I am pleased to share this space this week with Sam Stephens, Executive Director of The Global Soap Project. My team has had the privilege of getting to know the team at The Global Soap Project over the last few months, and we are impressed with the work they do.
Did you know that, each year, more than 2.4 million children die from hygiene and sanitation related illnesses, such as diarrhea and pneumonia? These children are living in extreme poverty, and many are orphans or refugees. Fortunately, there is hope. Simply handwashing with soap can cut the risk of death almost in half. In fact, studies have shown that soap is among the most effective tools for fighting these diseases.
The focus of the Global Soap Project is to prevent these deaths by getting soap and hygiene education to those who lack access to it. Soap is available for sale in most areas of the world. Even many rural communities in Africa have soap that is available for purchase. However, the soap in these areas is often very expensive – sometimes approaching $1 per bar. That might not sound like much, but if you’re living on less than $1 per day, it’s a stretch. More importantly, however, is the fact that many people are never taught why proper hygiene is so important to maintaining good health. When people understand the lifesaving power of soap, they’re much more likely to buy it, even with very meager incomes. So, at the Global Soap Project, our role is not just getting soap to those who need it, but also ensuring that those recipients understand how to use it and why it is so important for good health – and then helping them identify ways to access soap themselves over time. We work to change behaviors through education so that we can provide free soap for a defined period of time and then connect
participants to local sources of soap that they’ll buy routinely for the rest of their lives.
Perhaps the most exciting part of all of this is where the soap comes from. Each day in the United States alone, more than 2 million partially-used bars of soap are thrown away by hotels. We provide an opportunity for hotels to divert this waste – and save money – by sending the soap to our manufacturing facility in Atlanta. Once there, the soap goes through a two or three week process in which it is broken down, cleaned, and turned into brand new bars of soap. That new soap gets boxed up and sent to our project sites around the world.
This all started in 2009, and today we’re receiving used soap from about 1,100 hotels throughout North America. Each week, we produce roughly 30,000 brand new bars of soap – which means we’re diverting some 7,500 pounds of soap from landfills weekly. And, to-date, we’ve partnered with organizations like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), MedShare, Partners in Health, and others, to distribute soap to project sites in 29 countries around the world. We’re impacting hundreds of thousands of lives each year. As we like to say, we’re reducing waste and saving lives, one bar of soap at a time.
Getting involved is easy. Just visit www.globalsoap.org. If you’d like to make a financial contribution, you can learn more about our needs and make a donation there (we’re funded 100% by donations). In addition, hotels can learn more about the program and sign up online to participate. There’s no cost to join, but we do ask that hotels pay for the shipping. The shipping is a tax-deductible expense, and the used soap is also considered a tax-deductible donation worth $1 per pound. Add that to the reduced trash bills each month, and there’s a clear financial benefit to being involved. More importantly, you’ll be helping us improve health and save lives around the world, all while reducing waste here at home. It doesn’t get much better than that.