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11 Organisations Turning Trash Into Treasure

According to a WWF-Malaysia report, post-consumer plastic waste generation in Malaysia is estimated to be more than 1 million tonnes (1,070,064 tonnes, to be precise). And that is only just plastic; we Malaysians also waste a lot of fabric and food as you will soon find out.

These organisations aim to prevent such wastage.

They have found innovative means of recycling or upcycling waste into new, marketable and usable products and even converting them into a new source of energy.

#1: FatHopes Energy – Turning Used Cooking Oil Into Sustainable Fuel

Vinesh Sinha, Founder of FatHopes Energy. Source: Tatler

We Malaysians love to use cooking oil to prepare our meals. And after cooking our fried chicken, stir-fry or mee goreng, pouring the used cooking oil down the drain may seem like the quickest and easiest solution. But that is actually the worst thing to do as the grease can clog up kitchen pipes and local sewage systems[1] and although organic, cooking oil can still contaminate water sources.

So instead of throwing away your used cooking oil, why not just sell to a company that specialises in converting the grease into sustainable fuel?

That is the purview of FatHopes Energy.

Founded by Vinesh Sinha in 2010, FatHopes purchases used cooking oil from restaurants and households and recycles it into biofuel feedstock. They then sell the final product to numerous oil and gas companies throughout the world.

Through their methods, FatHopes is able to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by providing an environmentally friendly and sustainable fuel for everyone to use while simultaneously finding a new use for used cooking oil.

Our solutions are anchored in sustainability because we want to help build a better environment for future generations. – Vinesh Sinha, CEO of FatHopes Energy[2]

#2: Arus Oil – Collecting Used Cooking Oil For Fuel

Source: Arus Oil

Vinesh is not the only one who’s working hard to turn used cooking oil into sustainable biofuels.

Arus Oil began life as a pilot project for the middle class in the SS14 community. Since 2017, the residents of SS14 have been disposing of their used cooking oil (UCO) in a collection drum at the park nearby.

From these humble beginnings, Arus Oil has since expanded its operations, collecting used cooking oil in the Klang Valley (Selangor & Kuala Lumpur) and having collected approximately 250 Metric Tonnes of used cooking oil. They have even collaborated with Shell in this endeavour.

Arus Oil believes that by converting used cooking oil into biofuel, it can provide a renewable and environmentally-friendly source of energy that will help slow down the depletion of non-renewable fossil fuels. 

#3: Life Origin – Breeding A Sustainable Food Source On Food Waste

Black soldier larva. Source: Life Origin

Food wastage sadly continues to be a major problem in Malaysia; every day, we dumped 4,081 tonnes of edible food – enough to fill one-and-a-half Olympic-sized swimming pools – last year nationwide. And this number is out of the total 38,219 tonnes of solid waste generated in Malaysia every day in 2021[3].

And although biodegradable, food waste is still bad for the environment. 

Malaysian Nature Society president Prof Dr Ahmad Ismail said that most food waste would end up in landfills, where it would be degraded but emit greenhouse gases like carbon dioxide and methane, adding that about 7% of greenhouse gases produced globally were due to preventable food waste[3].

Such gases contribute to climate change and might cause [the] temperature to increase. – Prof Dr Ahmad Ismail, president of the Malaysian Nature Society[3]

And while it’s not possible to save every bit of usable food waste, we can alternative, environmentally-friendly uses for them.

Life Origin harnesses the natural powers of Black Soldier Larva, the young of the Black Soldier Fly native to the tropical jungles of Malaysia, to convert food waste into usable proteins. The organisation sources food waste from various locales and converts it into feed for the larvae. The larvae are in turn used to make a highly nutritious and digestible protein meal that can be incorporated into pet foods or livestock feed. Life Origin also makes an organic fertilizer from the larvae, creating a natural and sustainable source of vital nitrogen and minerals for plants and crops.

#4: Pasar Grub – Saving And Redistributing Food Waste

Source: The Sun Daily

Starting in November 2019, Pasar Grub is another organisation dedicated to finding new users for food waste. It creates a circular ecosystem by purchasing surplus produce from local farmers and distributors and redistributing them to the communities via establishing affordable neighbourhood morning markets in the B40 areas, food aid distribution, selling to F&B outlets or recycling/re-purposing food waste.

Any remaining surplus produce that was not redistributed will be converted into compost and given back to the farmers to help improve their crop production.

We set up morning markets at People’s Housing Projects and sell to B40 communities at prices below the market rate. – Andrew Dana Wesley, Pasar Grub co-founder[4]

To date, Pasar Grub and its partners have consistently helped local businesses and thousands of families during the period of the Covid-19 pandemic.

As of September 15th 2022, Pasar Grub has rescued and redistributed 65,625 kg of nutritious produce and impacted 10,050 low-income households, translating to a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions by 150,000 kg.

We hope people will share our story, talk to us and connect us with communities in need. It’s still a challenge for us when it comes to educating the public that fresh produce is edible regardless of the form it takes.

At the end of the day, don’t judge a fruit or vegetable by its appearance. The odd-looking ones are just as good and nutritious. –  Andrew Dana Wesley, Pasar Grub co-founder[4]

#5: Kloth Cares – Recycling And Upcycling Fabric Waste

Maria (in pink) and Nik Suzila (in green) dropping off old clothes in the Kloth Cares bin placed at the Petaling Jaya MP’s office. With them are Kain Movement co-founders (from left) Birly, Amiruddin, Chai, Wong and Ng./Source: The Star

The textile industry is the second most polluting industry in the world. And Malaysia is no exception when it comes to contributing to this issue.

In 2018, Malaysia dumped a staggering 195,300 tonnes of fabric into landfills. SWCorp Malaysia further revealed that the amount of textile waste that ends up in landfills had doubled from 2.8 per cent in 2012 to 6.3 per cent[5].

And a 2017 report by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation states that clothing represents more than 60% of the total fabric used globally[6], with an estimated amount of 18.6 million tonnes of clothing that will end up in landfills. If this trend continues, more than 150 million tonnes of fashion waste will clog our landfills by 2050[7].

We realise there is no fabric movement. You have the plastic movement but not for textiles. So we want to be the first. – Nik Suzila Hassan, Kloth Cares co-founder[8]

Nik Suzila Hassan and Sarahan Kedah both sought to change this. In 2013, the two of them founded Kloth Cares, the first textile recycling movement in Southeast Asia, its mission being to keep fabrics and plastics away from our landfills via a circular economy business model[8]. Through the use of designated bins, citizens can deposit old clothes, curtains and other textiles which are then collected and sent to Life Line Clothing Malaysia, a fabric-recycling factory, where they are segregated into 400 different categories.

Those that are of good quality are either exported or given away to charities, while the rest are upcycled or turned into things like industrial wiping cloths and processed engineered fuel, a type of biofuel. – Nik Suzila Hassan, Kloth Cares co-founder[9]

Since its inception, Kloth Cares operates between 350 and 400 fabric bins in Kuala Lumpur, Selangor, Putrajaya, Melaka, Negeri Sembilan, and Johor. Half of these bins are “adopted by corporate citizens” with companies able to choose between adopting a bin for their workplaces or sponsoring bins in other areas[9].

And they have collected over 2.5 million kg of fabric since 2018[9]. Today, they collect up to 30,000 kilograms of fabric monthly through partnerships with organisations like Bursa Malaysia, Sime Darby Plantations, Sunway Putra Mall and Bioeconomy Corporations[8].

For us, waste is wealth. People don’t see this as a viable business. Many people see recycling fabric as ‘clothes going to orphanages ’. But you can earn up to thousands of ringgit a month from this business. – Nik Suzila Hassan, Kloth Cares co-founder[8]

#6: CoconutFarm – Finding New Uses For Coconut Waste

Source: Coconut Farm

Coconuts are Malaysia’s fourth largest industrial crop behind oil palm, rubber and rice with most of the plantations found in Sabah and Sarawak. According to a report by the Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi), the country is among the top 10 coconut producers in the world, although production fell between 2014 and 2016[10].

Unsurprisingly, this has led to high levels of coconut waste in the form of husks and coconut butter being generated, with higher consumption leading to a higher generation.

This waste does, however, have many uses with CoconutFarm finding new ways to convert coconut waste into a usable product. One such product is a cheap and high-protein livestock and fish feed derived from coconut butter.

#7: Eko Agro Biotech – Producing An Environmentally-Friendly Alternative To Styrofoam

Source: Vulcan Post

Styrofoam makes up a significant portion of our daily lives and has even become synonymous with packaging. It is non-biodegradable and contains harmful chemicals such as benzene and styrene that are not just bad for the environment but also for our health as many of these chemicals are linked with cancer[11].

This is why Boey Tze Zhou, the founder of Eko Agro Biotech, saw an opportunity to use his mushroom farming waste as an alternative to styrofoam.

Beginning as a small-scale mushroom farm, Eko Agro Biotech has since become a major agricultural enterprise. However, with its increasing scale comes a far greater generation of agricultural waste. And where Boey had previously used this mushroom waste to fertilise banana plants, he has now found an innovative new use for it[11].

It truly inspired me that mushrooms are not just food, but we can create a lot of good and greener products out of it. – Boey Tze Zhou, founder of Eko Agro Biotech[11]

Boey found that mushroom waste can be converted into a lightweight, durable, inexpensive and 100% biodegradable cushioning material that he dubbed ‘MycoPack’[11].

To date, Boey has secured only one client who sells essential oils.

They are ordering 2,000 MycoPack every month. We customise based on [the shape of] their essential oil bottle. – Boey Tze Zhou, founder of Eko Agro Biotech[11]

But he hopes that his MycoPack will gain more popularity amongst businesses in the future, eventually leading to styrofoam being completely phased out not just in Malaysia but the rest of the world.

#8: Eco Bricks – Upcycling Plastic Bottles

As of 2020, Malaysia ranks as one of the biggest plastic producers in the world; a 2019 study commissioned by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) reports that Malaysia has an annual per capita plastic use of 16.78 kg per person, much higher than China, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam[12].

And worryingly, Malaysia had produced more than 0.94 million tonnes of mismanaged plastic waste per year by 2018, of which 0.14 to 0.37 million tonnes may have been washed into the oceans[13].

Naturally, people have been working hard to combat this problem.

Eco Bricks Malaysia is an initiative dedicated to promoting the process of ecobricking – where empty plastic bottles are packed full of dry and durable used plastics and then manually set to sequester plastic and create reusable building blocks. Through this process, plastics are kept out of our environment and the people involved will gain a deeper awareness of the plastic waste issue.

Since its inception in 2016, Eco Bricks Malaysia has collected 10,800 Ecobricks which amounted to a total of 4,073.4 kg of single-use plastic waste being prevented from ending up in landfills.

#9: Hara Makers – Finding New Uses For Single-Use Plastics

Source: Facebook

Eco bricks are not the only thing that single-use plastics can be recycled into as demonstrated by Hara Makers.

Founded by Hung Bee Ling and Chee Lee Yoon, Hara Makers was launched with the aim of helping to eradicate poverty among the urban poor while simultaneously reducing single-use plastic waste[14].

We started the project when some community members lost their income during the first MCO. We plan to conduct more workshops to create more job opportunities for the urban poor.

So far, we have worked with refugee and B40 communities in Petaling Jaya and Kuala Lumpur. – Hung Bee Ling, co-founder of Hara Makers[14]

Hara Makers works together with low-income communities by teaching them how to upcycle single-use plastics such as bread tags, instant noodle packets and plastic bags into flower pots, wall hooks, coasters, spinners and many other items[14].

In doing so, they help educate these communities on the importance of reducing, reusing and recycling and even provide them with a new means of earning income by selling their upcycling plastic products[14].

So far, we have produced nearly 1,800 items. To date, we have about 20 workers (from marginalised communities) and they earn about 50% of our gross sales. Once they complete a product, we pay them immediately. And if they can propose a design idea that gets selected, they will receive additional commission. – Hung Bee Ling, co-founder of Hara Makers[14]

#10: Geomax Rubber – Turning Gloves Into Shoes

Source: Vulcan Post

The Covid-19 Pandemic had been a massive boon to Malaysia’s rubber glove industry, with the local nitrile medical glove industry making three out of four gloves used globally[15].

As demand grew, so did the waste. It is estimated that the rubber industry produces an estimated 100 tonnes of rejected nitrile glove waste monthly, according to reports[15].

These disposed of gloves are of special interest to Geomax Rubber Innovative Products Sdn Bhd founder, Steven Ng Yong Beng.

Rejected disposable nitrile gloves are not easy to recycle, and find their way into landfills where they can take up to 100 years to decompose. – Steven Ng Yong Beng, founder of Geomax Rubber[15]

Being ecologically conscious, Steven and his team of innovators had found an innovative new means of recycling disposed of rubber gloves; upcycling them into footwear.

For each pair of sandals, for example, to make the rubber sole we managed to save 18 pairs of rejected nitrile gloves from the landfill. – Steven Ng Yong Beng, founder of Geomax Rubber[15]

The outcome of this upcycling process is a durable, anti-slip rubber sole aptly named Solewell. Rigorous testing has proven the material’s greater durability and longevity compared with other materials. And it is almost infinitely recyclable, making Solewell a highly sustainable product compared to its competitors. Some of the upcycled products Geomax produces include safety boots, safety shoes, and casual and even leather shoes[15].

Beyond providing for the customers, Steven also believes that the product should do its part for the environment.

To further my efforts and to support sustainability beyond upcycling, Solewell donates RM2 to an environmental fund for every NATURE edition eco-sandal sold.

We do this so consumers will definitely not only get a good pair of sandals but also get to contribute to the planet as well! – Steven Ng Yong Beng, founder of Geomax Rubber[15]

#11: The Sea Monkey Project – Protecting The Oceans Through Upcycling

Source: Sea Monkey Project

Plastic pollution is one of the biggest threats to our oceans. Plastic waste, in fact, makes up 80% of all marine pollution (with about 50-75 trillion pieces of plastic and microplastics in the ocean) and around 8 to 10 million metric tons of plastic end up in the ocean each year[16]

This is what Sydney Steenland had witnessed over her travels.

As we travelled, we saw some pretty amazing places and exquisite nature, but we also saw some pretty horrible things, like plastic everywhere. It didn’t matter where we went, what country we were in, what the financial status of the area was, there was always plastic around in every environment. – Sydney Steenland, Sea Monkey Project co-founder[17]

It was after witnessing the extent of plastic pollution in the world’s oceans that Sydney and her parents decided to set up a social enterprise project to help combat this prevailing issue. Thus the Sea Monkey Project was born.

Through this project, Sydney and other like-minded individuals are able to educate the public on the importance of reducing plastic wastage through upcycling plastic bottles, bags, fishnets and other plastic waste into ethical souvenirs and accessories such as wallets and handbags.

As of now, the Sea Monkey Project has upcycled more than 22,500 products and has organised close to 10,000 educational workshops[17].

Whatever you care about in the world, whether it’s poverty, hunger, climate change, plastic pollution, it can be anything. But when you want to start doing something, you have to physically start doing it. It can be anything, it doesn’t matter how small. – Sydney Steenland, Sea Monkey Project co-founder[17]

Explore our sources:

  1. Steps For Safe & Effective Ways To Dispose Cooking Oil At Home (2022). Act Enviro. Link.
  2. How FatHopes Energy’s Vinesh Sinha Is Turning Food Waste Into Sustainable Fuel (2021) Tatler. Link.
  3. Y. Meikeng (2022) M’sians continue to waste food. The Star. Link.
  4. S. Jay (2021) Pasar Grub: reducing food waste by redistributing it to the needy. FMT. Link.
  5. Reducing textile waste is everyone’s responsibility (2021) New Straits Times. Link.
  6. M.M. Chu (2019) Huge amount of fabric waste dumped. The Star. Link.
  7. A. Azuar (2022) The Big Waste – one artist’s mission to reduce fashion waste. The Malaysian Reserve. Links.
  8. D. Zainuddin (2020) The Fabric Movement: Why dump when you can recycle… and make money?. Astro Awani. Link.
  9. S. Jay (2022) Kloth Cares: keeping fabric out of Malaysian landfills. FMT. Link.
  10. T.Z. Yun (2019) Agriculture: A coconut revival. The Edge Markets. Link.
  11. Z. Hazli (2022) Penang farmer finds new revenue stream by repackaging mushroom waste to replace styrofoam. Vulcan Post. Link.
  12. WWF Releases Report Proposing Effective Solution to Mitigate Plastic Pollution in Malaysia (2020) WWF. Link.
  13. H.L. Chen, T.K. Nath, S.C., Vernon Foo, C.G. & A.M. Lechner (2021) The plastic waste problem in Malaysia: management, recycling and disposal of local and global plastic waste. SN Applied Sciences. Link.
  14. S. Chandran (2022) Turn bread tags into bags: Teaching KL’s urban poor how to upcycle plastic waste. The Star. Link.
  15. 100 tonnes of monthly glove waste upcycled as footwear (2022) FMT. Link.
  16. M. Fava (2022) Ocean plastic pollution an overview: data and statistics. UNESCO Ocean Literacy Portal. Link.
  17. N. Zahan & W. Chen (2022) Meet the girl turning trash into treasure in Malaysia. euronews.culture. Link.

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