The Sampah Menyampah & Friends’ Earth Weekend Market in April is probably one of the few shopping events that encourages its visitors to bring along their own bags instead of giving out disposable bags.
This is the second year that the market – aimed at building an environmentally aware Malaysia by practising the 5Rs (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Repurpose and Recycle) – is being held.
(The main image above is of an art installation at the market on fast fashion, which refers to the over-consumption of clothes with a short lifespan.)
The market, held at The School in Jaya One in Petaling Jaya, saw participation from 33 vendors and five NGOS. Some 8,000 people were estimated to have visited the two-day market.
Besides vendors, green groups that made an appearance included Trash Hero Malaysia, Tak Nak Straw and the Tzu Chi Foundation (a charitable body that has a recycling arm).
In addition to hawking items like handmade sanitary cloth pads, reusable steel straws and dried butternut squash in lieu of shower scrubs, vendors “sold” various concepts of zero waste that encourages the reuse of products, especially plastics.
The goal is for no trash to be sent to landfills or incinerators.
One such concept is BYOB, Bring Your Own Bottle, a social enterprise founded by Clytia Wong. The idea is to bring your own bottles to fill up with floor detergent, dish wash, bleach and even sanitiser, paying only for the liquid and not the packaging.
Wong says public response to the concept was very bad in the first few years. “At that time, customers had just begun learning about recycling and there was no such concept as zero waste.
“We had seven outlets then but now, we were only left with one in Kajang and the other in Damansara Kim (in the Klang Valley).
“However, lately, the response has picked up. People now understand that recycling does not solve the problem of plastics and more customers have come to understand the zero waste concept,” she says.
Wong says this could also be due to recent media reports and pictures of plastic waste piling up in illegal recycling factories in coastal towns in Malaysia.
Plastic, insists Wong, is a good invention but the public should learn to re-use existing plastic they have instead of recycling it.
Citing detergent – a big seller for BYOB – as an example, she points out that every household uses a lot of the liquid to clean.
“With this concept, we can cut down a lot on plastic use. We should be buying the content, not the packaging,” she emphasises.
Wong’s range of products sell from RM3.20 per kilo for non-scented softener to RM18 per kilo for organic vegetable wash.
“We provide both an organic and non-organic range. Actually, most of our clients are businesses that cannot afford the more expensive organic range,” she says.
Cheong Wey Jin, who is a co-founder of In Between Cultura that sells handmade natural and organic cloth pads, says she and two of her friends started the business in 2015 after quitting their jobs in a publishing house.
“We have always been interested in gender and social issues. We started thinking about a campaign and we got a friend from Taiwan to teach us how to make the cloth pads.
“We actually started by conducting workshops on how to make cloth pads and only made and sold our own after people asked us to,” she says.
One of the benefits of using cloth pads as opposed to disposable sanitary napkins, says Cheong, is the lighter impact on the environment.
“Just like diapers, a disposable napkin can take up to 400 to 500 years to biodegrade. Such an impact is harmful considering that half of the world’s population are women.
“At the same time, incinerating the disposable napkins produces dioxin,” she says.
Cheong says they had always felt that wearing disposable napkins was one way of “period shaming” women. “We were often told from young not to tell others that we are having our period. That’s why many of us end up using disposable napkins,” she explains.
Cheong warns that while disposable pads are more convenient – less frequent changes and less odour – many chemicals go into the making of these items.
Her cloth pads, which are available for various uses such as panty liners or leak-proofing, also comes in different lengths.
The cloth pads are sold for between RM22 and RM65 each, with the pricing largely dependent on the price of organic cotton imported from Britain or the United States.
“Handmade is expensive as the cost covers the sewing but also, Malaysia does not produce organic cotton so we need to import,” she explains.
“Our cloth pads can last about five years, though. Some customers told me they have used cloth pads for up to 10 years,” she says, adding that although these pads are more expensive than disposable napkins, they are more viable in the long-term.
Cheong notes that the Malay community tends to be more receptive to using cloth pads as they have a tradition of using them from before while Chinese women find it harder to accept their use.
Another booth at the market was ERTH (E-Waste Recycling Through Heroes), a Cyberjaya-based social enterprise that collects and pays for e-waste.
“We hire freelance ‘heroes’ – usually freelance drivers or riders – to collect e-waste from people’s homes,” says founder Mohamed Tarek El-Fatatry.
“Once we have collected a big amount, we send it to a licensed recovery facility where it is processed properly. We get paid two-thirds of the metal value.”
ERTH pays at least 50% of the e-waste revenue to both the e-waste owner and hero. “The higher the reward paid to the public, the higher the country’s recycling rate (for e-waste),” says Mohamed Tarek, who is from Finland.
He says at present, many licensed recovery plants have difficulty in collecting e-waste, especially from households.
Sampah Menyampah founder Carolyn Lau says some 8,000 people were estimated to have attended the market.
“We think that the response was lovely – positive – and that everyone had a good time connecting, making new friends, reconnecting with old.
“The school children who attended and the young people had the most inspired time,” she says.