My Volunteer Experience With Soap Cycling

I discovered a website called Hands on Hong Kong a few weeks ago that has a community bulletin where all the charities and non-profits in the city can post volunteer opportunities. Before I start promoting it to my students, I wanted to go check it out in person so I signed up for an event called 'Soap Cycling' and headed over there Saturday morning.

Soap Cycling is an environmental initiative from Hong Kong University that aims to promote hygiene and sanitation by recycling used soap bars from hotels. In Hong Kong alone, hotels throw away 2-3 million bars of soap annually. Combine that with the horrifying statistic that each year around the world 3.5 millions kids die of pneumonia and another 850,000 of diarrhea (both diseases that could be prevented by simply washing your hands), and you can see why these two causes clearly go hand in hand.

Crates full of recycled soap from Hong Kong hotels

By collecting used soap bars from hotels, Soap Cycling prevents them from piling up in Hong Kong's already overstuffed landfills. They then rely on volunteers to scrape the top layer of the soap off so it is like new, and then ship it to communities in developing nations like Cambodia and the Philippines.

All the soap I scraped clean in 3 hours

My experience there was pretty wonderful. I signed up for a 3 hour shift and basically hung out scraping soap in a room in their warehouse the whole time with a group of about 10 other volunteers. There was a family, some teenage boys, a random secretary, and a teenage girl who dragged her mother along (so sweet!). We all chatted and laughed and whined when our hands started going numb, but carried on. There were silent times for reflection, and I realized soap carving is similar to knitting in that it is tedious yet soothing, and gives you time to really think about your life and the world in general. Yes, sometimes you come across a piece of soap with pubes or other questionable smudges but you just scrape it off, thank the karma fairies that you are wearing gloves and a mask, and carry on.

Me with the group of ladies in my volunteer group

If you are interested in getting involved with Soap Cycling, or any other charity in Hong Kong, check out the community bulletin board here at Hands on Hong Kong. There are opportunities to work in soup kitchens, help the elderly, tutor minority children, etc. Find what suits you and donate some of your time to a worthwhile cause! I will be going back to Soap Cycling twice a month for the remainder of this semester. In any given week, they can only process 50% of the soap that is donated because of lack of manpower, so every person helps!

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