Used Hotel Soap: Where Does It Go?

If you’re concerned about recycling, then you’ve no doubt worried—at one time or another—about items that don’t seem to be recyclable. For example, soaps; especially those little complementary bars (and the bottles of shampoo and conditioner, for that matter) you get at motels and hotels. Especially if you’ve only stayed one night at a motel, you may have agonized about what will happen to that unfinished bar or bottle you opened. At some places, the answer is yes—unfortunately, many hotels simply throw away those used products and they end up in landfills in the millions (an estimate of five million worldwide are tossed daily, with one million generated by the United States alone). But some hotels recycle their used soaps and shampoos.

Yes! Believe it or not, it’s actually entirely possible to recycle some used hygiene products. In brief, this technique (called “rebatching”) entails melting down soap bars, sanitizing the liquid soap, and then creating brand-new bars that are safe for anyone to use. The best part? The companies that recycle hygiene products like soap bars and shampoo usually distribute them to homeless shelters or around the world to nations where hygiene-related illnesses and deaths are a distressingly common occurrence. That bar of soap you left behind and fretted about after your last vacation? It may have been reborn and shipped somewhere where it helped protect a child from illness.

And while I’ve been talking mostly about used soap bars, keep in mind that even if you use a hotel’s entire bottle of complementary shampoo, the empty shampoo bottles are still recyclable. I don’t mean that in the sense that you take the bottle home, rinse it clean, and recycle it yourself (though you could do that) or that the hotel rinses and recycles the bottle (also possible). Instead, the companies that recycle used shampoo will also take empty hotel shampoo bottles and recycle those too. Bonus!

Want to know more about what happens to used hotel soap?