What’s Happening In Malaysia #1: On Rubbish

We decided to start a new series this week, featuring a problem and some local solutions. This week, we look at a topic which will likely be familiar to most readers: Rubbish.

What about rubbish?

No introduction to “rubbish” is complete without a mention of its predecessor, “stuff”. By “stuff”, I mean the things that you have, the things that you wear, the things that you use, the things… that inevitably land in the garbage bin after they have exhausted their period of utility. If you think about it, the stuff that you own is just one step away from being rubbish.

Hence, the more stuff you have, the more rubbish you generate for the earth. The entire lifecycle of a product generates a trail of environmental destruction in any case. I’m not going to go too deeply into this, but watch The Story of Stuff (video above) to get a clear picture of what I’m trying to get at.

Today we will focus on the last stage of the product lifecycle: the disposal stage. The problem about rubbish these days is that it’s getting more and more synthetic and long lasting. Consider the following picture of marine debris:

How long till it's gone?

How long till it’s gone?

The scary thing that we can infer from the image is – the rubbish that we have will be here for a very long time. And as the population keeps growing and people keep getting new stuff, the mountain of rubbish will only get bigger with time.

We can only try to reduce this problem.

A wise man once said, “waste is not waste until it is wasted”. This is the mindset and attitude that we need to have when dealing with our mountain of rubbish. What if, instead of trashing our stuff… we don’t?

Here we feature some local efforts trying to reduce our landfills and marine debris by giving extra life to stuff that are no longer in use. The 3Rs, as we often say, are to Reuse, Reduce and Recycle.


Second-hand markets are not very prevalent in Malaysia, but lately we’ve seen a mushrooming of events and activities that turn one man’s trash into another man’s treasure. The concept is simple: a gathering is organized at a public place, then people turn up and exchange what they don’t want for what they want. A new initiative called BarterIt is doing this, and they have organized two thematic barter marketplaces so far: books, and toys (happening on 4 Aug 2013). They also facilitate online bartering.

Sometimes it’s not even an exchange – people give away things that they don’t want, for free. This is often known as a Really Really Free Market, locally adapted as Pasar Percuma.  Anyone can organize a Pasar Percuma – incidentally, there is an event happening today at 4pm to 7pm, in Dataran Merdeka. If you want to connect to the community, join these Facebook Groups: Pasar Percuma Malaysia or Freecycle Malaysia.

pasar-percuma-FB-banner (1)

Another good example of reusing is what Sols Tech is doing, with its Tech Cycle Programme. You can donate your old computers and electronic items; Sols Tech will repair and refurbish them and donate them to people who need them. Two good things in one: reducing waste, and bridging the digital divide!


In terms of reducing waste, one of my favourite initiatives is BYOB Green Concepts. BYOB stands for Bring Your Own Bottle. You bring your own bottles to BYOB’s shops, and they will fill your bottles with detergent, shampoos, and the like. BYOB Green Concepts is one of the winners in the Most Promising Emerging Businesses category in the Think Beyond Plastic competition, organized by the Plastic Pollution Coalition in June 2013.

There’s a good reason for this award: BYOB’s green concept is simple but powerful. Everyone wins. You get to buy detergent at a much lower price since you’re not paying for the packaging; BYOB wins by getting profit; Mother Earth wins by getting less plastic pollution. They have opened stores in Klang Valley, Penang, and Kuching – check out more information on outlet locations and prices here.

Reduce, Reuse, Refill

Reduce, Reuse, Refill


Lastly, a conventional way of reducing waste is recycling. Recycling is far from being widespread in Malaysia, though there are some parties working on recycling, including TrEES on their Community 4Rs Programme, or Malaysian Nature Society‘s Recycle for Nature with MNS Programme.

Check out also a new website, FindRecycler.com that is built by one of our volunteers Nicolas, which plots out recycling facilities nearest to you on a map. It’s still a work in progress but shows promise.

Recycling is important. However, a note of caution –

“Recycling is not enough. Recycling will never be enough. For a couple reasons. First, the waste coming out of our houses is just the tip of the iceberg. For every one garbage can of waste you put out on the curb, 70 garbage cans of waste were made upstream just to make the junk in that one garbage can you put out on the curb. So even if we could recycle 100 percent of the waste coming out of our households, it doesn’t get to the core of the problem. Also much of the garbage can’t be recycled, either because it contains too many toxics or it is actually designed NOT to be recyclable in the first place. Like those juice packs with layers of metal and paper and plastic all smooshed together. You can never separate those for true recycling” ~ The Story of Stuff

Concluding Remarks

I hope that you have found this feature useful, and found some inspiration on how to deal with your rubbish. It’s not a comprehensive list of Malaysian initiatives, but gives you an idea that there are people out there striving for the best. At the end of the day, I believe that everyone can do their part, by trying to live a more minimalist lifestyle and by being more responsible in maximizing the use of all our stuff before putting it into the bin.

p/s. I’ll leave you with the PDF of the script of Story of Stuff, in case you’re not into watching videos.

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