Wednesday, June 24, 2009

A Revisit to Hotel Soap Waste

As my faithful readers will recall, I wrote about a marketing ploy in which a soap manufacturer was marketing a new soap shape that supposedly reduced waste. I discussed this in Holey Soap: When Hotels and Green Marketing Collide. Since then, there have been others that have also found this product silly including Green Chemicals and

While it was satisfying to expose this marketing ploy, I felt that I left the problem only partially resolved. Sure, the truth was now out there, but what about the other unanswered questions?
1. Does the soap break down faster than a normal bar?
2. What alternatives are there for hotels looking to reduce their environmental impact when it comes to soap usage?

In this article, I hope to explore these two points.

After the Holey Soap was originally posted, I tried the holey soap and found that, as frequent reader and commenter Tom pointed out, the hollow nature of the bar caused it to break apart faster than a solid bar. This rapid breakdown was due to the increased surface area inherent to the design. The resulting pieces were not at all comfortable to use as the bar had only been designed to be comfortable when intact; I ended up mashing them together in order to continue using the bar. Unfortunately, I didn't take notes on the breakdown of the soap, but it seemed that the soap fractured after about 5 days and was completely used up within about 2 weeks.

I expected a bar with the weight of the holey soap (50 grams) to last quite a bit longer than it did. Unfortunately, I don't have another bar, so I'll have to leave a solid comparison of soaps to someone else. All things considered, this is not a product that can deliver on its claims, but what are the alternatives for a hotel looking for greener soap?

Traditional Bars
Traditional bars of similar or lesser weight will last longer than the hollow soap, so they won't need to be replaced as frequently. Finding the correct size and shape is difficult though, and guests will rarely finish a bar to completion so there is still a waste issue. With a larger bar, a lot of soap will be thrown away. With a smaller bar, more packaging waste generated each time the bar is replaced. Hotels must find a balance between these two waste generators.

Bulk Body Wash/Shampoo
This option is popular in some parts of Europe and in Asia. A liquid soap dispenser mounted in the shower stall, and guests use what they need. The dispenser is refilled from a larger container so that material and packaging waste is reduced. While I really like this option, it is not without problems. Liquid soap has a lot of water in it, weighs more, it takes up more space in a truck and in turn, has a higher carbon footprint than bar soap.

Bar soap is a dry good, so it is cheaper to ship per amount of usable product, but it is wasteful in the areas of product usage and packaging. Liquid soap has a bigger carbon footprint, but it is superior in the waste and packaging areas. If only there was a product that could be parsed out of a dispenser like liquid soap, but was dry and easy to ship...

Powdered Soap
Rarely seen now but still available, a powdered soap could fit the bill nicely. The powdered soap that I've used in the past has worked quite well, but it was formulated as a hand soap which may not work so well for the rest of the body. A new powdered soap for washing the entire body would be needed. There would also need to be a dispenser in or near the shower, but, if well executed, it may be the best solution to the hotel shower soap problem yet.

I'm sure that this article will generate more questions that need to be explored, but, right now, I feel much better about the situation as alternatives to this product have now been presented. Please feel free to comment about this article in the comments section below.

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  1. The idea of a powdered soap seems like it would cause even more waste. I admit that I have never tried using any, but I imagine that it would spill right out of my hands before I could satisfactorily complete my wash. How do you envision the process?

  2. If you've never used a powdered soap before, the process is pretty simple. First you wet your hand, and then you dispense some soap into it. that way it doesn't go flying around so much.

    I'd imagine the process to go very similarly to using body wash in your bare hand. You could even add a little water to the powder, make a paste and then apply that.

  3. Hi- visit us at I share your concern about soap waste and wasteful consumption as a whole. I would appreciate your comments.


  4. Check out the new Hollow Bath Soap design - US Patent No. 7,919,444. It is a bar soap with larger outside dimensions than those tiny hotel bars, and a hollow inside to reduce soap waste. Uses the same or less amount of soap material. The inside is like a wasp nest or honeycomb with thin interior cell walls to support the outer skin used to bath. I have not seen it in any hotel yet, though.

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