BEFORE WE START, let’s tackle the basics.
What’s the circular economy? It’s a transition away from the current linear economic model, where the “take-make-waste” narrative is prevalent. In a nutshell, it’s a new economic model where waste becomes raw material again and no new resources are extracted to meet our demand for goods.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation defines it with three principles:
- Design out waste and pollution
- Keep products and materials in use as long as possible
- Regenerate natural systems
The image above is the Foundation’s famous butterfly diagram that shows the cycles of biological and non-biological materials. On the left is the biological cycle like food products.
See all the arrows or cascades? It represents different ways in which the materials can be transformed after use. The inner cycles — share and reuse/redistribute — will preserve more value compared to the outer cycles (recycle). Why is that? Recycling takes up more energy than reuse, and some of the materials will also be lost in the way.
I’m going to list down some local start-ups or companies in Malaysia currently practising these cycles below. It helps to see where there are gaps as well. Obviously, it’s non exhaustive. Hope you find it useful!
This category basically covers the strategy of keeping materials in use as long as possible. The products are designed for durability, maintenance and repair.
- Renewcell — regenerates old lead acid batteries
- KakiDIY — a makerspace and group of enthusiasts educating the public on how to repair items
- The cobblers, tailors and Mister Mints who repair shoes, bags, clothes and all the other things you own
- Beli Nothing Project — a group of enthusiasts who give away and share any resources they have. Link to the one in Klang Valley.
Products and materials can be reused or redistributed to new users multiple times.
- Grub Cycle — sells surplus vegetable produce
- Secondhand clothing and book stores like Bundle, 2nd Street (sourced from Japan), Cash Converters and many online sellers
- Packaging-free stores like The Hive, Nude Zero Waste, BYOB that allow consumers to refill detergents and other liquid products, as well as buy products using their own containers
Remanufactured products are disassembled to the component level and rebuilt into a new product. Refurbished products are repaired without much replacement of its components.
I’m going to include upcycling in this category.
- Rentwise — refurbishes old IT equipment and offers leasing services
- Eclimo — refurbishes old lithium ion batteries from electric vehicles to become batteries for energy storage
- Suri Lifestyle — upcycles old jeans into bags
- Biji-Biji Initiative — upcycles plastic and other materials into various products
- ERTH, iCYCLE — collects e-waste and ensures it is refurbished, remanufactured or recycled
- Homa, Senviron Ventures — collects construction waste and overstock furniture to upcycle or sell
- Solewell — turns waste rubber gloves into slippers
Recycling reduces the product back to its material level so it can be made into a new product.
- Kloth Cares — collects old clothing to recycle (becomes rags) or redistribute
- Recycling collection centres like IPC, Tzu Chi and other players as seen in this map by Zero Waste Malaysia
- Recyclers or licensed recovery facilities
- Fathopes Energy — turns waste oil into biofuel for transportation
- MAEKO — sells composting machines for food waste
- Coffee2Fuels — turns used coffee grounds into charcoal
- Circlepac — plant-based, compostable and biodegrable packaging
- Betsol , EcoFoodsoft , Ento— turns food waste into compost or animal feed using black soldier fly
- Greenyards2u, Captain Oil, Oililin — Upcycles used cooking oil
- Green Lagoon — Turns wastewater from oil palm mills into biogas/energy
What’s next? It’d be great to see big companies, whether the locally-listed ones or multinational corporations, integrate circular models into their processes and transform their supply chains or business models. Or at least, work with some of these start-ups to get started.
The key is to make circular or sustainability practices as accessible as possible and make it the default choice for people.
That’s not to say that no big Malaysian companies are doing this, of course. I was recently on the hunt for such companies to write an article, and I managed to find some in traditional sectors that are taking steps towards the circular economy.
Now, we just have to figure out how to make it more accessible and mainstream…