Group on mission to save the soap
Group on mission to save the soap Aaron Weatherly collects newly formed soap at Clean the World in Las Vegas (AP photo / Thinkstock)
Group on mission to save the soap
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Shawn Seipler is on a mission to save lives with soap.

It began about seven years ago as a tiny operation. A few friends and family met in a single car garage in Orlando, Florida, where they used meat grinders, potato peelers and cookers to recycle used soap into fresh bars.

The nonprofit initiative is now called Clean the World. It has grown to include industrial recycling facilities in Las Vegas, Orlando and Hong Kong, cities where hotels are plentiful. The used bars of soap can be gathered easily by the thousands.

As a frequent traveler while working for a tech company, Seipler had a thought one night. He was staying at a Minneapolis hotel. He called the front desk and asked what happens to the bar of soap when he's done using it.

"They said they just threw it away."

Seipler is now the group's CEO. He said that after some research he discovered that millions of used bars of soap from hotels worldwide are sent to landfills. Meanwhile, many people in developing nations are dying from illnesses that could potentially be prevented if they only had access to simple hygiene products.

Thus began his mission. He's out to save lives with soap and even half-used bottles of amenities like shampoo.

"It's a huge problem," said Dr. William Schaffner. He is a professor of preventative medicine and infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee. "One of the most common kinds of illnesses in the world are those that are transmitted from person to person and to oneself because of germs that are on one's hands."

In the U.S. and other developed nations, Schaffner noted, people take hygiene products for granted. That's because they are everywhere. Soap is in public restrooms. There are also cleanser wipes at the entrances of grocery stores to sanitize shopping cart handles.

That's not the case in some other countries. Schaffner recalled visiting a hospital once in the Middle East to find that soap was in such short supply that patients had to provide their own or go without.

Having access to soap could disrupt the transmission of germs. That could save lives, the professor said.

"It's not a magic wand, but it's a very important element."

Clean the World has announced it was partnering with the similar Global Soap organization. They want to increase production, hygiene education and delivery.

The combined group now collects used soap from more than 4,000 hotels. The group says it has delivered some 25 million bars to 99 countries. That includes homeless shelters in the U.S.

The process is fairly simple. The collected soap is shredded. Then it is run through machines that remove any residual bacteria. After that, the soap is pressed into new bars and packaged for delivery.

The group uses local aid and nongovernmental organizations to help with distribution and ongoing education. The group also sends its own teams into rural communities around the world to personally hand-deliver hygiene products and to teach residents about the importance of keeping clean.

"A lot of people are surprised to find out that one of the most effective ways to prevent many deaths is actually just hand-washing with soap," said Global Soap's director Sam Stephens. "We're hoping to make a difference."

Critical thinking challenge: How can access to simple hygiene products, such as soap, prevent illness?

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  • Chloes-Pav
    4/21/2015 - 09:54 a.m.

    Wow this is so inspiring. I was at a hotel just this past weekend and they put a new bar of soap in everyday when the other bar was only used once. This project shows how one person in their home with a couple of friends can make a huge difference worldwide.

  • Lindsaya-Pav
    4/21/2015 - 09:58 a.m.

    I never realized how one little bar of soap can save a life. Developing countries don't have access to such a necessity, so it is great that this organization is providing soap and shampoo for them. Although I find it gross that people are using others's soap, it is saving lives across the globe.

  • Rachelc-Pav
    4/21/2015 - 09:59 a.m.

    I think that this is amazing. So many people in the world are deprived of the necessities that are vital to their survival, and we need to do something about it. We take advantage of too many of the luxuries in our lives, since we have such a large supply. What we don't choose to be concerned about is the fact that people need everything that they can get their hands on, and we should feel more than obliged to contribute to that.

    • SalemBrewer-Ste
      4/22/2015 - 04:13 p.m.

      I agree with you. It's annoying that the ones with less to give give more than the ones who have more to give. People really should be helping out and this is an incredible example.

  • Kaylah-Pav
    4/21/2015 - 10:01 a.m.

    its amazing how such a small thing could make such a huge difference between life and death. no one would ever imagine that one bar of soap would ,ake the deathof a person be eliminated.

  • Elenao-Pav
    4/21/2015 - 10:02 a.m.

    The fact that soap, just as simple as soap can make a difference in the world and economy is so fascinating and we should spread the word of this new helpful creation.

  • Lillianc-Pav
    4/21/2015 - 10:03 a.m.

    Although this is a good idea, and very well might save lives, i don't think it will be very sanitary. They don't explain how they will recycle the soap. When people use bars of soap, it usually is used on the entire body. Giving used soap to people in need seems almost insulting.

    • Chloes-Pav
      4/23/2015 - 10:04 a.m.

      I respectfully disagree with your view even though I can see what you are saying. People when they are in need will take anything. They don't care if it has been used on someone else's body. It's soap and it's saving their life.

  • AbrahamC203
    4/21/2015 - 10:23 a.m.

    Its amazing how little things we take for granted can make a difference between life and death. Soap is something we don't think much of its just another tool for hygiene. yet so many people can be saved from infection and diseases by just using soap.

  • NiaM
    4/21/2015 - 10:40 a.m.

    It's fascinating how not washing your hands with a single bar of soap could decide your death and all we have to do is wash our hands more often. so what every one around the world Ned's to do is wash their hands with a single bar of soap to prevent many death's around the world.

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