By Cam Lucadou-Wells
An award-winning soap recycling charity is making a clean start at a new factory in Dandenong.
On 3 November, Soap Aid opened its Cheltenham Road plant which recycles soap for disadvantaged communities across Australia and the world.
There’s so many good parts behind this social enterprise.
It diverts discarded soap bars from landfill, mostly sourced from hotels and other accommodation providers.
At the factory, the used soap is inspected, cleaned and scraped free of debris, crushed, heated and reshaped into brand-new 100 gram bars.
The enterprise employs workers from supported employment provider The Bridge at the factory as well as in storage and warehousing.
Operations general manager Carol Bellew said the new plant was a “milestone” for the not-for-profit recycler.
Its relocation plans had been derailed by Covid. In the meantime, it was without a base, its machinery in storage and operating with help of several corporate supporters.
“We were working with our partners to get soap recycled but it wasn’t at the volumes that we hoped.
“So to re-establish our plant was a big thing for us. To see that soap going through the production line was fantastic.”
Since 2015, Soap Aid has recycled 300 tonnes of soap and produced 3 million 100-gram bars.
“The beauty of soap is it’s recycled kilo for kilo. You put in 10 kilos at one end and get 10 kilos out the other end.
“The bars after recycling are exactly the same as new soap from the supermarket.”
Covid underlined Soap Aid’s push to improve hygiene across the world and Australia, including a ‘clean faces, clean hands’ campaign to tackle trachoma in remote indigenous communities.
About a third of the global population does not have access to soap and its anti-bacterial properties that stop the spread of Covid and other viruses.
“We try to respond to as many requests as possible but we have a bit of a waiting list.”
Soap Aid is advocating for hotels to keep using hard soap and to resist the trend to liquid soaps.
The environmental logic is compelling – hard soap can be recycled, it takes less energy to make and requires less plastic packaging.
Its ‘Hotel to Hands’ program recently took out a Keep Australia Beautiful Victoria community award. It is also a finalist at the Premier’s Sustainability Awards 2023.
The program helps sustain Soap Aid’s social enterprise by charging accommodation providers an annual per-room charge to take part. It reaches hotels across Australia and New Zealand.
However during the pandemic lockdowns, the tourism industry was among the hardest hit, Bellew said.
It forced Soap Aid to diversify, seeking end-of-run ‘virgin’ soap from manufacturers as well as from accommodation facilities at mines.
Before Covid, the charity was financially flourishing. But the pandemic shrunk its revenue, and its ability to fund its relocation to Dandenong.
A “game-changer” was a $250,000 grant from Sustainability Victoria, along with funds from Soap Aid’s visionary founder Mike Matulick.
“Ultimately, we’re still reliant on grants and funds and donations. One day we’re hoping to be self-reliant again through the Hotel to Hands program.”