A boost for the 3Rs

25/08/2010 00:15

 

WHEN he was a boy in the 90s, Muhammad Iqbal Baharum was already excited about recycling. He would diligently collect newspapers and wait for the “old-newspaper guy”. The money he got from selling the papers was used for ice cream and other snacks.

But it was when he was living in Britain for four years that he became truly involved in the 3Rs – Reduce, Reuse and Recycle. Living in Hertfordshire, Iqbal, a software engineer, explains that the rules for garbage disposal were very stringent there. “Trash was to be separated into organic, gardening and recyclable waste,” he explains.

Upon his return to Malaysia, Iqbal was hoping to carry on recycling, but he found the facilities and services quite “unfriendly” here.

 
Sorting them out: While aluminium cans can be easily dispensed with, items like old furniture (below) need more efforts at processing.
 

Apart from accepting aluminium cans and newspapers, which had a ready market, most recycling outfits did not want to take stuff like toys and plastic bags, he explains.

He was on the brink of giving up but then he had a Eureka moment: “Why don’t I just start my own?”

So in November 2009 he set up Recycle and Reward (RAR), an enterprise that takes in recyclable items, sorts them out and then decides where they go. RAR also offers collection services from people’s doorsteps.

“It makes all the difference,” says Iqbal, its managing director cum sales and marketing manager.

“The main aim is to increase the Malaysian recycling rate from the current five per cent to 40%,” he adds.

It works on a membership system which is free and those who are interested can register on their website, www.recycleandreward.my.

 

This is a basic account and members are required to drop off their recyclables at RAR’s collection centre in Seri Kembangan, Selangor.

Members who want to have their stuff collected will have to pay a one-time fee of RM10, which upgrades their account to Premium level. “This cost is easily recovered,” Iqbal says.

Members must have at least two burlap sacks or two black dustbin bags full of stuff for recycling and call the hotline 48 hours prior to the collection. The collection van makes its rounds from 9am to 6pm daily except on Fridays and public holidays.

“We simply cannot stop people from throwing things,” says Iqbal. “But at least we can stop the stuff from going to the landfill.”

According to him, the members hand over, on average, 10 tonnes of recyclables to RAR each month. These include electrical and electronic products, and paper, glass, plastic and metal things.

The RAR members don’t even need to sort out their trash.

“We don’t believe in that (the three-bin system for glass, plastic and paper),” says Iqbal. “If someone wants to throw an old armchair away, and it has wood and metal content, which bin does it go into? This kind of confusion can turn people away.”

Hence, RAR takes care of the sorting, which is done at the entrance of the collection centre in Seri Kembangan. There, a mound of recyclables mixed with real junk – peanut shells, cigarette butts and even diapers have been among them – are sorted out and put in their rightful “place” inside.

 
Determined: Iqbal set up a venture to take in stuff that can be recycled.
 

There have been some interesting finds, too, according to Iqbal. “The most outstanding item we’ve ever got is a stamp album with stamps from 1880 to 1950.” They’ve even received an old iron watering can and iron tub from the time of the Japanese occupation of Malaya in the 1940s!

The basic recyclables such as newspapers will be sold to the respective vendors while things like electrical items and furniture will be assessed for reuse. Those that can be repaired, and Iqbal has his “megatronic” engineer partner to look into this, will be used by them or given to friends.

The RAR has a reward system for their members. While it does not pay them directly, it has set up a redemption system in which members can earn Green Points. These points can be converted to cash (1 point = RM0.10) or goods that range from a gas cooker to a Sony Playstation 3. The calculation of points is based on a formula that takes in the current market price for recyclables.

“The highest tally belongs to a girl from a family of six. She has been recycling every week for six months and has now accumulated 3,000 points (worth RM300),” reveals Iqbal.

Currently, RAR is only operating in the Klang Valley. For more information on how to participate, visit their website at www.recycleandreward.my.

While Iqbal is championing recycling, father-of-five Mohamad Budin believes in the “reuse” principle. The founder of a non-profit organisation called Recycle Community Society of Selangor (RCOMM), he stresses the importance in differentiating between the two.

“Reuse is often confused with recycling but they are really quite different. Reuse denotes any activity that lengthens the life of an item while recycling involves transforming an item into a new raw material for use in a new product,” he explains.

He highlights several benefits of reusing, which includes keeping goods and materials out of the waste stream; reducing strain on natural resources such as fuel and forests; and reducing pollution.

Nearly everything we buy and consume can be reused or fashioned into new items, he says. For example, milk or juice cartons can be easily transformed into a bird feeder, pencil-case or sticky-notes container.

 
Reusable: These baskets, shown here by Mohamad Budin, could easily pass for rattan, but are actually made of old newspapers! The “skirting” around the jars are fashioned from old curtains.
 

This is not to say recycling is not as effective, however. Mohamad, who has been reaching out to communities via RCOMM since March 2008, reckons that landfills will be used more efficiently if recycling becomes a daily habit. “But the local recycling rate is still very low. For us to exceed the five per cent rate in the future, there must be political will,” he stresses.

“Recycling is a habit that cannot be enforced. Therefore, it is pertinent that people rediscover nature,” he says, adding that good habits will then form accordingly.

RCOMM is now in the midst of setting up a training office and a craft workshop before its official launch. For more information on RCOMM’s activities, follow its Facebook page.

Reduce and reuse

IT is easy to get carried away and buy more than you actually need, especially during festive occasions. When shopping for festive goods, and Raya is around the corner, remember that between the 3Rs (Reduce, Reuse and Recycle), the first in the order – reducing – is most important.

Zuhaila Sedek, a writer, thinks people “waste so many things” during the festive season. Urging people to remember the core values of Hari Raya such as forgiveness and reunion, she gives a few tips on how to reduce and reuse. One way is to reuse home decor items and Raya money packets, she says.

“Also, instead of buying new baju kurung or baju melayu, the ones you currently have can be made to look new by adding some embellishments,” she says.

Personally, she only buys one new outfit a year and waits till the last day of Ramadan to purchase other goods because she can get them at a cheaper price.

Eco Knights founder Yasmin Rasyid urges people to “think twice before buying hampers” because there’s just too much “unnecessary packaging”. Additionally, these hampers usually contain a lot of imported products, which means they used a lot of energy to get here. “Support local producers,” she recommends.

Jasmin Melan, a PR consultant, suggests carpooling when visiting friends and relatives; and reducing the amount of cookies. “There are cookies in every house; it’s not necessary to stock up on so many,” she says.

For everyday tips, many websites provide pointers on how to practise cautious consumerism. For example, make a habit of creating shopping lists and avoiding malls when you’re hungry to prevent overbuying. Abide by the 30-day rule – wait for a month before purchasing to eliminate impulse buying.

Also, replace disposable products such as razors, batteries and storage containers with those that are long lasting, re-chargeable and reuseable.

Checking out the legitimate operations

BROWSING the racks at a flea market, you spot a familiar dress. Taking a closer look, you realise that it is the one you donated to “charity” a few months before! “How did it end up here?” you wonder.

According to Seri Sinar Charity Organisation president Datuk Eadon Ching, this is not an implausible scenario as there could be unscrupulous vendors throughout Malaysia who are taking advantage of people’s goodwill. They make the public believe that the items given to them will be recycled or reused by less fortunate individuals, and run illegitimate collection drives to get the items for free, he says.

 
Goods to cash: Ching checks out some of the stuff sent to his centre. Some might end up being sold to raise cash, he says.
 

But they could also be in the jumble sale for the simple reason that the organisations, especially charities, need to convert the goods into cash, he adds.

Of the former, Ching says many of the operators are petty traders. “They know that people are more aware of environmental issues and they exploit it.”

Unfortunately, he adds, “there aren’t any regulations or acts that can deal with this effectively.”

But surely there are some red flags that the public can look out for?

Yes, says Ching. One is to check whether the operators of the business are registered as NGOs or private companies.

“Typically, NGOs are known as ‘association’, ‘organisation’ or ‘society’ and are registered with the Registrar of Societies (ROS).

“Private companies, however, are registered with the ROC (Companies Commission of Malaysia) and names contain words such as ‘trading’, ‘enterprise’ and tellingly, ‘Sdn Bhd’,” he explains.

Also, take note of whether they have a website. Responsible organisations run websites with updated content that display recent events and are transparent about their operations.

“On our website, www.recyclecharity.org, we list the various agencies that we’re affiliated with, the Housing and Local Government Ministry being one. Plus, we’re transparent about how we use our proceeds,” he adds.

One more thing, Ching advises, is to observe if these “collectors” are using office or mobile numbers. People should be wary if it is the latter.

Lastly, ask questions, he says. “Based on how they answer, you could also tell if they are genuine. If they don’t answer or give a satisfactory response, you know that something’s fishy.”

Ching admits that his organisation conducts charity sales to convert some of the goods into cash.

Formed in 2003, Seri Sinar is a non-governmental organisation that aims to educate the public on the charitable benefits of recycling. To date, they have set up 200 collection bins and 26 mobile collection centres around the Klang Valley.

They also offer pick-up services for bulk items and electronic waste.

“The fact is most charity homes don’t need more second-hand goods. They need money,” Ching says.

This is a fact that is also acknowledged by Recycle and Reward’s Iqbal, who is also planning to launch a charity programme. With it, members can donate their points to a nominated charity. These points will then be converted to cash, which “they need more than anything else”.

Therefore, while Seri Sinar tries to clear its storage area of reusable items by sending the reusables to charity homes, rural areas or nearby developing countries like Cambodia, the rest could end up in the market. Thus, don’t be surprised if you see your old dress in a jumble sale.

 

-TheStar-

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