Our hands need to be clean, so does our world.

Although the hand sanitisers have been popular more than ever due to coronavirus, they still cannot beat the old-fashioned soap and water.

One chief reason is its relatively limited availability and high price. At the onset of the pandemic, the price of hand sanitiser went up. A 50-millilitre bottle cost over Ks 2,000 – more than double the normal price. More importantly, the highly concentrated alcohol in the sanitiser is hazardous to the children and people with sensitive skin.

Hand washing became more popular when State Counsellor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi herself demonstrated in an educational video. She taught millions of Myanmar people a “right way” to wash the hands in the video broadcast on local TV channels and Facebook.

But, have you ever wondered where the leftover soap bar you threw into the trash bin goes and how it affects the environment?

Between January and May, Hong Kong-based Soap Cycling has saved over 4,600 kilograms (roughly 140,000 bars) of soap from reaching the landfills in Asia. The not-for-profit organisation estimated the global hospitality industry throws away 5 million bars of soap every year.

Thet Htar Swe, or Jone, country manager of Soap Cycling Myanmar, says: “The soaps decay in landfill sites and generate methane that can throw back heat into the atmosphere that is at least 23 times greater than carbon dioxide, making it a leading contributor to global warming.”

The organisation campaigns to raise awareness not only on the importance of clean hands in fighting diseases like diarrhoea, pneumonia and COVID-19, but also on the role of soap waste in environmental pollution. Besides Hong Kong and Myanmar, it is also operating in Mainland China, Singapore, Canary Islands, and the Philippines for the same mission.

“We collect used soap bars from hotels, process them, and distribute the soaps to children and families in disadvantaged communities for free. In Myanmar, soaps come not only from some hotels but also from the Association of Myanmar Housekeeper. Our financial resource comes from funding and donors. To date, Soap Cycling Myanmar is funded by Soap Cycling’s founder, David Bishop,” says Jone.

Since its arrival, SCM has donated more than 8,000 soaps to monastic boarding schools in Southern Shan State and Dala, orphanages in Ayeyarwaddy Region, low-income families in slum areas of Dawbon, Thaketa and Pabedan townships, Yangon railway workers, and IDPs.

When asked about the concerns of infections transmitted via using soap bars, Jone replies: “It really doesn’t matter what is on the soap bar; when you use soap properly, applying it to your skin thoroughly and rubbing vigorously, the oils will be removed no matter what, leaving your hands clean and bacteria-free.”

It is a common myth that a person can catch an infection by sharing a bar of soap. Scientists have proved it is not true since 1965. (For further myth busting, read this.)

In response to COVID-19, SCM has started distributing free soaps to 553 residents in slum areas (Dawbon and Pabedan townships), Yangon central railway workers and raise awareness about the importance of washing hands with soap since March.

Jone says: “We’re seeking donations and volunteers to help those in needs. You can make both financial and non-financial contributions. Learn more about the campaign on the website or on Facebook Page.”

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