Hilton's New Partnership to Give Used Soap a Second Life

A little known fact: Roughly 2.6 million partially used bars of soap are thrown out at North American hotels each day and often end up in landfills.

An Atlanta nonprofit that has been trying to give used soap a second life got a big boost today through a new partnership with Hilton Worldwide. The hotel giant will collect and donate used soap bars to the Global Soap Project and invest $1.3 million to broaden the group's processing capabilities.

The fledgling Global Soap Project began two years ago in the basement of Derrek Kayongo, who founded the nonprofit with his wife Sarah. The pair reprocess the bars into new ones that are sent to refugee camps and other vulnerable communities to help stop the spread of disease. To date, the Global Soap Project has shipped more than 25 tons of soap to 20 countries, including Haiti, Sudan, Uganda, Afghanistan and Kenya.

Kayongo has earned some recognition for his efforts to date: He is one of 10 finalists for the 2011 CNN Hero of the Year, a recognition program that honors people taking extraordinary steps to help others or the planet. Kayongo said he first recognized the importance and demand for soap when he was a refugee in Kenya.

"Even when available, those living on less than a dollar a day had to choose between buying food or soap," he said. "People were suffering from illness simply because they couldn't wash their hands."

Hilton predicts its new partnership will produce more than a million new soap bars. The company will also take a seat on the nonprofit's board and help guide its growth. Together they hope to experiment with creating a social enterprise model and the infrastructure needed to process large-scale soap donations at no cost to the hotels. More than 300 hotels participate in the project.

The partnership also meshes with Hilton's LightStay measurement program. Just a few weeks ago, Hilton revealed that the program has helped save the company more than $74 million from reduced waste, energy and water use. We'll have a closer look at how Hilton made Lightstay work, but today's announcement shows how the company is using partnerships and engaging with customers to find surprising solutions to reduce a hotel's impacts.

Soap image via Shutterstock.