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Soap recycling program aims for a cleaner, healthier future

Clean the World, a charity that recycles soap left by hotel guests, hands out a powerful germ-fighting tool

Jessica Rosman will never forget the children's smiles; they were Christmas-morning bright with the excitement of something wonderful in store.

For these children, the thrill of anticipation stemmed not from the latest gadget or sought-after toy. The gift was soap.

"The kids' eyes lit up as if we were superheroes," said Rosman, a Caesars Entertainment executive.

She and three other Caesars employees traveled 7,400 miles from Las Vegas to Manila last year to witness the work of Clean the World, an Orlando, Fla.,-based charity that recycles soap that hotel guests leave behind.

Because Las Vegas is an enormous hotel market, one of the nonprofit's three recycling centers is here, just a few blocks off the Strip. (The two other places: Orlando and Hong Kong.) With 150,000 hotel rooms, Vegas is awash in partially used soap.

"Most [hotel guests] unwrap two bars of soap," said Tammi Runzler, a vice president for Clean the World. "One they have at their sink and one they have in their shower.

"More than 2 million bars of used soap are thrown away every single day in the United States."

Soap is a "'do-it-yourself' vaccine" that can "reduce the spread of diarrheal and respiratory illness," the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes on part of its website dedicated to its five-step hand-washing protocol. ( It cites poor hygiene as well as unsafe water and poor sanitation as the main culprits in almost 90% of diarrhea cases that result in 1.5 million deaths each year.

"People are dying because they need soap," Runzler said.

"That's really the mission: what we can do to help mitigate both of these challenges."

Shawn Seipler, who founded the organization, took his cue from his own travels: As a sales executive, he stayed in scores of hotels and realized that lots of soap was going to waste.

He founded Clean the World in 2009 and by 2011, after finding an ally in Rosman, established a partnership with Caesars. Soon, housekeepers at Caesars' nine Vegas resorts were putting used soap in recycling bags instead of the trash.

Other properties — including the Venetian and Wynn — followed suit, and now, 22 hotels on or near the Strip participate.

Hotel employees have started volunteering at the recycling center, where about 2,000 pounds of amenities arrive daily. Clean the World also accepts bottles of shampoo and lotion, but soap remains paramount.

The hotel soap — in various colors, shapes and sizes — is stored in hundreds of crates until it undergoes a sanitizing process. It's then crushed and formed into new bars. A machine stamps the charity's name and logo onto each one.

"Washing with soap has a tremendous impact on killing bacteria and germs," Runzler said. "Even for someone who does not have access to clean water, the use of soap is very, very beneficial."

Clean the World has distributed more than 22 million bars of soap in 99 countries, including some in the United States.

"There are a lot of nonprofit organizations and a lot of people in our own backyards that are absolutely desperate for these hygiene products," Runzler said.

Copyright © 2016, Los Angeles Times