We probably don’t notice that hotels by their very nature of operations are great waste generators. The hospitality they provide us comes at a price, a tangible one on our tabs, and an intangible one on the environment.
Think of Shawn Seipler as an environmental hero. His frequent hotel visits made him aware the enormous amounts of waste generated – and more importantly – how that could be converted into a social enterprise. That idea formed the beginnings of CleanTheWorld.org, a non-profit organization that collects leftover bars of soap from hotels and then sanitizes them before shipping them off to impoverished communities in 45 countries around the world. 8.5 million bars of soap are hardly a trifling amount.
Maybe, one day he can say that it all started with soap. His latest enterprise takes the idea further by focusing on the millions of tons of food, trash and other waste products hotels discard every year. Clean the World Mobile Waste will use large mobile units to turn waste into energy.
“There are a lot of [stand-alone] waste-to-energy systems out there,” said Seipler. “What our units will do is pull up to a hotel, take its organic waste and other recyclables and process it into gas and electricity that can be sold back to the hotel at a lower rate than they’d normally pay.”
Though it’s not a new concept, using hotels as energy generators and consumers in a single cycle, is certainly novel. Hotels have restrictions like lack of space and a mania about cleanliness and aesthetics. Seipler feels that hotels are open-minded about new technology if the benefits work in their advantage.
Patricia Griffin, president and founder of the Green Hotels Association believes the idea has potential, “Hotels have always been progressive and on the leading edge — many of us saw our first flat-screen TV in a hotel. If there’s a way of turning waste into energy that works for them, I think hotels would jump on it.”
Jennifer Bauchner, director of rooms and sustainability for North America for Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which also participates in Clean the World’s soap-recycling program, thumbs up the idea.
“We think there’s real potential in it. Any opportunity to divert waste from a landfill is something the industry needs to explore.”
Seipler says that their first commercial unit will be in place in Europe in early 2012 with the first ones in North America by the middle of the year.