Chemically transformed through Soap for Hope

Photo courtesy for Daiya Bhandall

What is the fate of leftover hotel bar soaps? How could it possibly be linked to battling drug and alcohol addiction?

Soap for Hope, a student-run non-profit project out of SFU has made the creative and bold attempt to bridge the two and has successfully helped both the environment and the marginalised people of society at the same time.

Soap gets lab treatment

Seeing the need to upcycle an excess of used hotel bar soaps to save the environment and a need to create more transitional work opportunities for individuals overcoming drug and alcohol addictions, Soap for Hope was born in September 2014 under Enactus SFU, a global organization with a focus on social entrepreneurship. After two years of extensive research and development at the university’s advanced materials science research centre, the 4D labs, the project materialised in late 2016.

Daiya Bhandall, project manager of Soap for Hope, explains that there are several steps in the process of how the bar soaps get transformed into usable liquid forms.

“First we have to sanitize the bar soaps by soaking them in a solution of distilled water and chlorine and shave off the external layer of debris. We let the bar soaps dry completely and use a special UVC light to kill bacteria. After, we grate the soaps into small flakes and dissolve them into a mixture of water, coconut oil and glycerin. We then heat this mixture and let it cool down before we bottle it,” says Bhandall.

Partnering with Hope for Freedom Society, a drug addiction treatment centre in British Columbia, the project was able to provide wages for 16 individuals and upcycled nearly 50 pounds of hotel bar soaps in the last year alone.

“We are on track in defeating the stigma around reusing bar soaps, and we have created partnerships with local businesses in our community. The students running this project have gained a new perspective on individuals overcoming addictions, and we have created bonds with workshop participants. With that, we are also overcoming the negative stigma surrounding individuals with drug and alcohol addictions,” says Bhandall.

Reciprocal benefits

Daiya Bhandall, project manager of Soap for Hope. | Photo courtesy for Daiya Bhandall

Dennis Fagan, administrator of Hope for Freedom Society, praised the professionalism and outstanding work of the students and said that the project’s social impact outweigh its monetary benefits by bringing the two distinctively different social groups together.

“This project allows the ostracised and the marginalised guys to get out of their daily grinds to do something they normally wouldn’t do through interaction with young people. It also helps university students to understand the other side of society and how easy it is to go down the wrong path,” he says, adding that patients at the centre came from all different kinds of social, cultural and economic backgrounds and most suffered some degrees of trauma before they turned to drugs.

Bhandall agrees. She also believes that the project can help to overcome the negative stigma surrounding individuals with drug and alcohol addictions.

“Before, I was under the impression that drug addictions only happened to people who went down the wrong path, but after getting to know everyone involved with Hope for Freedom, my perspective shifted. They told me about their lives, about their children, about their family and about their struggles. It was an incredible experience, and I wanted to continue my passion for Soap for Hope,” says Bhandall.

With a 15-strong team and members with a passion to create a sustainable environment while helping people, Soap for Hope has bolder plans for the future. It wants to replicate the project across different Canadian
cities and is also currently exploring the consumer market for potential commercial products.

Globally, similar initiatives are quickly spreading, particularly to help developing countries with their access to hygiene products as well as creating new employment opportunities.

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