David Cogswell | October 15, 2015 1:42 PM ET
Recycling Hotel Soap: Good Move, Hilton!
It may seem really strange, but I never knew until this very moment that this day, Oct. 15, is Global Handwashing Day. It seems especially odd that the news of Global Handwashing Day never came to my attention, big fan that I am of handwashing itself.
I only found out about Global Handwashing Day because of a press release issued by Hilton Worldwide saying that Global Handwashing Day was chosen as the day when Hilton would announce that The Hilton Paris Opera hotel will be the first hotel in Europe to adopt a policy of recycling soap and bathroom amenities for the benefit of those who need them.
Hilton created a partnership with Clean the World, an association that gathers up soap and toiletries from more than 4,000 hotels, to recycle them for people whose lives may well be saved because they were able to prevent the spread of disease through hygiene.
Recycling little bars of hotel soap: does this seem like a small event? To me it seems quite large. I must say the waste that is produced by certain kinds of accepted hotel practices has always been something that makes me a little uncomfortable.
How can I walk out of a conference hall lunch function, walk away from hundreds of plates of food that I know are on their way to a garbage dumpster and then walk out on the street and see people with nowhere to sleep, no means of support, asking for money with which to eat? It feels like something is terribly wrong in that.
I feel the same way when I go into a nice hotel for one or two nights and see bars of soap on both the sink and in the shower. I know if I open them both I will only use a small part of them before I go. And what happens to them? They’ll go in the garbage, I presume. You can’t very well have the next guest coming in and working on the same bar of soap that I started.
Hotel soap policies of the past make perfect sense on the micro level, but when you look at their effect on a macro scale, it means that an enormous amount of soap is being wasted every day in hotels around the world.
Who knows how many people went without soap the same day hotels dumped massive amounts of it in landfills?
As problems of world hunger increase, as the gap between rich and poor continues to widen, as more species face extinction, more and more people are realizing that we cannot continue the same policies over and over ad infinitum for the sake of habit. Not when the world is changing so fast.
We as a species are facing enormous challenges, and dangers of many kinds are now hanging over our heads: climate change, drought, earthquakes and tornadoes in places where we’ve never seen them; economic ruptures and shockwaves that create untold damage to millions of people; wars that produce waves of homeless wanderers.
In the face of all that, creating a program for recycling soap and bathroom amenities may seem a small thing. But we know about the Butterfly Effect, we know about chain reactions that can produce gigantic nuclear explosions. So who is to say how many lives will be affected positively by this one initiative from this one multinational hotel chain?
How many people will be able to ward off certain deadly diseases because they will now have access to soap, which they could not previously afford? Since 2009, Clean the World claims to have distributed more than 29 million bars of soap in more than 99 countries. One man's garbage may save another person's life.
I certainly hope Hilton will expand the policy systemwide and I hope other hotels will follow suit. And beyond that, I hope it will inspire others to adopt policies that may seem to be radical departures from previous policies, but can have the affect of correcting past mistakes, redirecting our efforts toward more friendly, sustainable policies.
Last week at the Swahili International Tourism Expo (S!TE), Vanessa Baldwin, co-founder of Traveler’s Eye, an association that promotes sustainable tourism, said that hotels and resorts in Africa are often just concerned with filling their swimming pools and providing enough water so their guests can take as many showers as possible while women in the host communities may have to walk 20 or 40 kilometers just to get a little of the water they need to live.
These are among the most urgent concerns of an evolving travel industry, learning how to address those kinds of glaring inconsistencies. Hats off to Hilton for taking this important step in the right direction.
More by David Cogswell
Get Travel Deals and Travel News
Latest Travel News
Airlines & Airports
Airlines & Airports
Hotel & Resort
Cruise Line & Cruise Ship