Trading in sales management for potato peelers

How Clean the World’s recycling program began

By Bill Hatton

Shawn Seipler, Executive Director and Co-founder of Clean the World Shawn Seipler, grew up in central Florida and used to organize the local kids for lawn maintenance, plus as an excellent athlete, he used to pick the smaller kids as his teammates “so they’d have an opportunity to win.” His favorite hero was Robin Hood. He likes the underdog …

As an adult, he worked his way up to global sales manager of an e-commerce company (one later purchased by Google), and that meant he’d be on the road a lot. With a wife and four children at home, he wanted to try to spend more time with them. Meanwhile, in a hotel one evening in Minnesota, he got to wondering about hotel soap. He called the front desk and asked what does the hotel staff do with the soap? They throw it out, the desk clerk explained.

He researched and found that about a million soap bars a day go into landfills, because as anyone who stays in hotels knows, guests rarely use a complete bar of soap – and they can’t allow another guest to use what’s left. From there, Shawn did some research and found out that in the Third World, such as Bangladesh, millions of children die each year from diseases related to poor hygiene. Simple soap and water washing of hands, and some hygiene education, can save millions of lives each year.

“When I read some studies and it dawned on me, clear as anything ever in my life, that if I just got the soap from hotels, that I could recycle it and I could save millions of children’s lives. It almost became a no-brainer for me,” says Shawn. “It became ‘I now have to do this.’”

So Shawn and some friends sat on upside down pickle buckets, in a one-car garage, and got to work: They scraped the initial donated soap with potato peelers, and used a meat grinder to crush the soap. Then, using a Kenmore cooker, they melted down the ground bits, and poured it into new molds. That was in 2009 and Clean the World was born.

Now they have three recycling facilities: Orlando, FL, Las Vegas, NV, and Hong Kong. They collect the soap, use a sterilization process, and then grind down and reform the soap. The soap is then distributed as part of a kit for domestic-violence shelters in the United States, as well as distributed all over the world.

Grassroots level

Meanwhile, news of Clean the World was reaching Caesars Foundation from the employee level – often people with relatives overseas. They wanted to get involved and brought the idea to Caesars management. Caesars became a sponsor, donating its used soap, and its foundation’s executive director, Thom Reilly, joined the Clean the World board. Caesars now holds regular essay contests for its employees to go on distribution trips. Three winners will go overseas, recently the Dominican Republic, and distribute soap. Thus, the process starts with a housekeeper collecting the soap to be recycled, and ends overseas with a hotel/resort employee handing to others in person, overseas.

“The key was this: When Shawn came to us and presented the idea, he presented it to housekeepers,” says Reilly. “Many of our housekeepers actually come from the very countries that the soap is delivered to. Soap is something the housekeepers see every day. So to engage them in something they see on a daily basis to re- use the soaps and recycle all the waste really resonated with a lot of our employees.”

Take home: Sometimes, the biggest ideas are simplest. In this case, there’s lots of waste soap, there’s a strong need for ordinary hygiene products, and there’s lots of people who want to help put the two together

Posted March 9, 2015 in 25115