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SOAPFUL Soap Repurposing Project with Sunway Hotels & Resorts

Used hotel soap bars collected by Sunway Hotels and Resorts hospitality staff, ready for repurposing

Goodness, it’s been a long time since I’ve written anything really interesting on our blog. Partly because I was caught up with the usual day to day running of the business and home affairs – and partly because we had to keep this new project under wraps until it was officially launched this month. It lines up perfectly with our efforts to engage in more zero-waste efforts.

On 5th December 2018, the Soapful project by Sunway Hotels and Resorts was announced to the public at a media event, where it pledged its commitment to fulfilling the 12th of 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which is to do with responsible consumption and production. Specifically, with regards to addressing the usual practice in the hospitality industry which is to discard used hotel soap bars after just a handful of uses.

Representatives of Sunway Hotels and Resorts, Ecolab and Kinder Soaps together with Selangor Youth Community and Pertubuhan Kebajikan Anak Yatim Darul Ehsan Malaysia (PKAYDEM) at the launch of Soapful
Tengku Amir Shah (fourth from left, in black T-shirt), Sunway Bhd President’s Office executive vice-president Evan Cheah (third from left), Yayasan Islam Darul Ehsan board of trustee member Mohd Salim Sain (second from left, in purple shirt), Leong (second from right) and Ecolab Singapore and Malaysia managing director and vice-president Ong Kian Tick (right) with guests and children from PKAYDEM during the launch. Photo credit: The Star

(Read the story that was carried by The Star in their Metro section.)

In this particular project, Sunway Hotels is partnering with Ecolab (a global company that provides water, hygiene and energy technologies to all sorts of industries – you should visit their website, their range of services is astounding), and Kinder Soaps to undertake the recovery and repurposing of used hotel soap bars collected from its various properties around Peninsular Malaysia, and then distributing it to the Selangor Youth Community (SAY) as a possible means for them to engage in entrepreneurship training amongst young adults.

 

Members of media crowding around Raja Muda Selangor
Media swarming around the royal patron of SAY, Raja Muda of Selangor Tengku Amir Shah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah

Kinder Soaps took the first delivery of roughly 100kg of Sunway’s used hotel soap bars, cleaned and repurposed them, and produced 1,000bars which were then presented to Pertubuhan Kebajikan Anak Yatim Darul Ehsan Malaysia (PKAYDEM) at the media launch.

(Pauses to take a mental breath)

This is a something significant to us, as it involves Kinder Soaps in a movement that extends far beyond what I imagined our company could achieve on its own. We have been working on this project since July this year. Actually come to think of it, the whole thing began in May – and it very nearly didn’t materialise at all. Here’s what happened (the story you won’t find reported in the media):

Amidst the slightly more frenzied pace of work in the middle of the year, I took a call from one of Ecolab’s staff who told me about this soap recycling project they had in mind. After finding out who Ecolab was, and understanding the size of their typical client (they had yet to mention who their client was for this particular project), I suggested that they try to look up a bigger soap manufacturer in NPRA’s list of cosmetics manufacturers – because I thought Kinder Soaps was far too small to take it on. They accepted my suggestion, and I thought, that was that.

June rolled around, and yet another email arrived from Ecolab from a different member of staff, enquiring about the possibility of collaborating on a CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) project related to soap recycling. Again, I found myself suggesting them an alternative to working with us, because we had no excess soap to offer them for their original CSR activity (plus, that was the period when we were preparing for our GMP audit, so we were all a little flustered from making sure that we had our paperwork etc in order before the auditors were due to visit the studio). I thought it was such a pity we wouldn’t be able to work with them, but I also felt we would not be in a position to effectively help them in the long run because of our limited supply of soap scraps to recycle. If you are a regular customer with us, you’d know we only make as much soap as our customers require – and we often find ourselves out of stock for the more popular ones.

Finally however, in July I met with Ecolab Singapore and Malaysia’s Managing Director, Mr Ong Kian Tick, where he revealed who their client was, and what they had in mind for the CSR project. He introduced Kinder Soaps to Sunway Hotels and Resorts’ CEO André Scholl, its Regional Senior General Manager Kelly Leong, and Group Director of Brand Marketing & Communications, Farizal Jaafar. At that first meeting, I still remember feeling like I was in an out-of-body experience, not quite believing what we were discussing around the table, and who I was with.

Representatives from Sunway Hotel and Resorts, Ecolab, Kinder Soaps, and Raja Muda Selangor walking down the red carpet
My first experience being treated as a VIP, with a red carpet entrance. Photo credit: Sunway Hotels and Resorts

We were essentially presented with a long-term opportunity to actually do something to recover perfectly usable soap, and save them from being tossed into landfills. Packaged in paper, the way I would be happy with. No plastic shrink wrap. Everything done by hand, and we would be able to pass along our know-how about soap rebatching to the disenfranchised, which would hopefully give them access to a skill that could potentially stir up their entrepreneurial spirit. While it isn’t the perfect solution to curbing soap waste from the hospitality industry, I think it’s still a step in the right direction to get society thinking about what it really means to adopt more sustainable consumption habits.

What noone else realised was that I had been thinking about soap recycling as a service for Kinder Soaps, for years. But at the back of my mind, I also knew we just didn’t have the kind of network nor resources to actively pursue it, especially since we are already so caught up with business-as-usual. And yet somehow, someone took a gamble on contacting us, connected all the dots and eventually made my dream a reality – even after I had voluntarily turned down the opportunity twice.

From left to right: Mr Kelly Leong, Yayasan Islam Darul Ehsan board of trustee member En. Mohd Salim Sain, Mr Ong Kian Tick, Raja Muda Selangor Tengku Amir Shah Sultan Sharafuddin Idris Shah
I think this would count as my first celebrity wefie, with the Raja Muda Selangor. We talked about sailing, his experience training in the army, and plastic pollution in the oceans. Really down to earth chap.

I can’t think of a better Christmas gift for Kinder Soaps (actually, I can – it’s that we rapidly reach more new customers so we can sell more soap in the long run, haha…! XD You can check out our soap bars here).

View of rain from driver's seat
Rain or shine, we’ll be soaping…

Seriously though, I’m so grateful at how things have panned out so far for the Soapful project. It has been quite a challenge to reach this stage (many rounds of trial and error to figure out the most efficient way to rebatch the used hotel soap bars – it’s pretty tedious work, I can tell you that). Our production crew pulled many long days and nights to ensure everything got done and delivered on time for the launch. Hopefully there won’t be any more 2am soap wrapping sessions after this…! And we had the privilege of working with a bunch of lovely people from Sunway’s PR and Communications team, namely Farizal, Stephanie, Chandrika and Jen Mun – thank you all for the hard work you did to make everything come together. I’m sorry I gave you a heart attack by getting the delivery numbers wrong at the last minute. :”) Looking forward to continuing to develop the Soapful programme through the year with you all.

As always, I believe we wouldn’t be where we are today, were it not for the continued support from our suppliers, customers, friends and family all these years. Thank you so much.

Speaking of family, the 5th of December is also my father’s birthday! So that same evening as the media launch, my family all got together to celebrate his 68th trip around the sun:

Michelle Ho, Ho Tet Shin and Lionel Ho
My dad, and my younger (but more level-headed and responsible) brother

I attribute my optimism, curiosity and sense of idealism to my dad. It’s genetic, perhaps somewhat perplexing to people who don’t understand our brand of humour, and it’s contagious. 😉 Happy birthday Daddy, this “win” for Kinder Soaps is dedicated to you, and Mummy. <3


More writeups, videos and blogposts on the event:

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Naked Soap: Save Money, Save Our Environment

We are gradually introducing “naked” options to our individual soap bars so you can now purchase them without any packaging material whatsoever, and you get to save RM1 per bar. Our DreamTime and Tangy Lavender bars now have this option, since these two batches are just off the curing racks as of today. 🙂

Why are we doing this?

We agree that product packaging is important. It serves several functions: to protect the product from the elements and spoilage, to make it look presentable and desirable, to impart information to the user. However I believe that certain developments in technology and how we go about our daily lives has changed drastically ever since mass-consumer product packaging was introduced in the industrial era, and it does influence how products can be presented in this day and age.

For instance, one day while I was driving my two older children to school, Brandon (our eldest) remarked, “I don’t like seeing all these stickers all over the lamp posts and signboards. They make me feel uncomfortable.” They advertise all kinds of things, from plumbing services to personal loans, and are plastered all over any available surface in public areas in our neighbourhood, similar to this:

decal_malayisa_1

I explained that some businesses find that to be a good way to advertise their services, along with their contact details. I asked him what he thought would be a better way to go about it.

“They should put their businesses and phone numbers on Facebook.”

Now this is coming from an 8-year-old who only sees me using Facebook. He doesn’t know how to get online, let alone have his own FB account–but he has somehow understood that the internet is a pretty good place to find useful information.

By inference: the product label isn’t the only place to get information about it.

As for making a product even more desirable through pretty packaging, I have conceded that packaging design isn’t really my forté, much as I adore beautiful things. :”) Just look at the myriad of wonderful, irresistible options available from retailers such as L’Occitane, The Body Shop, and Aesop. I occasionally wander into those stores to marvel at the clever packaging designs, the immaculately presented gift baskets, and the gorgeous materials used to dress up products to make them look fabulous. There is NO way I can drum up the same kind of panache for Kinder Soaps’ own packaging. The other issue I have trouble with is the sheer amount of waste generated from product packaging, which performs its task just once, and is destined for a landfill the moment the product is unwrapped.

p-enviro5

So instead of agonizing over how to pretty up our packaging design, I have discovered that I’m quite happy to offer our soap completely bare for our regular customers who just need something to cleanse their skin. Soap bars are a product that you can use up completely and also leave nothing to toss into a landfill. They are relatively easy to transport, even in bulk. We will still offer properly wrapped soap for sale, of course, but they will still be packaged in a more utilitarian manner compared to most other brands.

What I feel to be the most important function of packaging, however, is to protect the product from the elements, and from spoilage. I truly wish there were an all-natural alternative to plastic shrink wrapping which does this job the best, but there isn’t any at the moment. Our beeswax cloth wraps do a fair job of keeping the soap bars from coming into contact with dust and the accidental splash of liquid, but they too have limited shelf lives. Malaysia’s warm, humid climate makes it even trickier to store our unwrapped soap in a way that prolongs its shelf life.

Must we really resort to single-use packaging as the only means of presenting, and protecting our products?

I strongly believe that this need not be the case, if we are willing to make some simple, minor adjustments to our own purchasing habits.

There is a lot of good advice out there about how to reduce our dependence on product packaging (and throwaway items in general), but I would like to draw your attention to some tips that are specifically meant for how to make the best of Naked soaps (regardless of who made them):

  1. Buy what you need, when you need it. Stocking up on perishables is usually not a good idea.
  2. Store your soap in a cool, dry and dark place, away from direct sunlight.
  3. Yes, you can keep soap in the fridge. 😉 I can’t say what will happen to its scent though–whether it will make your vegetables smell or taste like essential oils, or if the soap bars will absorb the scents of your fridge’s other occupants.

Now here is what we at Kinder Soaps are committed to do to help you in producing less household waste through product packaging:

  1. Our shop and studio have much better storage conditions than the average Malaysian home (we run our air conditioners at least 3 hours a day to help keep the air cool and dry). Let us take care of the safe storage of perishable soap bars, and make sure that you are sent the freshest batches of soap each time you make a purchase.
  2. I know that some of you do bulk purchases sometimes because there have been occasions where we run out of stock of soap that you really like (and need!). :”) That’s a shortcoming on my part, I’m sorry, as I’m still personally making all our products by hand. I will do my best to schedule my soapmaking to match the rate of purchases better.
  3. We will NEVER try to coerce you into buying something you don’t need. All we will do is to offer you enough information to help you make a purchasing decision that you will be happy with.

I know this is a bit of a ramble-y post, but I needed to address this issue of throwaway packaging that has been bothering me for a long time. I hope you’ll take advantage of the naked soap options and do your bit to reduce the amount of waste that goes into landfills. Feel free to comment below if you have any thoughts about this matter.

Have a lovely week ahead!