Besides being a necessity for personal hygiene, soap can leave you with fresher, brighter and smoother skin. But believe it or not, not everyone has access to soap, let alone soap that will leave your skin feeling soft and smooth—and a lot of soap actually goes wasted. Just think of all of the hand soaps left in hotel rooms that will never be re-used.
Fortunately, such “wasted soap” can now mean living healthier and better for the disadvantaged. Law professor David Bishop started Soap Cycling in Hong Kong in 2011 as an endeavour to recycle such wasted soaps, and it has since turned into a movement with chapters across Asia. Pat Davis, managing director of Soap Cycling Singapore, shares the details.
So you collect wasted soap from hotels?
Every month, we pick up wasted soap from hotels such as The Ritz-Carlton, Millenia Singapore and The Warehouse Hotel. After that, we get it sorted, cleaned and packed, then donate it either locally to charities serving migrant workers or distribute it to charities in the region with water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) programmes. We don’t have mechanised processing capabilities in Singapore, but we are acquiring a hand-operated soap-processing machine that will help expand output as well as improve product quality.
Do you reprocess all the soap collected?
Yes. We use a method known as soap-scraping to remove the top layer so the collected soap is as good as new. Most soap can be broken down into powder after cleaning and amalgamated together into new bars using machinery. But some have special ingredients or textures, hence soap-scraping is the only option, after which we distribute them in their original form.
With almost 500kg of soap amassed for 2019, we hear that you plan to collect liquid soap soon. What are the challenges?
Liquid soap is more complicated than bar soap to process. Unlike the latter, we can’t mix different brands or products. We need to also consider how to responsibly dispose of empty bottles. We currently share premises with another charity so we don’t have sufficient space for storage.
Besides migrant workers, who has benefited from your work in Singapore?
Our soap mostly goes to migrant workers, such as those injured and seeking assistance, and those staying in dormitories in Tuas and Jurong. Recently, we distributed 800 bars of soap to low-income families and we’re exploring a partnership with Louis Ng, MP for Nee Soon East GRC, to distribute soap bars to cleaners in his estate and liquid soap to low-income families.
In July, you sent 400 soap bars to the Philippines to benefit Journey of Hearts, correct?
Yes. Journey of Hearts is a community group founded by Malaysian theatre practitioner Guo Xiong. It’s reaches out to slum and cemetery dwellers in Manila in the Philippines. They have no access to basic needs and rely on laundry soap powder as it’s cheaper. It’s heart-breaking, but that’s the reality for them.
How does Soap Cycling help reduce preventable child deaths and the under-five mortality rate in the region?
The majority of children under five years old without access to sanitation and hygiene resources succumb to diseases such as diarrhoea, pneumonia and tuberculosis. Soap is the most cost-effective tool to prevent such illnesses, but it is often a luxury for many families at the bottom of the pyramid in developing countries in Asia. By working with charities that administer WASH programmes to these communities, we can help to change attitudes and habits that enable them to maintain good health.
How can we chip in?
We’re always looking for volunteers to help with soap collection, processing, and distribution. We’ve added new hotel partners and we aim to collect and distribute 1,000kg (about 25,000 bars) this year. We also have a school outreach programme in the works, and we’re exploring ideas to use soap as a social enterprise. Initiatives such as this can help to mould the next generation’s attitudes toward sustainability so future consumers can help push the hospitality industry to waste less.