Unlike most hotel guests, Shawn Seipler spends a lot of time thinking about the wasted resources left behind after he checks out of a hotel.
Two years ago, the thought of the barely used bar of soap in his hotel-room shower led him to create CleanTheWorld.org, a non-profit organization that has since collected, sanitized and shipped more than 8.5 million bars of soap to impoverished communities in 45 countries around the world.
These days, Seipler is focusing on an even bigger target - the millions of tons of food, trash and other waste products hotels discard every year. Now in development, Clean the World Mobile Waste Processors are trailer-sized processors that will turn that 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."
That, said Seipler, will not only help keep waste out of local landfills, leading to lower waste-hauling costs, but also result in lower energy bills: "Hopefully, that translates into lower costs for guests."
Turning trash into energy is hardly a new concept, although the bulk of the business is still conducted through large-scale municipal facilities that incinerate hundreds of tons of waste per day.
Adapting that technology to smaller commercial settings, such as hotels, will be a challenge, said Patricia Griffin, president and founder of the Green Hotels Association: "There may be issues of aesthetics, exhaust and space. A lot of hotels don't have an extra square inch."
Nevertheless, Griffin also believes the hotel industry could be a prime target for such efforts. "Hotels have always been progressive and on the leading edge - many of us saw our first flat-screen TV in a hotel," she told msnbc.com. "If there's a way of turning waste into energy that works for them, I think hotels would jump on it."
"We think there's real potential in it," said Jennifer Bauchner, director of rooms and sustainability for North America for Starwood Hotels and Resorts, which already participates in Clean the World's soap-recycling program. "Any opportunity to divert waste from a landfill is something the industry needs to explore."
For now, they'll have to wait as Clean the World continues testing its prototype. According to Seipler, they hope to have their first commercial unit in place in Europe in early 2012 with the first ones in North America by the middle of the year.
About the Author
Rob Lovitt is a longtime travel writer who still believes the journey is as important as the destination. Follow him at Twitter.