Updated: Nov 22, 2019
Have you ever wondered what happens to the soap you leave behind in a hotel room after you check out? According to Accor, a Scandic hotel chain, hotel guests use only 15% of the soaps, shampoos and conditioners found in the room, with the balance thrown away — some even unused and in their original packaging. The hospitality industry in the United States alone throws away approximately 2.6 million bars of soap daily. We’ll be taking a look into the impact that Soap Cycling, Asia’s first and largest soap recycling charity, has made all across Asia.
Soap Cycling is a nonprofit organization which was founded in 2012 by David Bishop, entrepreneur and University of Hong Kong professor, in hopes of both creating work opportunities for students and helping those in need of a basic everyday bathroom tool-- soap. They’re on a mission to recover, process, and distribute lightly used soap bars and bottled amenities to disadvantaged communities around the world, particularly Asia. Soap Cycling predominantly operates in Hong Kong, with expansion to more countries in Asia including China and Singapore.
Impact of Soap Cycling
Since its incorporation in 2012, Soap Cycling has recycled over 150,000 lbs of soap and distributed over 2,500,000 bars of soap, partnered with 80+ hotels in Hong Kong and more than 100 elsewhere, and garnered over 56,000 hours of work from volunteers.
Soap Cycling has not only impacted student volunteers, but has also created job opportunities for the minority, elderly, or youth.
The organization is mainly operated through student volunteers from the University of Hong Kong, providing more than 220 internship opportunities for students to help them develop key skills for today’s workplace. In 2017, Soap Cycling continued to provide internship opportunities and youth leadership education for 42 university students, which brings the total up to 207 students since our inception in 2012. Many of these students have gone on to create their own social businesses after graduation with their newfound experience in hand.
Grace Mak, Spring 2017 Intern Alumni, writes about internship experience, stating that “Soap Cycling has offered me an incomparable learning opportunity and helped me confirm my interest in business development. I established partnerships with hotels and companies in Mainland China for soap collection and volunteer activities.”
With life-skill training, cultural interactions with other students, career and life planning skills, employer interactions, and social entrepreneurship, these student interns walk out with the tools to succeed in the workplace and think of creative business opportunities.
These interns not only allowed Soap Cycling to keep running, but also assisted in the expansion to two other countries: China and Singapore.
A group of 12 interns from the National University of Singapore worked to engage with hotels, corporate sponsors, and other students to expand operations to the Lion City.
In 2017, 11 student interns from CUHK-Shenzhen’s nearby Longgang campus, as part of the Shenzhen team alongside Soap Cycle’s cornerstone partner and soap producer, the Ming Fai Group, was able to recruit over 80 hotels across China to contribute soap for reprocessing.
A group of 6 students from CUHK traveled to a primary school in Longling County in Baoshan City, Yunnan, China on an education volunteering program. They brought along soap bars reprocessed by Soap Cycling, and volunteered 80 hours of education for 532 primary school pupils on hand washing, eye protection, oral hygiene, and mental health. The week long trip helped the students realize the restricted lengths that they could provide for the community within the trip, but knew that their impact would go miles. One student writes that “As adults, we have the responsibility to protect these children, to help them protect themselves, so that they will have a better childhood growing up." Read more about their week-long trip.
Soap Cycling Hong Kong began with a focus on youth empowerment in 2012; in 2017, they introduced the “MEY Program”, focusing on employment opportunities for Minority, Elderly, and Youth populations in Hong Kong. This program aims to integrate disadvantaged people from the Hong Kong community, and offer them a chance to lead and be empowered, and receive a fair wage for their time and work, while simultaneously bringing them together with other members of the HK community.
Soap Cycling has also provided working opportunities to domestic workers. Pictured are foreign domestic workers from the Domestic Worker Empowerment Project after a very productive session (2,500 kg of soap processed) at HKU in September.
Soap Cycling exports most of its soap to disadvantaged communities in the Philippines, where over 8 million people live on less than US$.25 per day. The Philippines, just 1300 km south of Hong Kong, is Soap Cycle’s number one "export" market for reprocessed soap.
Why the Philippines?
According to UNICEF Philippines, poor sanitary conditions are the leading cause of diarrhoea, which is the leading cause of death for children under 5 in the developing world. Water.org calculates that over a quarter of Filipinos rely on unsafe water sources and lack access to basic sanitation resources. The National Sewerage and Septage Management Program estimates that 55 people die every day in the Philippines due to diseases caused by lack of proper sanitation facilities. Because of this reason, expansion to the Philippines seemed like the right move to make.
In 2017, 11,660 kgs or 291,500 bars of soap was distributed in the Philippines alone.
Patrick Davis, documents his experience travelling to Bohol to work with International Care Ministries (ICM), Soap Cycling's largest soap distribution partner in the Philippines. Biannually, Soap Cycling sends 5 boxes of soap (550 kgs or 14,000 bars) to each base that is part of their WASH program. The soap is used to help families both improve their home healthcare as well as save precious income for daily needs, as well as longer-term investments in education and micro-businesses.
The all-around impact that Soap Cycling has created, not only through the communities that it serves, but through its job opportunities that it provides for students and disadvantaged people, will create a lifelong impact for all.
For more information and news regarding Soap Cycling, check out their blogs on Soap Cycling website.
For more organizations involved with soap recycling, read the Complete Guide to Soap Recycling.