They end up in the trash little used. A union wants to stop this waste. He collects and recycles them. This not only helps the environment. Three times Christian Steko runs the green soap over a cutter on each side. He then passes the rod to his colleague, who works the edges meticulously with a vegetable peeler. Another colleague checks the result under a large magnifying glass. There should be no dirt or hair left in the soap. This is because the soaps on the table are from hotels, they have all been used. The Lebenshilfe soap factory in Nuremberg wants to turn them into new ones.

Work for people with disabilities

In many hotel rooms there are small packaged soaps. Visitors usually only use them a few times before they end up in the trash. For hygiene reasons, soaps should not be left on the sink for the next guests. This is where the non-profit organization SapoCycle takes action. It was founded by Bernise Riviere and Astrid Leutner at the beginning of the year near Munich as a German branch of the non-profit organization of the same name in Switzerland. There is also a branch in France. The aim of the two women is to protect the environment and at the same time help those in need. “Every day, more than 5 million solid hotel soaps are actually thrown away around the world,” says Astrid Leutner. According to the German Association of Hotels and Restaurants Dehoga there are no corresponding figures for Germany. However, with around 44,000 accommodations in Germany the number of soaps ending up in the trash must not be negligible.

“About 30 hotels in Germany already work with SapoCycle,” explains Bernise Riviere. About 700 kg of soap have been recycled in the last six months, with funding from hotels and donations. This also benefits the workers at the soap factory in Nuremberg, which employs disabled people. “The team responsible for recycling has been working very intensively since then,” says sales manager Helmut Mackert. Previously, in order to fill their hours, employees had to take on other tasks in between. But now there is so much to do, they are thinking of developing a special machine to support the team”. In this way, more than 500 new soaps were created, which SapoCycle distributes to people in need through community grocery stores or the municipal social service of Nuremberg.

End of solid soaps in hotels?

Christian Steko says he’s happy that his job allows him to do something good for people who can’t afford soap. “This makes me happy.” Not being able to wash your hands or body with soap is something usually associated with poorer countries. That is why the Clean The World organization has these countries in mind. According to its own figures, it recycles soaps from more than 8,000 hotels worldwide and donates them through aid organizations to people in countries where many die from respiratory infections, such as pneumonia, or from diarrheal diseases, such as cholera. SapoCycle, on the other hand, deliberately focuses on local aid programs to minimize its carbon footprint through short transport routes and because the need is also great in Germany, as the founders explain. “There are 17 food distribution centers in Munich alone, where hygiene products are also distributed,” says Astrid Leutner. “It’s a factor that’s always underestimated and people don’t dare say they can’t afford soap.”

Of course, according to Dehoga, many hotels prioritize sustainability and now use large packaging for cleaning and care products. However, it is unlikely that hotels will completely remove them from their rooms for environmental reasons. At least shampoo and liquid soap are mandatory for hotels of one star and above, explains a Dehoga representative. According to her, soap in solid form and other cosmetic products intended only for hotel rooms will soon be a thing of the past. From 2030 the EU packaging regulation will ban it. Leutner isn’t worried that SapoCycle will then be out of a job. “Where people wash, they need soap. There will always be scraps to recycle – in any form.”

Editor: Irini Anastasopoulou