The Hong Kong Special Administrative Region (SAR) is home not only to approximately 7.3 million full-time residents but also to a steady stream of business travelers, tourists and other hotel guests.
The continual procession of lodging guests results in an ongoing flow of barely used bars and bottles of soap—products that can play a valuable hygiene role in local households or in parts of the world where soap is difficult to afford.
Hong Kong-based Soap Cycling is a nonprofit organization established in the SAR to collect, sanitize and redistribute the considerable volumes of barely used soap generated in Hong Kong’s hundreds of hotels. In 2016, the organization collected some 600,000 bars of soap, or about 24,000 kilograms (53,000 pounds).
Patrick Davis, general manager of Soap Cycling, says most of Hong Kong’s hotels have been “quite keen” to cooperate in the effort since Soap Cycling was founded by University of Hong Kong (HKU) law students in 2012, who worked in close cooperation with faculty member David Bishop.
Soap Cycling’s co-founding sponsor is the Hong Kong-based Chow Tai Fook Charity Foundation. Among the support provided by Chow Tai Fook is donated warehouse space where Soap Cycling conducts its processing and packaging activities.
Bishop and Davis have tied HKU students (and now students from other schools and universities) into the Soap Cycling effort, allowing them to gain experience in marketing, logistics, accounting, human resources and other disciplines by serving as a highly coordinated volunteer staff for the nonprofit.
The students help recruit and manage additional volunteers drawn from Hong Kong’s business community, other schools, faith organizations and the large community of maids or “domestic helpers” who work in Hong Kong. Davis says in 2016 some 3,000 volunteers played a part in Soap Cycling’s efforts.
Several thousand of the helpers are from the Philippines, which is one of the leading destinations for the processed and repackaged soap (along with low-income people in Hong Kong itself). In the Philippines, says Davis, Soap Cycling works with the International Care Ministries not-for-profit to bring soap to the same places where new water treatment or purification plants have been established, thus bringing two health and sanitation upgrades in tandem.
Davis says the Soap Cycling effort has enjoyed reliable support from corporate sponsors, including financial institutions such as Credit Suisse, Morgan Stanley, Goldman Sachs and State Street Financial.
“Soap Cycling accomplishes an amazing amount of good for an organization that really has only two full-time people,” says Marcel Thurau, a State Street employee who has made Soap Cycling the focus of his community volunteer efforts.
The organization’s volunteers engage in several tasks, including helping to collect soap (often on weekends using rented vans); sort, process and repackage the soap; and spread the word through campaigns large and small to boost collection and spur increased collection and processing efforts.
The solid bar processing involves the use of a small grinding machine, a mixing process and a compressing/extrusion process to create new bars. Although Soap Cycling has concentrated on solid soap bars, which Davis says are the mainstay of soap used at upscale hotels in particular, the group also has developed a process to recycle leftover liquid soap.
The recycled and repackaged soap can ultimately save lives. The United States-based Centers for Disease Control estimates that “washing hands with soap and water could reduce diarrheal disease-associated deaths by up to 50 percent” globally.
Soap Cycling is preparing for its fifth anniversary in October 2017, and Davis and Thurau say the organization can benefit from additional volunteer or pro bono services, including a mechanic to maintain its processing machinery; an accounting firm willing to audit and sign off on its financial statements; and delivery services willing to provide vehicles and drivers on a spot basis.
The organization also is beginning to establish collection and processing efforts in Singapore and in Shenzhen, China, and anticipates recruiting additional supporters in both locations.
Those interested in offering volunteer services or otherwise finding out more about Soap Cycling can go to this web page.