Most hotels provide bars of soap to guests, but rarely will these bar soap be used up by the time the guests check out. I always find it extremely wasteful for hotels to throw away these otherwise still usable bars of soap, and that is why I always bring them home and continue to use them. Yet I understand 99% of the population will not do that…who wants the hassle? Therefore, years ago, I was excited to learn about a global initiative to recycle these bars of soap so children in the developing world can wash their hands.
I was even more excited to see a similar initiative launched in Hong Kong. Soap Cycling is a nonprofit organization founded by Mr. David Bishop who is a lecturer at the University of Hong Kong, Faculty of Business and Economics. It works with the hospitality industry to collect, sanitize and recycle slightly used soaps and other sanitation amenities. These items are then distributed to underprivileged families and schools in disadvantaged communities around the world where the lack of proper hygiene can result in life threatening illnesses.
Since I joined the Soap Cycling’s cycling trip to Fujian during Easter holiday, I was invited to visit and volunteer at its factory in Shenzhen before the trip. The recycling process starts with using a paint blade scraper to remove any dirt from those slightly used soaps. Then soap is poured into a machine which breaks them into small chunks. Next, the small chucks of soap are put into another machine which grinds them into even smaller pieces. Finally, the smaller pieces are put into a machine which combine them and molds them into new bars of soap. The soap is then extruded from the machine and needs to be manually cut into individual bars each measures roughly 4.5 cm long. It was delightful to participate in the process which gives a second life to these slightly used bars of soap which would otherwise have gone to the landfill.
Soap Cycling is the first organisation of its kind in Asia, and is operated largely through student volunteers from HKU. Students who enrol in the Venture Management Internship Course become interns of Soap Cycling during the semester. To obtain real world experience in operating a non-profit organisation is invaluable for the students. The constant influx of interns also brings in new ideas and energy, helping to maintain momentum and “freshness”. In contrast, some non-profit organisations that rely solely on full-time employees have difficulty improving.
For example, as a volunteer, I noticed the soap was bending as it was extruded because of a difference in height between the extruder and the cutting table. It caused the long bar to crack and the cracked soap needs to be cut off and returned to the shredding machine to go through the whole recycling process again. I suggested to them to raise the height of the table to reduce this waste and they have stated they will implement the change.