HKU students launch soap recycling scheme to help save young lives

The HKU project is helping charities to improve hygiene in poor Asian countries

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 26 September, 2012, 4:34am

Washing hands with soap can halt the spread of diseases such as diarrhoea and pneumonia, which kill 3.5 million children a year, yet Hong Kong hotels throw away two to three million barely used bars annually.

Students at the University of Hong Kong aim to change that after devising a way to turn hotel waste into lifesaving donations for poverty-stricken families.

They launched a charity organisation, Soap Cycling, at the Renaissance Harbour View Hotel in Wan Chai yesterday, an event attended by a dozen representatives of the hospitality industry.

The students are collecting two to three tonnes a month of surplus soap from 15 hotels, including the Grand Hyatt and Island Shangri-La. More hotels are signing up, and Soap Cycling hopes to have 60 partner hotels by next year.

After less than 12 months in operation, Soap Cycling is already one of the three largest soap recycling and distribution organisations in the world and the first to operate in Asia.

After collection, the soap is sanitised and reprocessed by hand to create new bars. These are given to non-governmental organisations and charities, such as Unicef, which distribute them to underprivileged families and schools across Asia.

David Bishop, a law lecturer at HKU who founded the programme, said between one million and 1.5 million children could be saved each year by providing the tools for proper hygiene. "I wanted to challenge students to engage in real leadership experience and to give back to society," said Bishop, who chairs the organisation.

The other managerial positions are held by students in the five-year joint business and law (BBA) programme.

Joyce Leung Ho-yan, 19, who serves as the group's marketing and communications manager, said: "Compared to other projects, this gives us more responsibility. We are actually running our own organisation."

At the event's launch, Peter Cheng Kar-shing, chairman of jeweller Chow Tai Fook, presented a HK$500,000 donation to Soap Cycling.

This will enable the purchase of industrial soap-making equipment, increasing output from 5,000 to 20,000 bars a week.

Hong Kong Hotels Association chairman Victor Chan said: "I urge our industry counterparts - not just in Hong Kong but around the world - to support this remarkable programme."