Finding Hope In Used Soap

Finding Hope in Used Soap

An underprivileged child in the Philippines learning proper hand washing procedures Soap Cycling giving out soap to kids in Ghana

Hotel guests typically are provided with small, wrapped complimentary bars of soap. Rarely do they use the whole bar. What happens to the remainder?

That question spurred students from the Faculty of Business and Economics to engage with the community in an initiative that offers a solution and benefits both the environment and public health.

Inspired by an American organisation that collects and recycles hotel soap in the U.S., the students set up a social enterprise, Soap Cycling, to provide a similar service in Hong Kong. Though only 7 months old, the organisation has already sent soap to Cambodia, the Philippines, Myanmar, Kenya, Ghana, Vietnam, Mainland China and those in need in Hong Kong. There are plans to widen distribution as the organisation matures.

The students have contacted hotels, applied for funding from the Student Knowledge Exchange Project Grant Scheme, worked with donors, collected and recycled the soap, and linked up with non-governmental organisations for distribution. New World Development and the Chow Tai Fook Charity Foundation have provided support that enabled Soap Cycling to secure warehouse space, obtain a soap recycling machine and appoint a general manager earlier this year.

The organisation is still run by students, though, with guidance from mentor Mr David Bishop of the Faculty and an advisory board.

Janice So Wing-in and Joyce Leung Ho-yan, both second year BBA(Law) students, say they are happy because their team is making an impact on the world. Along with other team members they have worked with UNICEF to organise five soap recycling workshops, held a press conference to launch the organisation and staged a carnival to promote hand washing. The message was important because nearly 30 per cent of deaths of children under five years old in developing countries are caused by diseases that can be dramatically reduced by washing hands with soap.

"I never imagined this organisation would grow so fast and we'd get so much done in such a short period," Janice said. Starting with 25 hotels, they now have more than 40 other hotels that want to work with them.

The students had to apply their knowledge in marketing, accounting, management, law, logistics and human resources throughout the process.

There is also a learning aspect for the students who are dealing with real-world clients and time demands. "We really have to learn as we go but it's also been a good opportunity to work on something that's real," Joyce said.

"We don't want to create a huge soap making plant here but instead encourage other universities in the region to set up centres in places like Manila or India or Macau. It's a pretty awesome concept and we see a lot of value in it," Mr Bishop said.

The Soap Cycling website is at www.soapcycling.org and the Facebook is at www.facebook.com/SoapCycling.