Bio soap production creates jobs for women and helps preserve the environment

Posted July 27, 2022
Bio soaps in different shapes and colors

UNDP Serbia

Sjenica, a town in Western Serbia, is surrounded by nature reserves on all four sides. One of these nature reserves is the Uvac Special Nature Reserve - home to the largest griffon vulture colony, a protected bird species nesting in this region. Being an area favourable to animal husbandry, sheep in particular, Sjenica is also famous for its eponymous cheese, as well as other specialities such as sujuk (a type of spicy sausage) and mantije (stuffed filo pastry), but also for its hospitality. Because of its unique natural beauty and its authentic local cuisine, the Sjenica region is attracting many tourists. This is why a number of locals have turned to tourism as their source of income in this, still underdeveloped, municipality.

Among them is Edina Puljić, an entrepreneur. Having spent years working in Western Europe she and her family returned to Sjenica and set up an ethno household. 

- All our guests are presented with an authentic souvenir - bio soap. To remember us by and to come back and stay with us again. I make this soap using leftover cooking oil - Edina says. 

Edina’s household is one of around 500 households in the region of Sjenica, from a total of over 2.000 households around Serbia, that are a part of BIO IDEA for Sustainable Development association’s social franchise. This association focuses mainly on women of different ages to teach them how to make home-made soap using leftover cooking oil from their households to generate additional income and save money. This opportunity is particularly interesting to women living in Sjenica, where the poverty risk index stands at 46.6%.  At the same time, these workshops bring together women from different ethnic groups as this is an ethnically diverse area, with Bosniaks, Serbs, Albanians, Montenegrins, Turks, Roma and members of other communities living side by side.

Sanida Klarić, founder of BIO IDEA for Sustainable Development, says that the soap making workshops are primarily intended for women from difficult-to-employ categories such as women living in remote rural areas or women living in towns who became unemployed and are over the age of 45.

- Households in Serbia consume around 2,300 tonnes of cooking oil every month, of which one third ends up in nature. We recognised an opportunity to use the leftover cooking oil as a raw material for home-made soap production in social entrepreneurship workshops for women around the country - says Sanida.

Workshops are held in village households which traditionally make dairy products, handicrafts and fruit- and vegetable preserves, so manufacture and sale of bio soap can represent an additional activity for them. Training is free and the only condition for joining a workshop is solidarity to pass on the skills they have acquired to others. 

In addition to contributing to economic empowerment of women, the manufacture of bio soap is also beneficial for the environment of the Sjenica region by reducing the quantity of waste ending up in its landfills. The Municipality of Sjenica has also recognised the importance of this initiative and has decided to support its further development by forming a soap manufacture cooperative.

BIO IDEA has reached other parts of Serbia as well.  An entrepreneur from Zemun, Nataša Dokić, makes bio soap in her own home. Her main motivation is to protect the environment.

- I looked for ways of making my own contribution, in addition to recycling glass, paper and other types of waste, and making a difference, in my own home at least. That was when I discovered these leftover cooking oil recycling workshops. My family and I use the soap I make for any cleaning that needs to be done around the house - says Nataša.

In addition to good will and a bit of learning, if you want to make soap you also need proper equipment. The equipment was patented by BIO IDEA with the help of their partners - The Institute of General and Physical Chemistry and Ekoera company. The equipment consists of two recipient containers made from recycled materials, connected with a mesh for the oil to go through.  It uses zeolite as filter to retain water and other impurities and obtain purified oil. Sodium hydroxide is then added to the purified oil which kick starts the process of saponification.  Coffee, orange peel or dried herbs can be added to the mixture to enhance the soap fragrance.  And 24 days later, the soap is ready to be used. 

The advantage of bio soaps when used on skin is that they contain no allergens or preservatives.  They are also good for the environment because they are biodegradable and their use does not impact the environment nor does their manufacture emit any noxious gases.  For example, one litre of used cooking oil is enough to produce 10 bars of soap. This also saves 3.8 kilograms of Carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions if they were to be produced industrially.  For example, that is the amount of CO2 emitted by a brand new car travelling from Belgrade to Pančevo and back. 

- It benefits both man and nature if we use natural instead of industrial soap, whose production and distribution requires oil derivatives. Our tradition teaches us not to throw anything away.  People have been making their own soap for centuries - says Sanida Klarić, while getting ready the next shipment of bio soap from her workshop in Belgrade.

This type of soap production promotes circular economy approach to entrepreneurship as well as in our own households. By reusing leftover cooking oil as raw material for a new product, we reduce waste that would normally end up in waste water systems or in landfills and further pollute the environment.

Check out a video story on this valuable initiative HERE.

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“Accelerating Circular Economy” project was selected as one of the six best solutions under the “Bio-waste Management Challenge Call” organised by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of Environmental Protection, with the support of the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA). The goal of this challenge was to support the implementation of innovative solutions for management of food waste and kitchen waste, as well as green waste from parks and gardens and contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gases (GHG) emission and pollution, as well as the development of the circular economy in Serbia.