On soap and other waste: are we doing it wrong?
In nature, and in a sustainable society, waste from one process is food for another (this and lots of other great stuff from William McDonough). Clean the World, and their effort to capture wasted soaps from hotels across the United States, might well be a brilliant example of this principle in action. Yet the recent enthusiasm for the Clean the World initiative gives one pause.
Concerns about the soap recycling initiative:
1. Why so much wasted soap? This seems a design issue. Hotels are under the impression that people need more soap than they apparently do. Scandic Hotels and many other properties who meet criteria for eco-certifications, have long avoided such waste though the use of refillable containers.
2. Access to clean water and toilets The communication here, for all the life-saving it references, seems to overlook the big part of the crisis that is the lack of access to clean water and sanitation (toilets and water treatment). How do we join up a soap initiative with an access-to-clean-water-and-toilets initiative so that boxes of soap don’t arrive independent of the water needed to make them effective?
3. Donations of such products are discouraged by charity experts. For every free bar of soap that arrives, the entrepreneurial incentive to open a shop or create a small business to create and distribute soap just got smaller. Is it not better to build capacity in these communities than create a culture of dependence?
4. Local donations downplayed? Although a number of US-based charities receive soap, the front page of the Clean the World website has a focus on faces from impoverished nations. Maybe it’s just a design choice, and is related to their brand and communication position that soap is needed to save lives but it seems odd not to position this as a local need, as well.
The point, here, isn’t to decry any organization as misguided, but to ask something more of our industry. We’re better than this. We can design our businesses to eliminate such waste and allocate the resulting savings in ways that truly build capacity and create meaningful change for communities in need.