How Hilton, Marriott, and Walt Disney Resorts recycle and donate used hotel soaps


  • Clean the World is a nonprofit organization that recycles used soaps, lotions, and other toiletries from hotels.
  • Its partners include Hilton, Marriott, and Walt Disney World Resorts, among others. 
  • Clean the World has donated over 50 million bars of recycled soap to people in need in 127 countries since its founding in 2009.
  • The organization has had to adapt as more hotel chains move away from single-use toiletries in favor of bulk offerings. 
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Following is a transcript of the video.

Narrator: There’s an episode of Friends where Ross and Chandler are checking out of a hotel in Vermont.

Ross: Could you have some complimentary toiletries sent up to my room?

Narrator: As Ross picks up his suitcase to leave, it bursts open and an avalanche of mini soaps and lotions comes tumbling out. It’s admittedly a lot of stuff, but not compared to what’s actually left behind in hotel rooms. So what happens to the toiletries that don’t fit into Ross’ suitcase?

Shawn Seipler used to stay in around 150 hotel rooms a year. One day, a thought hit him. What happens to all the half-used soaps he leaves behind? When he called the front desk to ask, they told him it all just gets tossed. So in 2009, he started Clean the World out of a one-car garage in Florida.

With a few friends, some potato peelers, meat grinders, and cookers, Seipler developed a way to recycle used bars of soap into new, sterile ones, which can then be donated to children and families around the world who don’t have easy access to soap. That makes them susceptible to diseases like pneumonia and diarrhea, which kill almost 1.5 million children under 5 every year but can be prevented by handwashing.

Since 2009, Clean the World has distributed more than 50 million bars of soap to people in 127 countries. The nonprofit initiative quickly outgrew the garage and now has recycling facilities in Orlando, Las Vegas, Montreal and Hong Kong. And it works with 8,000 hotel and resort partners, including Walt Disney World Hotels, Marriott, and Hilton.

Hilton joined forces with Clean the World in March 2019. In its first seven months, Hilton donated 2 million pounds of toiletries, which contributed to 7.6 million bars of recycled soap. But how do you clean the thing that does the cleaning?

Here’s how it works. Starting at the hotel, staff members are trained on the collection and recycling process. Housekeeping collects the used bars and bottles and deposits them in special bins. The bins are then transported to one of Clean the World’s recycling facilities. There the toiletries are sorted by product before entering the first stage of the recycling process.

For bar soap, it’s first surface cleaned before going through a sterilization process that eliminates all pathogens. The sterilized bars are then ground up and put through a manufacturing line where they’re remolded into new bars. Once they’re boxed and loaded onto pallets, the bars are distributed to homeless shelters and organizations in the US and to people in need around the world.

Hilton has pledged to divert all of its soap from ending up in the trash by 2030. And Clean the World has kept 20 million pounds of hotel waste from polluting North American landfills since it was founded. Some hotels are starting to take a different approach to cutting down waste by eliminating single-use toiletries from their rooms entirely, instead opting for bulk offerings.

Clean the World knows that this is a possibility for its hotel partners as well. The plan would be to create new “impact products” like hygiene kits and corporate event packages to make up for the potential drop in production and revenue. As of now, Hilton hasn’t decided to make the switch from individual to bulk toiletries.

So if you’re staying in a Hilton hotel or another of Clean the World’s partners, don’t be like Ross.

Ross: Instead of taking one, I take six.

Narrator: Leave that stuff behind. Your twice-used soaps won’t go to waste.

Correction: Hilton’s partnership with Clean the Word began in 2009, not 2019. The data presented in the video reflects the first seven months of the Clean the World Challenge — a promise to donate 1 million bars of soap by October 15, 2019 (Global Handwashing Day). Insider regrets the error.

Join the conversation about this story »