French group recycles five tonnes of unused hotel soap

The Unisoap association collects partially-used soap and recycles it into new soap to help disadvantaged communities

Unused hotel soaps that would otherwise be thrown away each year in France are now being recycled by French association Unisoap, in partnership with top hotels, to help disadvantaged communities.

Hotel soaps - the individually-wrapped packets that are often distributed free in hotel room bathrooms when guests check in - often remain barely used, as guests do not stay long enough to finish them.

Yet, with each new check in, these partially-used soaps are thrown away as housekeeping staff replenish the bathroom with an entirely new set. The old soaps would usually go straight to landfill. Estimates suggest that 51 million such soaps are thrown away in France each year.

But now, French association Unisoap has partnered with hotels to collect and recycle the soaps instead, and also provide work and help for charitable associations.

Maxime Ottogalli, director of the 46-bedroom Platine hotel in Paris, and a Unisoap partner, said: “Our average [guest] stay is 1.8 days. So the soaps available in the bathrooms are used three or four times maximum.”

The hotel’s small, round soaps only weigh 25 grams each, and yet, Mr Ottogalli has calculated that the housekeeping staff have collected almost 60kg of leftover soap in just five months.

Now, the hotel works with Unisoap to recycle the waste, rather than throw it away. He said: “We keep [the leftovers] in a container and when it reaches over 30kg, we call [Unisoap].”

The soap is then collected and transported to the Lyon area, where it is processed by a team of young, disabled people aged 18 to 25, in a scheme designed to help them into work.

Pauline Grumel, director of Unisoap, said: “The soaps are weighed, and cleaned by hand to remove all the residue. The outside layer is completely taken off [for hygiene reasons].”

The contents are then compressed together into a new soap mix, and given a new fragrance, before being cut into entirely new 100g soaps, each of which is stamped with the Unisoap logo.

These new soaps are now set - from Spring onwards - to be distributed among charity associations and groups helping disadvantaged people in France and worldwide.

The group also helps to distribute hygiene kits to homeless people and disadvantaged families.

Explaining the association’s philanthropic mission, Ms Grumel said: “There are 2.2 million children who die each year from illnesses caused by a lack of hygiene.”

Unisoap says its three aims are to reduce waste, allow more people to access good hygiene, and create employment among disabled people.

Almost five tonnes of soap has already been collected from around 100 hotels, but the group is working to sign up even more hotel partners.

Existing partners also include around 20 hotels in the global Accor group, and establishments under the brands Novotel, Hotel Mercure, and Quality Hotel.

Mr Ottogalli, of the Platine hotel, said: “From slippers to shower gel to body lotion, there is such waste among hotel products, that the sector - faced with a clientele that is increasingly sensitive to this type of thing - is slowly starting to change.”

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