Health & Medicine

Soap recycling helps Haiti

This story is a part of

Human Needs

This story is a part of

Human Needs

HaitiDistribution_446529208.jpg

Haitian earthquake survivors gather at a Red Cross distribution site in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to receive non-perishable supplies Jan. 25, 2010. (Image by Flickr user MC1 Joshua Lee Kelsey, USN, Public Domain)

This story was originally covered by PRI's Here and Now. For more, listen to the audio above.

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Since October, cholera has swept through Haiti, killing more than 1,000 and hospitalizing more than 25,000 people. The disease is caused by bacteria, which are spread largely by contact with fecal matter. The bacteria may be carried in contaminated food or water, or by unwashed hands. The desperate need for soap throughout the country is clear.

The organization Clean the World is trying to help by recycling used soap from hotels across North America and distributing it to countries like Haiti. And there is plenty of soap for them to use. In the United States alone, hotels discard at least a million bars of the stuff into landfills every day.

The idea of recycling used soap makes many uncomfortable, fearing that the soap itself may carry disease. To address this risk, Clean the World has developed a process to sterilize the donated soap. In an interview with Here and Now, the organization's cofounder and executive director Shawn Seipler described the organization's "3 step recycling process" -- removing debris from the surface of the bar, dipping it in a diluted bleach solution, and steaming it. The organization partnered with an environmental lab to test the process on bars of soap infected with skin diseases, and it was found to completely eliminate these diseases in treated bars.

There is no shortage of need for the Clean the World's work: 9000 children die of pneumonia and diarrheal disease each day, making them the biggest killers of children around the planet. These deaths are very easily preventable. Studies have found that the prevalence of these illnesses might be reduced by 60 percent just through the use of bar soap and hygiene education.

The process is helpful in donor countries, too. Would-be waste in US landfills is diverted to help save children dying of easily preventable illnesses in developing countries. Clean the World believes this kind of virtuous cycle could create a "hygiene revolution" throughout the world

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