Soap literally saves lives. Lack of hygiene is one of the causes of infant death in many countries around the world. And, while they lack such a basic and elemental item, millions of unused bars of soap are thrown away in hotels in developed countries every day. Thanks to the initiative of an individual, these pills are being recycled in large quantities and sent to poor countries.
These millions of little soaps constitute a waste that American Shawn Seipler and his Clean the World organization are collecting and recycling to help protect children in 127 countries from life-threatening diseases. It is a movement that began as something symbolic and is already acquiring planetary proportions, with truly amazing results.
Due to his job in a sales department at a technology company, Seipler had to leave his home in Florida to travel across the United States, sleeping four nights a week in hotels.
He was staying in one of them, in Minneapolis, one day in 2008, when he experienced his particular revelation. It was then that he started a project that has already led him to distribute some 70 million recycled bars of soap throughout the world.
Seipler, born in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, 46 years ago, wondered what was wrong with complimentary hotel soaps that are often used only once and asked at the front desk.
When he found out that they were going directly to the garbage he had the idea of use them for the benefit of the nearly 9,000 children who die every year in the world from preventable diseases with good hand washing, such as pneumonia, cholera or simple but deadly diarrhoea.
In an interview with Efeverde, he is proud that the initiative he founded and directs, Clean the World, contributes to the task of reducing the mortality rate of children under 5 years of age due to diseases related to lack of hygiene.
As you recall, from 2009 to 2020 the index has decreased by 65%, thanks to the initiatives developed by international organizations. “That’s millions of children,” stresses the head of an organization that claims to be part of the United Nations World WASH Group.
Agreements with more than 8,000 hotels
Not only the great ideas behind giants like Apple, Amazon or Microsoft started in a garage. Seipler’s idea of recycling used soaps and donating them to those most in need took its first steps in a very small place.
Armed with gloves and potato peelers, he and a group of relatives scraped and recycled a first shipment of used soaps that they collected from nearby hotels.
This is how Clean the World was born, which has already donated nearly 70 million recycled bars of soap and is present in 127 countries.
In addition, it has prevented more than a thousand tons of hotel waste from ending up in landfills in North America alone.
To make it they have signed agreements with more than 8,100 hotels, including large chains such as Marriott, Hyatt, Hilton or Walt Disney Resortswhich in total represent 1.4 million rooms globally.
Arrival in Haiti
The first soaps were given to charities in Florida and arrived in Haiti shortly before the 2010 earthquake, which killed an estimated 300,000 people.
What he saw there impressed him. They carried a shipment of 2,000 soaps and more than 10,000 people attended a local church. One of them, a mother with her baby in her arms told him that she had already lost two children to illnesses that could well have been prevented with that simple combination of grease, caustic solution and water.
“Since then we have sent about three million bars of soap to that same area, to that church, to those mothers, to make sure they have their soap and hygiene needs met,” she explains.
But there are many more areas where these tablets have arrived with a drawing of a child next to soap bubbles and inside the traditional circular recycling symbol: Central America, Ecuador, the Dominican Republic, the border between Mexico and the United States, Somalia or Syria, among many others.
And soon they will also send hygiene kits with soap, shampoo, toothpaste and perhaps hand sanitizer or socks to Poland and Romania, where hundreds of thousands of Ukrainian refugees flee their country due to the Russian invasion.
Also mobile showers
Seipler speaks tenderly of the mothers who are given six million bars of soap each year, women victims of “abject poverty.” With these wasted products in advanced countries, perhaps they will not have to continue burying their children.
“The proudest moment is when they told me: ‘We pray that you not only bring us more, but that you can bring soap to other mothers in the world who are suffering just like us,'” she recalls.
But that dream of being able to help mothers around the world was seriously endangered when her initiative was most needed: the pandemic forced the closure of thousands of hotels and the flow of soaps was interrupted.
The NGO of this entrepreneur, who opened a lemonade and popcorn street stall at the age of 7, Since 2017, it has donated more than 32,000 mobile showers so that homeless people can clean themselves in urban enclaves, where they are also offered services such as counseling on mental health.
And he is already working on projects to recycle the huge amounts of plastic in the hotel industry and is concerned about the growing insecurity of access to clean water.
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