13 Sep 2019
Beirut, Lebanon
Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management

Bushra Harakeh credits her mother with providing the spark of inspiration needed to found Zoap Lebanon, a thriving manufacturer of recycled soaps. Surprisingly, Harakeh’s mother might not appreciate her daughter re-telling that story from back in 2014. 

“I noticed my mother throwing used cooking oil down the drain, and I thought how bad it was,” said Harakeh, probably jeopardizing her invitation to future family dinners. “After some research, I found out that this oil can be used to make soap. It just needed some hard work.”

Harakeh, along with co-founders Nour Harakeh and Hiba Monla, has since converted this kitchen musing into a successful business that promotes environmental and social well-being. Zoap Lebanon proudly reduces the impact of used cooking oil on Lebanese soil and water, employs underprivileged women and runs soap-making workshops for children.

Harakeh and her friends worked quickly on her idea, helped by local NGO LOYAC Lebanon. They threw themselves into testing out different mixtures, using trial-and-error to find the best recipe. Within two years, they made a landmark breakthrough — the National Research Institute certified Zoap Lebanon’s products for public sale. Zoap Lebanon went on to win first prize in the Ripples of Happiness competition for sustainable businesses. 

The competition’s $10,000 grant allowed for investment in marketing and a new soap workshop. Now Zoap Lebanon had the capacity to start changing Lebanese attitudes towards buying recycled products. “Our main challenge is the misconception that some people have towards recycled oil made into soap!” Harakeh said.

Harakeh’s team has taken this mission directly to the country’s next generation. Zoap Lebanon runs regular workshops for children, teaching them how to make their very own, customized soaps from used cooking oil. Schools and organizations contact Zoap Lebanon to run workshops, having found out about the program via social media or word-of-mouth.

Zoap Lebanon’s future is bright — the business is self-sustaining, and Harakeh is applying for grants to fund further expansion. Long may this upward trend continue, given Zoap Lebanon’s remarkable social impact. The workshop employs underprivileged women, offering them flexible work arrangements and an important source of income.

Harakeh offers the example of Mariam, one of her workers, to demonstrate how Zoap Lebanon opens new possibilities for its staff. “Being a mother takes all my time, leaving no space for me-time,” Mariam told Harakeh. “And having financial difficulties makes things harder.”

Harakeh’s eco-friendly idea has given an added sense of purpose to women like Mariam. She recalls Mariam’s reflections on working for Zoap Lebanon: “I am proud of myself that the soap I am making is not only helping the environment, but also helping other mothers just like me.”

 

Learn more about Zoap Lebanon through Facebook and Instagram.

Photos courtesy of Zoap Lebanon

Since completing his MA in Middle Eastern Studies two years ago, David has worked as a freelance writer based in Cairo and Beirut.David Wood
Soap-er women: Lebanese company changes lives with recycled soap products | The Switchers
Zoap Lebanon Resource efficiency and sustainable waste management
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