Reducing Plastic Waste, Helping Local People

Soap Cycling reached a big milestone on Friday, November 4th as we did our first ever direct distribution of 1 liter bottles of upcycled hotel shampoo and shower gel to low-income residents of a local housing estate in Tuen Mun. Wing Lau, a 2nd-year exchange student from the University of California - Irvine shares her experience as a Soap Cycling intern managing this project with a group of five elderly MEY(美) workers.

Soap Cycling intern, Lau Nga Wing (far left) joins elderly MEY 美 workers to distribute hygiene kits to the elderly in Kwai Chung Sept 15, 2018

In partnership with the nonprofit organization Youth With a Mission (YWAM) in Tuen Mun, Hong Kong, the Soap Cycling team braved windy fall temperatures to hand out 53 liters of bottled liquid soap to the local residents. In the past we have only distributed bottled liquid soap to homeless shelters and charity organizations. This time, it was our first attempt to distribute up-cycled bottled liquid soap to needy individuals. The plan revolved around creating a depositing system: residents who are interested in our products would pay a HKD$20 deposit for a 1 liter bottle. Then in the following month if they bring back their empty 1 liter bottles, they can choose to receive their money back, get a refill, or exchange their bottle for a new one. By using this innovative scheme, we hope to encourage them in recycling the 1 liter bottles by not disposing them after use. Instead they are motivated to return the bottle to us, and through this process, save both the environment and money at the same time!

My experience in this distribution event has opened up my eyes to the growing problems in Hong Kong’s society. The residents queuing for our products included low-income families who were struggling to make ends meet and many elderly who were willing to wait in long lines and withstand chilly temperatures just to get free products like food and in our case, soap. However, the smiles and gestures of gratitude seen from these residents while handing them our liquid bottles made the whole experience a very heartwarming one for me personally. It was especially rewarding knowing how much they needed and appreciated these daily resources that Soap Cycling and other charities are providing. Not only are we helping these residents save money, but we are also helping the environment by saving a large amount of single-use plastic from going to waste. Just this past semester (Fall 2018), Soap Cycling recycled over 500 kg of empty hotel plastic bottled amenities such as shampoo, bath gel, and conditioner through this program.

As an exchange student attempting to tackle this project in an unfamiliar neighborhood, it was indeed a very nerve-wracking assignment at first. However, with the kind help from the Soap Cycling elderly 美 workers guiding me through the whole distribution process, I was able to overcome the many challenges faced and in the process, gained new valuable communication and management skills. Seeing the many smiling faces and lively interactions between our elderly MEY 美 workers with the local residents and young volunteers was truly uplifting. These moments seeing the young and the old generation sharing love with one another through the simple act of giving is what I enjoyed the most attending this event and working as an intern in Soap Cycling.

Lau Nga Wing (far left, front) joins her fellow Soap Cycling interns for dumplings at 八方雲集 for team bonding after a weekly meeting.

In the video below, I narrate my experience working as a student intern to explain Soap Cycling’s distribution process and overall mission to help others in need while protecting our environment.