Soap, paint recycling organizations expand diversion possibilities

Soap Cycling in Hong Kong and New York-based The Paint Foundation collect and repurpose noncommodity materials.

soap cycling bar
Non-profit groups are finding ways to repurpose discarded non-commodity items such as soap and paint.
Photo by Brian Taylor.

Thriving secondary commodity markets for metals, paper and board, concrete, some plastics and many end-of-life items boost the world’s landfill diversion rate. Beyond that, nonprofit organizations have been stepping in to find ways to repurpose non-commodity discarded items like soap and paint.

Hong Kong-based Soap Cycling is a nonprofit organization established in 2012 to collect, sanitize and redistribute the considerable volumes of barely used soap generated in hotels there.

The organization benefits from a continual procession of lodgers in Hong Kong who generate an ongoing flow of barely used bars and bottles of soap—products that can play a valuable hygiene role in local households or in parts of the world where soap is difficult to afford.

The organization’s June 2020 Half-Year Report notes its flow of discarded soap has been severely affected by the onset of COVID-19 and subsequent travel restrictions. “As Hong Kong went into lockdown, one of the hardest-hit sectors was the hospitality industry,” states the report.

The increased importance of hygiene brought about by the pandemic, however, prompted greater attention to hand washing, creating renewed distribution opportunities for the inventory of soap products already in Soap Cycling’s Hong Kong warehouse when the pandemic struck. “Starting on Jan. 28, teams of our employees, board members and stakeholders started distributing free hygiene kits, aiming to reach all 18 districts of Hong Kong and raise awareness with the general public about the importance of handwashing with soap,” the organization says in its report.

Among the recipients were Hong Kong street cleaning employees, more than 3,300 of whom received soap, sanitizer and face masks supplied by Soap Cycling. Hygiene products in 2020 also have gone to families or schools in the Philippines, Myanmar and rural China, and to migrant workers in Singapore. Soap Cycling also is seeking donations to see it through the lodging downturn.

The Paint Foundation, based in New York, says its mission is “to provide environmentally sustainable reuse options to generators for their nonsalable, nonuseable waste [and] to recycle it back in a circular economy, creating products of use and value for developing communities.”

The organization is backed by the Mumbai-based Matawala Group Of Industries and Matawala Paints, which uses its paint making facilities and technical know-how to make “production batches of 53 different types of recycled-content coatings.”

The recycled-content product range includes interior and exterior latex paints and primers, plastic emulsions, bitumen emulsions, stucco putties, as well as synthetic enamels and industrial coatings.

Off-spec paint and expired inventory make up part of what The Paint Foundation collects and reprocesses, along with customer returns, incomplete batches and other materials that would otherwise be discarded.

In addition to operating in the United States and India, The Paint Foundation or its affiliates also have a presence in Australia, Canada, Mexico, Poland, the United Arab Emirates and the United Kingdom.

A 13-page PDF brochure created by the foundation says it is seeking interns and volunteers to help expand its mission. “Everybody with access to background knowledge, contacts, ability and a desire to serve the community are welcome,” states the foundation.

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