporations. The nonprofit transitioned to sending kits directly to employees. The completed kits, which contain a slew of product, could then be given to a local charity, such as a homeless shelter or women’s center.

Hilton leads the way

The first hotel Clean the World worked with was Hampton Inn at the Orlando International Airport in 2009.

“We operate the largest soap recycling program in the hotel industry, with over 88% of our portfolio participating in soap recycling, including all hotels in the U.S. and Canada,” according to Hilton’s 2021 Environmental, Social and Governance Report.

Some regional Hilton properties participate, such as the Hilton Garden Inn Sonoma County Airport in Santa Rosa, and Embassy Suites in San Rafael and Napa, according to Clean the World.

Hilton has a company-wide goal to cut its environmental footprint in half by 2030.

“In 2021, we recycled our soap into more than 1.6 million bars that have been donated to those in need, diverting over 175,000 pounds from landfills,” the report states.

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