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March 15, 2010; Orlando Sentinel | An Orlando, Fla., based charity, in business for less than a year, is cleaning up—on both donations and good works. Clean the World Foundation Inc. was started last year to help improve hygiene for people in impoverished countries by sending them soap and shampoo discarded by guests staying in U.S. hotels.

The charity, which was already recycling soap and shampoo from 44,000 hotel rooms in 19 states, just signed a contract with Walt Disney, giving it access to discarded toiletries from another 28,000 rooms.

These materials are sanitized, repackaged, and sent to countries such as Honduras, Mexico, Guatemala and Lesotho. While primarily focused on preventing illnesses resulting from poor hygiene, Clean the World also helps its partner hotels dispose of the left-over soap and shampoo in a more environmentally friendly way. According to the Orlando Sentinel, hotels pay Clean the World a tax-deductible monthly fee of 50 cents a room to process what otherwise they’d have to pay to be hauled away as waste.

As an example of the volume it processes, workers in a South Orange, Fla., warehouse sort up to 10,000 bars of soap a day. All the bars are scrubbed by hand and soaked in a bleach solution. Then they are placed in a restaurant-grade steamer, which kills any E. coli, salmonella or staph. After that, the bars are wrapped, boxed and shipped to countries participating in the program. Clean the World works with groups such as World Vision and Harvest Time International that operate hygiene programs in these places.

While distributing soap can help, that alone isn’t enough to cut down on hygiene-related illnesses, according to experts. Bernardo Ramirez, an assistant professor of epidemiology at the University of Central Florida, who says that “there’s almost nothing that cannot be improved with soap and water,” also maintains that education and free distribution are essential. In countries with limited water, Ramirez says soap won’t be enough. People also need to be taught how to improve their overall health habits.” At least this is a start.—Bruce Trachtenberg