ISAIAH BRANCH-BOYLE/Durango Herald
Three Durango hotels are trying to stir interest among industry colleagues in recycling soap bars they normally discard.
The used bars, which usually end up in a landfill because they can’t be left for the next client, contribute to the Global Soap Project. The Atlanta-based project reprocesses soap into new bars, which are distributed in distressed countries around the world and in disaster areas – places where their usage represents one of the best defenses against life-threatening disease.
Nine hundred hotels across the country, but only 25 in Colorado, currently reroute their used soap to the project.
Leading the charge in La Plata County are Durango Mountain Resort, the Strater Hotel and Durango Inn & Suites, a Best Western property.
The nonprofit Global Soap Project was started in 2009 by Sarah and Derreck Kayongo of Uganda. During a visit to the United States, the couple noticed that hotels threw out soap bars that sometimes were used only once.
Derreck Kayongo, who fled the oppressive regime of Idi Amin in 1979, is no longer involved in day-to-day operations.
“I’m the Pied Piper,” Kayongo said by telephone. “My job is to lead people and get them involved in the project.”
Hilton Worldwide got involved last year, donating $1.3 million to expand production. The project now turns out 15,000 bars of soap a day, up from 2,000 a week.
A few facts about soap should be enough to sell involvement in the project, the Durango hotel leaders say.
One-third of the world’s soap is used in the United States.
Hotels in the country, a total of 4.6 million rooms, discard 2.6 million bars of soap a day.
Since 2009, more than 7 million children have died from disease that could have been prevented with proper hygiene.
Handwashing by birth attendants before delivery reduces infant mortality by 19 percent.
“Our housekeeping staff is a key component in the operation,” said Jola Schraub of Durango Mountain Resort. “That’s where the collection begins.”
She said small hotels and motels possibly could collaborate by determining if they use the same brand of soap and perhaps make arrangements to pool their used bars for shipment, the cost of which is tax-deductible.
The Global Soap Project can’t reprocess different soaps in the same batch because of their chemical components, Schraub said.
Global Soap prefers a single large shipment instead of many small ones in order to have enough soap to reprocess, she said.
Lilly Dimling, the operations manager at the Global Soap Project, said any type of soap is accepted. But glycerine and oatmeal soaps are more difficult reprocess, she said.
Dimling said soap is distributed through partnerships with nongovernmental organizations in the United States that have contact overseas.
Since June 2009 when shipments began, soap has gone to 23 countries in Asia, Africa and Central and South America. Haiti and Kenya have been repeat recipients, she said.
The project has been successful because it has a human side, Derreck Kayongo said. It’s not simply another enterprise.
Kayongo said that housekeepers in hotels are often from distressed places such as Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America.
Involvement in recycling soap gives them a sense of accomplishment and the knowledge that the discarded soap bars they collect may find their way back home.
“Cooperation in a social enterprise like ours equals a solution,” Kayongo said.