A Simple Project Brings Recycled Soap — and Hygiene — to Cambodia

Here in the U.S., we tend to take soap for granted. I can’t even tell you how many bars I have rattling around various corners of my house — or how many half-finished lumps of hotel soap I’ve carelessly left behind throughout my travels.

But soap is actually pretty amazing stuff: It not only gets you clean and smelling nice, but it also serves as the gold standard of basic hygiene.

Simple soap and water can have a profound impact when it comes to fighting infectious disease, but unfortunately, it’s a luxury in some parts of the world,.

That’s certainly the case in rural Cambodia, where American student Samir Lakhani spotted a mother washing her child with detergent. Lakhani was horrified, as detergent is caustic and not intended for cleaning your skin.

But with some research, he found out why: Soap is expensive and not easily obtainable, so the mother – along with many other parents — used what she could find. Lakhani thought it was pretty unreasonable that people couldn’t get something as basic as soap, so he set out to address the problem with pretty incredible program.

The Eco-Soap Bank collects donated soap from hotels and guesthouses in the area, sanitizes it and reprocesses it into new liquid and bar soaps.

It’s a brilliant reuse of something that would otherwise go straight in the garbage — but it’s more than that.

The organization acts as a local employer, empowering people by giving them jobs that teach practical skills and contribute to the community. The work isn’t exactly glamorous, but it’s a starting point for individuals fighting poverty.

Some NGOs take on similar challenges by soliciting donations and delivering them, often transporting supplies overseas or buying from large domestic corporations — some of which don’t offer great working conditions.

Alternatively, this grassroots organization follows an important precept of ethical development work by putting the tools in the hands of the people who are receiving them, instead of handing them a finished product.

Soapmakers who work with Eco-Soap Bank learn how to recycle and repackage soap and participate in the distribution process as well.

It might be difficult for many Americans to imagine living in a world without soap — or one where every sliver needs to be painstakingly conserved.

This program changes that idea and brings dignity to people who would otherwise struggle with a pretty basic need.

Eco-Soap Bank is also a smart public health intervention, reducing the risk of disease by helping people maintain good hygiene. That, in turn, makes for a happy and healthy population — and one less likely to struggle with terrible disease outbreaks that are expensive and challenging to treat.

Especially in children, diarrheal illnesses are a pernicious problem. But they can often be prevented with the application of a little soap and water — no more wiping baby bottoms and handling food without a stop at the sink!

While the program is limited to Cambodia at the moment, it appears fairly scaleable, and hopefully similar organizations will spring up in other nations struggling with basic hygiene.

The next time you wash your hands, think about how simple innovation can save lives.

Photo credit: kizzzbeth


Chun Lai T
Chun Lai T2 years ago

thanks for the information

Elaine W
Elaine W2 years ago


Marie W.
Marie W2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Angela K.
Angela K2 years ago

thanks for sharing

Leanne K.
Leanne K2 years ago

Brilliant! We people of affluent nations are very wasteful. Same when we travel.

Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

Henry M.
Henry M2 years ago

Now that was a brilliant idea.

Charmaine M.
Charmaine M2 years ago

Just awesome! Shared and please also check out a similar program called http://l.facebook.com/l.php?u=http://SocialPlastic.org/&h=UAQFOJyqR which converts plastic into cash and other convertibles thereby cleaning the ocean and providing jobs for the needy!

W. C.
W. C2 years ago

Thank you.

Alina Kanaski
Alina Kanaski2 years ago

What Ana amazing program. Thanks for sharing!