Aim for Zero Waste

I’ve been very much into recycling ever since I was 15 and picked up a magazine on how to reduce and recycle waste. But I never got into the whole act properly until I stayed on my own, and bought my own groceries and stuff. I ended up with glass bottles, plastic containers, tin cans, junk paper, oil canisters and lots more.
Do I throw them away? Do I keep them and turn my storeroom into a junkyard of sorts?
What about used cooking oil? Can I just pour them down the drain and hope it won’t pollute the waterways?
And so, with more questions than answers, I joined an online recycling group. But the group is relatively silent on most days, and I sometimes feel as if the moderator and I are the only living creatures there.
Until I met Don Theseira and Mylene Ooi who are both not only passionate recyclers but famous as well (they’ve been profiled in the December 2002 issue of Reader’s Digest and invited all over the country to give talks on recycling and composting). I mean, really passionate. It resonates in their talk. I met them for the first time yesterday when they presented a talk on recycling at the Church of the Immaculate Conception, Pulau Tikus, Penang.
If the number of audience is any indication of the interest in recycling, then something is really wrong with Malaysian society. Just a handful of people! But like the consummate pros that this retired couple are, they jumped right into their talk.
Whatever it was, I thoroughly enjoyed the talk. Mylene and Don started with a show-and-tell, of what household products we can recycle and how much they’re worth. They brought along cartons of materials to demonstrate that there are all together 10 categories of household waste or ‘resources’ as they preferred to call them which can be safely recycled. These are:
1) Newspapers (25 sen per kg)
2) Books/mags (15 sen per kg)
3) Loose paper
4) Household cardboard (20 sen per kg)
5) Clothes (usable clothes but no undergarments, bedsheets or socks) (40 sen per kg)
6) Tins (10 sen per kg)
7) Coloured plastic containers
8) Clear plastic i.e. PET bottles (30 sen per kg)
9) Auminium cans (RM2.80 per kg with 66 cans making up 1 kg!)
10) Glass bottles
So now that it has sunk in how much money is in recyclable waste, Don and Mylene proceeded to tell us what cannot be recycled, and therefore we, as responsible consumers should reduce or buy less of them. The big no-nos are:
– Styrofoam (yes, the stuff that does not biodegrade and will be on earth thousands of years after you and I have passed on! The stuff that you and I use for ‘tar-pau’ or takeaway)
– Tetrapack (most drinks come in tetrapacks and we still do not have the technology to recycle this material)
– PVC packaging (found in tubes of toothpaste and facial wash)
– Tissue paper
– Broken toys, broken shoes and broken handbags
– Wrapping paper, junk food wrappers, carbon paper, parking tickets
Don and Mylene’s intention is to aim for Zero Waste, using ways like Reduction, Buying Clean Production, Recycling and Composting. Among their clear exhortations and tips on how each and everyone of us can do our part are:
– Don’t buy food in Styrofoam containers. Use what our grandmothers used – tiffin carriers. Put the empty tiffin carrier in your car or office so that you will remember to use it when you decide to go for ‘tar-pau’. (Don and Mylene DO walk their talk as I saw a tiffin carrier in their car!)
– Use handkerchiefs instead of tissue paper.
– Use good old soap instead of expensive liquid handsoaps in pump containers.
– Bring your own fork, spoon and chopsticks in your bag when you go out. This reduces the need to use disposable cutlery when eating out.
– Teach your maid how to recycle so that she can bring this awareness back home with her when she leaves.
– Don’t throw away the raffia string and rubberbands when you buy groceries. Don advocates that you save up these two items and return them to your grocer’s! What a cute idea!
– Stop buying Gladwrap. Mylene brought plastic tops of various sizes to show that in lieu of Gladwrap, she uses the plastic tops (from milk powder containers) to cover the leftover dishes in the fridge.
– Bring your own grocery basket the next time you go to the market. Politely refuse the plastic bags offered to you.
– When you buy clothes, aim for clothes which have a higher cotton content.
– Start composting (Don did teach this but I shan’t repeat it here. It’s not difficult at all though.)
Their key message was clear: be a consistent recycler, buy with a conscience and try to reduce waste as much as possible.
Their efforts in their own taman in Bukit Mertajam (Tmn Bkt Indah) has become something of a local pride where every six weeks, they organise and sell mass-collected recyclables to a local contractor. The money from the collection is channelled back to charity organisations. According to Mylene, they have generated RM41,024.58 since 1996 for charity. And that’s no mean feat considering how terrible Malaysians are at recycling! Or like I said, we’re too bloody middle-class to care.
Note: Don and Mylene are so enthusiastic that they give FREE talks to your organisation or workplace if you invite them. Go direct to their website at to find out more!

3 thoughts on “Aim for Zero Waste”

  1. U should come to india specially to westBengal a small state to teach about re=-cucliing. we have learn it save our nature n earth.


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