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Soap recycling charity eyes Philippine plants

20 November 2017

By Vir B. Lumicao

Ang produktong sabon.
A local charity founded five years ago at the University of Hong Kong is planning to set up processing facilities in the Philippines for its highly successful recycling of hotel leftover soap bars for the poor.

This could happen in the next two years, Patrick Davis, general manager of Soap Cycling, which recycles used soap bars and leftover amenities from hotels in Hong Kong, China and Japan, and ships the reprocessed soap to Asia’s needy communities.

The group marked its fifth anniversary on Nov 10 at the HKU by reviewing what it had done since its founding by lecturer David Bishop “on a tripartite mission of local youth empowerment, waste reduction and improving lives through improved sanitation and hygiene.”

After producing over 100,000 kilograms or 2 million bars of reprocessed bath soap over the past five years and shipping the majority of these to the Philippines, Cambodia and Laos, the organization said it was now sharing more of its reprocessed soap with the underprivileged people in Hong Kong.

Since October 2016, Soap Cycling has worked with Feeding Hong Kong, Sunshine Action, Impact HK, Refugee Union, Free to Run and other NGOs to hand out more than 11,000 hygiene kits and 136 one-liter bottles of liquid amenities to the homeless, refugees, and elderly poor..

With its new MEY program, Soap Cycling is tapping the city’s migrants, elderly and youth to help in its soap recycling facility in Kwai Hing.

“Our new work-integrated social enterprise program will provide meaningful employment opportunities to disadvantaged groups, but will focus on the elderly during its initial start-up stage,” Davis, an HKU alumnus, said in his speech.

The MEY employees will work with Soap Cycling’s undergraduate interns to run the facility day to day, he said.. The biggest challenge is finding people for the facility as the group looks to expand capacity and branch out to amenity bottle recycling.

Replying to a query from The SUN, he said Soap Cycling gives reprocessed soap to recipients in the Philippines via International Care Ministries, Project PEARLS in Tondo, Kilos Bayanihan and other groups with WASH (water, sanitation, hygiene) programs.

Both Davis and Bishop told the SUN later that demand for reprocessed soap was rising in the Philippines, so, Soap Cycling is seeking partners that can provide facilities where soap from hotels in Hong Kong, Japan and other countries would be shipped directly and reprocessed.

“We’re actually trying to find some partners in the Philippines where we can set up soap cycling there, so that we can have not only more soap but also local soap recycling and, hopefully, local job creation,” Bishop said.

When Bishop set up Soap Cycling in 2012, he wasn’t focusing necessarily on the soap, but on his students, he said. “I was trying to find a good way for them to learn to be entrepreneurs and investigators, but without taking on too much risk on their own.”

“And so, we thought soap recycling was a good idea, there was a company in the US that had started doing it and I thought that was good idea, and it could help a lot of people in Asia. So, all the pieces were put together, I guess,” Bishop said.

He said Soap Cycling befriended and got help and advice from the US recycler for some time until it merged with another firm. The group now cooperates with several corporates and organizations, Bishop said.

He said the group first distributed to the Philippines in 2012 and had since shared its soap with poor communities in Mindanao, Cebu, Bohol, Bacolod, Dipolog, Guimaras, Iloilo, Panay, Western Visayas, El Nido in Palawan, and all over Luzon.

He said after Typhoon Yolanda, his group went to help rebuild homes and delivered soap to people across the Philippines.

Bishop said ICM is a big partner of Soap Cycling, as it teaches the poor about sanitation, hygiene, and hand-washing. ICM did not provide soap in the past, so the group gave soap. He said Soap Cycling also gave soap and sanitation items for schools and school children.

Soap Cycling, run each semester by 15 to 25 students, is the first nonprofit organization of its kind. Since 2012, more than 200 students have played a role in shaping its operations and strategy.

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