By Yoyo Chow
HONG KONG (Reuters) - Ever wonder what happens to the half-used bars of individually wrapped soap when you leave your hotel to head home after a holiday or business trip?
Soap Cycling is helping to recycle the hundreds of thousands of such bars discarded in hotels across Hong Kong, and distribute them in hygiene kits to the homeless and low-income communities.
Founded in 2012, the non-governmental organisation (NGO) has partnered with over 80 hotels in the territory including five-star ones like the Island Shangri-La and the Mandarin Oriental Hong Kong, and collected some 17,545 kg (38,680 pounds) of soap last year.
"We are here to help people who are in desperate need of hygiene products," said Soap Cycling operations manager Matthew Mo, explaining that recycling the soap helps to reduce the environmental impact as well.
Once collected, volunteers process the soap at a warehouse, scraping off its top layer, shredding it into flakes and then moulding the soap into bigger bars. The discarded soap does not have to be sanitised before being recycled as its pH value is not conducive for bacterial growth, said Mo.
The recycled soap is packed into kits with surgical masks and hand sanitiser, and sent to charities that donate them to the homeless or to schoolchildren from lower-income communities.
Roughly 5,000 hygiene kits are sent per year to ImpactHK, an NGO in Hong Kong that works with the homeless, each with a soap inside.
"Where they stay, they can't really keep any belongings," said Michelle Wong, programme manager of ImpactHK, of the people to whom they give out the packs.
"That's why this kind of hygiene kit, as a tester or sample size, actually fits their needs."
Soap Cycling, which is based in Hong Kong, has also expanded its recycling programme to Myanmar, Singapore and mainland China, and distributes their soap in the Philippines and Cambodia.
(Reporting by Yoyo Chow; Writing by Karishma Singh; Editing by Joseph Campbell and Ana Nicolaci da Costa)