The Miracle of Soap and Handwashing

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KATY, Texas — Practicing good hygiene is an important aspect of one’s life, especially when it comes to preventing the spread of infections and diseases. According to the CDC, many diseases are spread through improper washing of areas like the hands, face and body. Basic acts of hygiene, such as frequent use of soap, handwashing and bathing, can largely prevent the spread of infections and diseases. However, practicing good hygiene is difficult in many countries due to a lack of clean water and a lack of soap.

Keeping Hands Clean

UNICEF states that “handwashing with soap before meals and after toilet use” is one of the most effective factors in preventing childhood diseases and infections. This could save the lives of “1.4 million children” from “dying from largely preventable diseases like pneumonia and diarrhoea.” Pneumonia is one of the leading causes of death in children ages 5 years and younger.

Further study into the effects of handwashing shows that washing before meals and after toilet usage becomes a daily routine, it reduces infection rates by 40%. However, in many countries where infection rates are high due to a lack of soap and handwashing, people consider soap a luxury and often an expensive item to buy. People tend to use it only for washing clothes and dishes.

Soap Recycling

Because soap and handwashing practices are a constant presence in many lives, people can easily take both for granted. In other countries that do not have ready, or inexpensive access to soap to practice good hygiene, those in need become largely dependent on the donations of others. One such way that companies and individuals donate soap is through the process of soap recycling.

Soap recycling is the process of taking lightly used soap bars from hotels and repurposing them into new soap bars that are then distributed to communities and families in need. The soap recycling process involves two different options: scraping the top off or recasting the soap entirely. The recycled soap does not contain bacteria from its previous uses and proves to be just as effective in its purpose in comparison to soap that comes ready in wrapped packages.

Hotels are one of the largest users and buyers of soap. With hotels, however, people use many of the complimentary soaps in their room only a couple of times or not at all. Regardless, the hotels must replace the soap every time a new guest occupies a room. This leaves millions of hardly used soaps, which are still largely whole and usable, in landfills every day. Many non-governmental organizations have taken note of the waste and have made it their mission to provide another option for how hotels can discard their used soaps and give them to those in need of it.

Bubbles Saving Lives: Sapocycle

Dorothée Schiesser founded Sapocycle, an NGO based in Switzerland, in September 2014. It is one such NGO that saw the need for good hygienic practices and soap. Schiesser became “sensitized” to good hygiene practices when living in Cameroon for a time with her husband. She became acquainted with waste management practices while living in Switzerland, a country with a policy for waste management.

As of 2021, Sapocycle has partnered with 235 hotels based in countries such as France, Switzerland and Monaco in order to collect their discarded soaps and bring them to their recycling facilities. In an interview with The Borgen Project, Schiesser states that she found it was easy to recycle soap in one’s home. The process can easily be done in a microwave. This prompted the idea to implement it on a bigger scale. “I wanted to give back to my own community,” Schiesser said.

Sapocycle makes its recycling machinery completely from recycled kitchen equipment, leaning into the environmentally friendly angle that the company has also adopted to reduce the carbon footprint. Additionally, it hires a staff of many people from the disabled community in Switzerland.

Sapocycle delivers its recycled soaps first to NGOs working in a specific country. They then deliver the soaps to the families and communities in need. Schiesser said, “it was very important that when we give soap somewhere; we want them to arrive in the hands of the people we help.” Sapocycle has given largely to refugee camps in Greece, Croatia and Madagascar. Also in accordance with their desire to give back and help their community, Schiesser further added that “the rest of the soap in Switzerland and in France stays in the country for the people in need in the country itself.”

Looking Ahead

According to UNICEF, good hygiene alone could save 800 children per day. With the large quantities of soap being discarded daily, the work that NGOs such as Sapocycle take on becomes more important in addressing the basic hygienic needs for those that may not have the money or resources to meet those needs.

Soap and hand washing are easy ways to prevent diseases and infections that can take a child’s life before the age of 5. With the climate of COVID-19, however, many are opening their eyes to the importance of good hygienic practices in everyday life.

– Grace Ingles
Photo: Unsplash

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