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Waste Not
Hilton Challenges Its Hospitality Teams to Step Up Soap Recycling

Hilton is ramping up its soap-collecting efforts around the world, with a goal of recycling 1 million bars for Clean the World to distribute on Global Handwashing Day (October 15).

Travelers — did you ever wonder what happens to those barely used hotel soap bars? The good news is that they don’t need to be thrown away. An NGO called Clean the World has been partnering with hotel chains around the world — including Caesars, Hilton and Marriott — and airlines including United to collect them, turn them into brand-new bars of soap and distribute them to people in need. Hilton was its first partner, and over the last 10 years they have worked to collect more than 7 million bars of soap and turned them into new ones, which are helping reduce hygiene-related illnesses for people in need around the world.

Hilton is now stepping it up a notch and challenging its Hilton Garden Inn, Hampton by Hilton, Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites and Home2 Suites teams to recycle 1 million bars of soap this year — the goal is for Clean the World to distribute the new bars on Global Handwashing Day (October 15). Hilton formally launches the challenge today, for Global Recycling Day, and will announce the initiative on Wednesday at the Hunter Hotel Conference.

We caught up with Bill Duncan, Global Head of Hilton’s All Suites and Focused Service brands; and Shawn Seipler, founder, Chairman and CEO of the Clean the World Foundation, to learn more about this initiative and its impacts.

How did Clean the World come about? How does soap recycling work?

Shawn Seipler: As a frequent business traveler, I started to wonder what happened to partially used soap and toiletries in hotels. Learning most of it was discarded was an “a-ha” moment.

From this realization, Clean the World was born with a mission to both save lives and protect the environment by providing recycled soap and other hygienic products to families in need. Over the last decade, we have led a global hygiene revolution, which has resulted in a 60 percent reduction in the rate of children under the age of five dying due to hygiene-related illnesses. This effort has also diverted millions of tons of waste from landfills.

The soap is made from discarded bars collected from hotels around the world, which are then crushed, sanitized and cut into new soap. It is an environmentally and hygienically safe recycling process and ensures that all bars of soap recycled and distributed around the world are safe and will not harm the end user due to disease or pathogens that can be transmitted in the absence of proper re-purposing. The soap goes through a strict process where its surface is cleaned; and then the soap is sterilized, ground and pressed into brand-new bars.

After the soap has gone through this rigorous sterilization process, Clean the World’s foundation either distributes the soap bars to individuals in need or adds them to hygiene kits along with shampoo, a toothbrush and a towel as part of its WASH (water, sanitization and hygiene) education and emergency relief efforts.

How big of a program is this? Last year, Hilton volunteers packed 110,000 recycled soap hygiene kits. What do you anticipate this year?

SS: Since 2009, we have distributed more than 48 million bars of soap to over 127 countries. We currently work with 8,000 hospitality partners to recycle soap and bottled amenities discarded by hotel guests. The partnership with Hilton is particularly special because Hampton Inn Orlando-International Airport was the first hotel to collect soap for Clean the World. When the All Suites brands adopted soap recycling as a brand standard in 2016, Hilton became the first hotel company in the industry to make a commitment of this kind to our global hygiene revolution. They’ve now doubled down, making soap recycling a brand standard for Hampton by Hilton and Hilton Garden Inn.

Bill Duncan: As Shawn mentioned, our brands certainly have an impactful partnership with Clean the World, and we have become leaders in the global hygiene revolution by educating and engaging our hotel teams and guests to eradicate preventable hygiene-related illnesses.

We’re proud of the impact Hilton has had to date through our soap recycling partnership with Clean the World, which includes diverting more than 2 million pounds of waste from landfills into recycled materials and contributing to the distribution of more than 7.6 million bars of recycled soap. We know there is more work to be done to eradicate hygiene-related illnesses and reduce waste.

Sadly, hygiene-related diseases (diarrheal and pneumonia) account for 1 in 4 child deaths worldwide and 2.3 billion people around the world still lack basic sanitation. This is why we are launching our Clean the World Challenge. We’re asking hotel owners and team members at Hampton by Hilton, Hilton Garden Inn, Embassy Suites by Hilton, Homewood Suites by Hilton and Home2 Suites by Hilton across the US, Canada, Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic to collect bars of soap left behind by guests, to be recycled into 1 million bars of new soap by Global Handwashing Day on October 15.

How do you identify where there is a real need for this soap and get it there?

SS: Clean the World has soap-recycling centers in Orlando, Las Vegas, Canada, Hong Kong, the Netherlands and Punta Cana [Dominican Republic]; and distributes recycled soap around the world in areas where there is a high risk of hygiene-related illness. This is done through NGO partnerships with organizations such as World Vision, Partners in Health, Harvest Time International, Children International, Samaritan’s Purse and Helping Hands for Relief and Development. In order to ensure that lasting health benefits and behavioral change in hygiene habits are truly achieved, we distribute primarily to partners who provide on-going, evidence-based educational programs focused on WASH (water, sanitation and hygiene). These partners must have the ability to track and share the outcomes of the provision of Clean the World soap in combination with the WASH educational programs they conduct. We also distribute hygiene kits domestically through emergency response and community engagement programming.

How did Hilton's partnership with Clean the World come about?

BD: At Hilton, we are always looking for ways to have a positive impact in the communities where we serve millions of guests each year. The partnership with Clean the World was a natural fit for Hilton. Clean the World’s mission aligns with Hilton’s Travel with Purpose initiative, our corporate responsibility strategy. By 2030, we promise to cut our environmental footprint in half to help protect the planet and double our social investment to drive positive change in communities. Hilton was the first hospitality brand to collect soap for the Clean the World Foundation. As part of our broader goals, Hilton has committed to send zero soap to landfills by 2030.

Serby Castro, a housekeeper at the Embassy Suites by Hilton Lake Buena Vista South in Orlando, took a personal interest in the Clean the World program, encouraging recycling at her hotel and even getting involved in an educational effort to increase engagement across the Hilton enterprise. Clean the World recently recognized Serby by renaming its soap recycling center in Punta Cana in her honor. This is just one of the many examples of our team members bringing Travel with Purpose and our 2030 goals to life at our properties around the world.