The Optimist Citizen

This 28-year-old has recycled millions of used soaps from hotels and redistributed them to the deprived communities

Samir Lakhani is a graduate of the University of Pittsburgh who founded Eco-Soap Bank. The initiative collects leftover soap from hotels – diverting it from landfills – recycle and redistribute it to people in need.


The Problem of Poor Hygiene

The vulnerable parts of the world lack even basic hygiene standards. It is so bad that people cannot even afford soap and sometimes resort to harmful hand washing techniques. Only 1% of households in the developing world have access to soap. This is a leading factor for about 14,000 child deaths under the age of five every day in 2019. While we are at war with a pandemic, a big part of the world still battles the demons of poor hygiene. An overwhelming proportion of these deaths are caused by entirely preventable illnesses, including diarrheal diseases, acute respiratory infection, and other infections that cause fever. Worldwide, 1.6 million deaths per year are attributed to unsafe water, poor sanitation, and lack of hygiene.

28-year-old Samir Lakhani has recycled millions of used soaps from hotels and redistributed them to the deprived communities.
28-year-old Samir Lakhani has recycled millions of used soaps from hotels and redistributed them to the deprived communities.

Stumbling upon the solution

Samir Lakhani, a student of Pittsburg University, noticed this during a volunteer trip to rural Cambodia in 2014. He saw a village woman using harsh and toxic laundry detergent to bathe her infant child. Affected by the helplessness of a significant chunk of the world population, Samir reached back to his hotel. While washing his hands, he realized that the soap bar had been individually packaged, shipped in, and used once—and would be thrown away. The idea was brewing in his head already.

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Thanks to the ancient remains of temples and historical monuments, tourism. Hotel management has been an ever prospering industry in Cambodia. The tourists use millions of individually packaged soap bars. They discard these soaps after a single use. Within no time, Eco-Soap Bank was born in a hotel bathroom in Siem Reap. Eco-Soap Bank collects used soaps resourced from hotels and redistributes them to the needy after processing. Lakhani got in touch with a few scientists to effectively develop a technique to meltdown, sterilize, and reprocess recycled soap bars into new composite bars. 

“The thinking is simple,” says Lakhani, “No child should suffer from a preventable illness because there wasn’t any soap available. Part of the inspiration for the Eco-Soap Bank came from the work of Derreck Kayongo, a 2011 CNN Hero,” he adds.

The Genesis of Eco-Soap Bank

Since its inception in 2014, Eco-Soap Bank by Samir Lakhani has been working to tackle the spread of preventable diseases caused due to a lack of access to soap or other hygiene resources, they also work towards reducing the waste generated from the hotel industry. The organization collects used soaps from hotels and guesthouses in various countries. Next steps involves sanitizing the soaps  and remould it into new bars. They distribute these clean soap bars to schools, health clinics, and village communities. The distribution drives combine with hygiene education programs to make people aware of the right techniques. Eco-Soap Bank also collects other materials such as shampoo bottles or other packaging materials that the hotels would usually discard and ultimately would find their place in landfills. The social intervention also generates employment opportunities for women in poverty-stricken communities to give them a source of definitive income.

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Impacting Lives

In six years so far, Eco-Soap Bank has formed 16 recycling branches in 10 developing countries. It has joined hands with 1,220 hotels and is working closely with 206 distribution partners. A working team of 154 women has recycled over 1.4 million pounds of soap, resulting in more than 9 million soap donations to schools, health clinics, and village communities. A population of three million has also received handwashing training from the organization. The non-profit organization is now working towards expanding its reach to other developing countries with high mortality rates associated with hygiene-related illnesses.

Awards and Recognition

The 2020 Hilton Effect Foundation grant recognized the initiative for its impact on public sanitation and hygiene. His idea came a full circle when he was also honoured by CNN as a top 10 CNN Hero for 2017, much like Derreck Kayongo. The 28-year-old social entrepreneur also won the Unilever Young Entrepreneurs Award and Forbes’ 30 Under 30 recognition. 

Helping various medium-sized and large global FMCGs become zero-waste manufacturers and achieve their social impact objectives. Eco-Soap Bank partners with these companies and collects usable soaps through a diversified sourcing and recycling strategy. Having sourced 400 metric tons of soap waste since January 2020, the organization works with the ultimate goal of eliminating the devastating influence of preventable illnesses worldwide.

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