How Old Hotel Soap Can Save Thousands of Lives

hotel soap shampoo toiletries photo

Toiletries at a Seattle hotel. Photo: Daniel Morrison / Creative Commons.

I'll admit it, I'm a sucker for those little hotel soaps and shampoos and lotions. I rarely go home from a hotel stay without a handful of them stuffed in my bag. But they are wasteful, with hundreds of millions of soap bars discarded each year in North American alone -- a surplus that a Ugandan refugee has turned into a life-saving solution to diseases caused by poor sanitation.After fleeing Uganda with his family during the reign of Idi Amin, Derreck Kayongo lived as a refugee in Kenya and eventually came to the United States, where he was shocked to learn how much soap gets thrown away in hotels, CNN reported earlier this month.

Fighting Preventable Diseases
Drawing on the knowledge of his father, a former soap maker in Uganda, Kayongo founded the Atlanta-based Global Soap Project, which collects used hotel soap from across the country, cleans and reprocesses it, and sends it to impoverished nations in Africa and the Caribbean:

For Kayongo, collecting soap is "a first line of defense" mission to combat child mortality around the world. Each year, more than 2 million children die from diarrheal illness -- the approximate population of San Antonio, Texas. According to the World Health Organization, these deaths occur almost exclusively among toddlers living in low-income countries.

"When you fall sick because you didn't wash up your hands, it's more expensive to go to the hospital to get treated," [Kayongo said]. "And that's where the problem begins and people end up dying."

Some 300 hotels donate their soap to the project, which relies heavily on volunteers to recycle the bars. So far it has donated more than 100,000 bars of soap to communities in nine countries. There's still plenty of room for the project to expand, though: An estimated 2.6 million bars of soap are discarded in U.S. hotel rooms every day.

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