Dear Umbra,

At a gym I go to, lots of guys pick up bars of soap, use them for two minutes, and then leave them (even though there is a liquid soap dispenser in the showers). Is there any good use for several pounds of partially used soap per day?

Dennis
Seattle, Wash.

Dearest Dennis,

I have some harebrained schemes for you, but there are some natural limitations on the success of used-soap projects. First, there is the cost/benefit limitation: As I’m sure you know, the environment would be better served if you spent your valuable time convincing the gym owners to install low-flow showerheads or compact fluorescent light bulbs or other tried-and-true conservation measures. Second, there is the Ick limitation: I’m afraid that soap pre-owned by strange sweaty men is not the most appetizing commodity.

If you still want to pursue this project, don’t despair: Any true soap can be re-milled — that is, heated to melting, then poured into new molds. While the soap is liquid, you can add scented oils, oatmeal, tiny rubber duckies, or whatever strikes your fancy. I think you know what I’m getting at: holiday gifts! Nothing says “I Love You” better than somewhat homemade soap.

If gifts don’t grab you, how about donations? Organizations with bathing facilities and tight budgets might appreciate a soap-redistribution system; I’m thinking of shelters, mostly, though you could ask at schools. But here again, the sweaty-man issue rears its unsavory head: Used bar soap can be a veritable bacteria-mobile, and might be rejected on that basis.

Alternatively, you could campaign for your gym to cease offering solid soap — an environmental initiative that could be cloaked as a cost-saving measure or even as an anti-germ campaign. But be careful not to let anyone propose antibacterial liquid soap as the solution; we don’t want your gym to contribute to the creation of antibiotic resistance and Super Bacteria.

Fitfully,
Umbra