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Penn State helps "Clean the World" save soap and lives

A young boy washes his hands with a recycled bar of soap given to him during Clean the World’s recent distribution trip to Honduras.
A young boy washes his hands with a recycled bar of soap given to him during Clean the World’s recent distribution trip to Honduras.

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa — That bar of soap you leave behind in your hotel room after check out could be used to save the life of a child who is exposed every day to deadly viruses. A program to recycle these still useful items has taken hold, and Penn State has joined the movement.

The idea to collect slightly used hygiene products from hotels that normally dispose of them after a guest returns home is the brainchild of Clean the World, a nonprofit group based in Florida, which distributes the recycled products both domestically and abroad. Since its inception in 2009, Clean the World has put more than 12 million soap bars and 325,000 pounds of shampoo and conditioner back into human use, simultaneously eliminating more than 750 tons of waste. The program has touched more than 65 countries worldwide including Zimbabwe, El Salvador, Swaziland and Romania.

In 2011, Penn State’s Nittany Lion Inn got on board with the recycling effort to not only help reduce waste, but more importantly to help prevent millions of deaths caused by hygiene-related illness across the globe. Hand washing with soap significantly reduces the impact of two fatal diseases: acute respiratory infection and diarrheal disease. These are the top two killers of children younger than 5-years-old and represent an opportunity for recycled soap to become the primary ingredient in a potential global hygiene revolution.

“The fact that nearly 1 million partly used bars of soap are tossed out daily by U.S. hotels was a factor in our decision to participate,” said Jim Purdum, general manager of Hospitality Services for the University. “The products can be re-used not only in poorer nations but also in the U.S. in homeless shelters and during recovery operations for disasters such as tornadoes and floods. Being able to turn something that was once discarded into a life-saving instrument is gratifying and certainly makes you look at other things more closely to see what else can be done for the good of mankind.”

The Nittany Lion Inn, which has 223 guest rooms, is one of four hotels in State College and one of only 76 in Pennsylvania participating in the program. For the past two years, the Inn has helped distribute more than 12,000 bars of soap, and in just the first half of 2013, the Inn’s participation in the program has prevented 3,667 pounds of waste from entering landfills.

Penn State also owns a second hotel, The Penn Stater Conference Center Hotel in Innovation Park, but University officials opted to run the pilot program at the Inn first to determine if a larger scale project was feasible. Because of the success of the Inn’s recycling efforts, Penn State has now committed to rolling out the program at its second hotel.

“After watching a video on the program, I decided it was something we needed to do,” said Jacki Weyer, executive housekeeper at The Nittany Lion Inn. “The thought of saving lives was extremely motivating. We also feel strongly about being ‘green’ and felt this was a good way to help.”

Clean the World works with hospitality partners, like The Nittany Lion Inn, to train their staff on the soap and shampoo recycling process. Bins are provided for housekeeping staff to deposit collected soap and shampoo bottles. The bins are picked up weekly by Clean the World staff and the items are taken to a recycling plant, where soap is sterilized and reformed into 2-ounce bars. The center in Orlando has the ability to process more than 80,000 bars of soap a day.

As the world’s first, high-volume soap recycler, Clean the World ensures that all bars of soap recycled and distributed domestically and abroad are completely safe and will not harm the end user due to disease or pathogens that can be transmitted if proper re-purposing did not occur. The charitable organization has had the recycled and sanitized products tested by an independent laboratory, which certifies their cleanliness and removal of all pathogens.

The program has been well received by both guests and staff at The Nittany Lion Inn. According to Weyer, the staff bought into the program immediately with the housekeepers setting goals and striving to reach them. Thanks to signage placed in each room, guests also have expressed positive feedback.

Participating in the Clean the World program is just one of the many ways the Inn has embraced the concept of sustainability. The hotel has installed water-saver showerheads and toilets, energy-saving light bulbs, and instituted the use of hand towels in their public restrooms to reduce waste. To learn more about the recycling program, go to http://tinyurl.com/l5rwwbw.

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