Menus Subscribe Search

What Happens to All Those Hotel Soap Bars?

• April 11, 2012 • 4:00 AM

The Global Soap Project aims to tidy those slivers’ trip to the landfill by sending reclaimed soap to poor countries.

In 1994, on his second trip to the United States, Derreck Kayongo was staying at a Philadelphia hotel when he noticed that every bar of soap he’d use in the morning was replaced magically with a new one by the time he returned that evening. “I asked the concierge what they did with the partially used bars, and he actually told me they threw them away!”

Though Kayongo grew up in a well-to-do family — his father, in fact, owned a soap factory in Uganda — the 42-year-old Ugandan native ended up living as a refugee with his family in Kenya after Idi Amin came to power. “That was the first time I learned that people didn’t have the basics like soap.”

Kayongo says he was stunned and irate when he saw what American hotels did with their used soap, but he channeled his anger into a nonprofit organization that aims to improve the lives of millions. His Atlanta-based Global Soap Project, founded in 2009, recovers those slivers destined for landfills and ships it to those who desperately need it in the developing world.

“I started to connect the dots,” says Kayongo.

His math confirmed the value of taking action. With its more than 4.5 million hotel rooms, the United States discards more than 2.5 million bars of soap every day. Meanwhile, UNICEF says that hand washing with soap is one of the most effective and inexpensive ways to prevent diarrhea and pneumonia, which together kill 3 million children or more every year. For people making the equivalent of a dollar a day, spending even 25 cents on a bar of soap is cost prohibitive.

Transforming his idea into reality didn’t happen over night. “I didn’t even know how to begin, but I knew that I needed a lot of experience,” says Kayongo, whose own NGO experience included stints directing the American Friends Service Committee in 1998, Amnesty International as a regional director in 2001, and more recently as a field coordinator for CARE International, the private humanitarian aid organization.

Then in 2007 after a “paper-napkin” meeting with Vicki Gordon, the vice president of the InterContinental Hotels Group, Kayongo launched Global Soap with a donation of 500 pounds of soap from the Intercontinental Buckhead Hotel in Atlanta. Now five years later, Global Soap has 600 participating hotels — thanks in part to a partnership with Hilton Worldwide announced last November. Hilton is also educating guests of participating hotels by placing tent cards about the soap in bathrooms.

To date, more than 200,000 4-ounce bars have been sent to 18 countries, including Afghanistan, Uzbekistan, Uganda, South Sudan, Swaziland, Kenya, Ghana, and Haiti.

The process begins with a team of volunteers around the United States who collect the soap and ship it to the project’s Atlanta warehouse, where the slivers are sanitized and heated before being molded into bars again. Overseas, once an NGO requesting soap in approved, the specific amount of soap is stamped out and shipped to the target country. In the field, the soap is distributed by partner organizations, like fellow Georgians Medshare International, which monitor and evaluate the soap’s impact on the local population.

Kayongo hopes to make a million bars of soap this year — a task which will no doubt be made easier by the purchase of a bigger production machine, capable he says of producing close to 5 million bars a year.

While one long-term goal includes receiving soap from hotels in Europe and China, Kayongo’s bigger concern is raising enough money to distribute the soap to people who need it. “We are always looking for people to buy shipping containers. That’s our main issue: making sure the soap gets to these particular villages.”

Arnie Cooper
Arnie Cooper, a freelance writer based in Santa Barbara, Calif., covers food, travel and popular culture, as well as architecture and the sustainability movement. He is a frequent contributor to The Wall Street Journal's Leisure and Arts page; his writing has also appeared in Outside, Esquire, Orion and Dwell. He's working on a memoir about his childhood experiences in New York City.

More From Arnie Cooper

A weekly roundup of the best of Pacific Standard and PSmag.com, delivered straight to your inbox.

Recent Posts

August 29 • 4:00 PM

The Hidden Costs of Tobacco Debt

Even when taxpayers aren’t explicitly on the hook, tobacco bonds can cost states and local governments money. Here’s how.


August 29 • 2:00 PM

Why Don’t Men and Women Wear the Same Gender-Neutral Bathing Suits?

They used to in the 1920s.


August 29 • 11:48 AM

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.


August 29 • 10:00 AM

True Darwinism Is All About Chance

Though the rich sometimes forget, Darwin knew that nature frequently rolls the dice.


August 29 • 8:00 AM

Why Our Molecular Make-Up Can’t Explain Who We Are

Our genes only tell a portion of the story.


August 29 • 6:00 AM

Strange Situations: Attachment Theory and Sexual Assault on College Campuses

When college women leave home, does attachment behavior make them more vulnerable to campus rape?


August 29 • 4:00 AM

Forgive Your Philandering Partner—and Pay the Price

New research finds people who forgive an unfaithful romantic partner are considered weaker and less competent than those who ended the relationship.


August 28 • 4:00 PM

Some Natural-Looking Zoo Exhibits May Be Even Worse Than the Old Concrete Ones

They’re often designed for you, the paying visitor, and not the animals who have to inhabit them.


August 28 • 2:00 PM

What I Learned From Debating Science With Trolls

“Don’t feed the trolls” is sound advice, but occasionally ignoring it can lead to rewards.


August 28 • 12:00 PM

The Ice Bucket Challenge’s Meme Money

The ALS Association has raised nearly $100 million over the past month, 50 times what it raised in the same period last year. How will that money be spent, and how can non-profit executives make a windfall last?


August 28 • 11:56 AM

Outlawing Water Conflict: California Legislators Confront Risky Groundwater Loophole

California, where ambitious agriculture sucks up 80 percent of the state’s developed water, is no stranger to water wrangles. Now one of the worst droughts in state history is pushing legislators to reckon with its unwieldy water laws, especially one major oversight: California has been the only Western state without groundwater regulation—but now that looks set to change.


August 28 • 11:38 AM

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.


August 28 • 10:00 AM

The Five Words You Never Want to Hear From Your Doctor

“Sometimes people just get pains.”


August 28 • 8:00 AM

Why I’m Not Sharing My Coke

Andy Warhol, algorithms, and a bunch of popular names printed on soda cans.


August 28 • 6:00 AM

Can Outdoor Art Revitalize Outdoor Advertising?

That art you’ve been seeing at bus stations and billboards—it’s serving a purpose beyond just promoting local museums.


August 28 • 4:00 AM

Linguistic Analysis Reveals Research Fraud

An examination of papers by the discredited Diederik Stapel finds linguistic differences between his legitimate and fraudulent studies.


August 28 • 2:00 AM

Poverty and Geography: The Myth of Racial Segregation

Migration, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or sexuality (not to mention class), can be a poverty-buster.


August 27 • 4:00 PM

The ‘Non-Lethal’ Flash-Bang Grenades Used in Ferguson Can Actually Be Quite Lethal

A journalist says he was singed by a flash-bang fired by St. Louis County police trying to disperse a crowd, raising questions about how to use these military-style devices safely and appropriately.


August 27 • 2:00 PM

Do Better Looking People Have Better Personalities Too?

An experiment on users of the dating site OKCupid found that members judge both looks and personality by looks alone.


August 27 • 12:00 PM

Love Can Make You Stronger

A new study links oxytocin, the hormone most commonly associated with social bonding, and the one that your body produces during an orgasm, with muscle regeneration.


August 27 • 11:05 AM

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”


August 27 • 9:47 AM

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.


August 27 • 8:00 AM

A Skeptic Meets a Psychic: When You Can See Into the Future, How Do You Handle Uncertainty?

For all the crystal balls and beaded doorways, some psychics provide a useful, non-paranormal service. The best ones—they give good advice.


August 27 • 6:00 AM

Speaking Eyebrow: Your Face Is Saying More Than You Think

Our involuntary gestures take on different “accents” depending on our cultural background.


August 27 • 4:00 AM

The Politics of Anti-NIMBYism and Addressing Housing Affordability

Respected expert economists like Paul Krugman and Edward Glaeser are confusing readers with their poor grasp of demography.


Follow us


Subscribe Now

Your Brain Decides Whether to Trust Someone in Milliseconds

We can determine trustworthiness even when we’re only subliminally aware of the other person.

Young, Undocumented, and Invisible

While young migrant workers struggle under poor working conditions, U.S. policy has done little to help.

Education, Interrupted

When it comes to educational access, young Syrian refugees are becoming a “lost generation.”

No, Smartphone-Loss Anxiety Disorder Isn’t Real

But people are anxious about losing their phones, even if they don’t do much to protect them.

Being a Couch Potato: Not So Bad After All?

For those who feel guilty about watching TV, a new study provides redemption.

The Big One

One in two full-time American fast-food workers' families are enrolled in public assistance programs, at a cost of $7 billion per year. July/August 2014 fast-food-big-one

Copyright © 2014 by Pacific Standard and The Miller-McCune Center for Research, Media, and Public Policy. All Rights Reserved.