Cover Hair clips made from discarded plastic (Photo: Instagram @purpose.plastics)

As plastics pile up in our backyard, two women, Abe Lim and Chrystal Tan, decided to do something about it

There’s no way to sugar-coat the situation; on April 16, 2022, The Star reported that Malaysia was “at risk of losing coastal areas” and “over 15 per cent” of our country’s beaches are gone due to coastal erosions caused by rising sea levels. According to Dr Fredolin Tangang, a climatologist at Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, this was a result of glaciers and sea ice melting from global warming.

Last December, Malaysia suffered the worst case of floods it has ever seen due to torrential rains, which cost the livelihoods of over 125,000 people. A Reuter’s article stated that for the first time ever, the country sought aid from the UN Green Climate Fund “to develop a national plan to adapt to climate change”.

See also: Climate Change 2022: 5 Main Takeaways From the IPCC Report

But this isn’t news to anyone. Despite the urgency of limiting the global warming threshold to 1.5 Celsius and the preventive measures we’ve taken to lessen the impact of climate change, the tipping point to a world forever changed is far too close for comfort. One of the biggest catalysts of climate change is plastic waste management. Did you know, even when we recycle our trash, most of our plastic waste ends up in the landfill or is incinerated? 

See also: How FatHopes Energy is Turning Food Waste Into Sustainable Fuel

Here are two main reasons why. One, it costs more to process plastics than it is to produce it, and two, because plastic is a malleable, almost indestructible material that’s used in nearly everything—it gets complicated for recycling plants to properly process the material.

“You know the little triangular labels that plastic wares have? Those are resin stamps that supposedly let recyclers know what kind of plastic was used,” says Abe Lim, founder and CEO of Purpose Plastics, a company that repurposes plastic waste into homeware. “But that’s the tricky part because during the manufacturing process, you get products that are either not labelled at all or contain more than one kind of plastic with other components in it, making it cheaper to produce. This makes them non-recyclable because plastics can only be recycled if they’re numbered, separated properly or uncontaminated.

Even with so much plastic lying around, one of the industries that had been affected during the lockdown were the recycling companies. Lim soon found her rubbish bin overflowing with waste—a vast number of it being single-use plastic like food packaging and plastic cutlery. That was when she really sat down and did her homework on Malaysia’s waste management system, where she found that the country only recycled 24 per cent of key plastic resins in 2019—making our target to achieve a 40 per cent recycling rate by 2025 a high bar to reach.

Prior to launching Purpose Plastics, Lim tried the pyrolysis route where she and a team of engineers had tried to turn the plastics into fuel; but because of the impurities in the material, the experiments failed. After two months of trial and error as well as a whopping two tonnes of plastic waste collected, the amount of synthetic gas produced was only half a coffee cup’s worth.

“The engineers told me that it wasn’t profitable, but I was optimistic that we’d be able to find a solution to deal with the plastic. Because this is not about immediate profit—this is long-term, and we need to take this seriously,” she states. “So, if I wasn’t able to ‘science’ it, I’ll go for the art route instead.” 

From cleaning, sorting, then shredding the plastics collected, Lim decided to encase the colourful plastic bits in resin, creating beautiful pieces of homeware and lifestyle items that ranged from mahjong tiles, coasters, trays, paper weights, hair clips, earrings to phone holders. Presently, the company is looking to consign with retail outlets in the UK like Selfridges and even Net-a-Porter where they can sell their wares.

Chrystal Tan, Lim’s business partner and fellow entrepreneur, states that they still have a long way to go. “I believe in what Abe is doing, which is why I joined Purpose Plastics. Even when we run into some difficulties like scepticism towards what we do, the whole point of this brand is to lessen the plastic waste in Malaysia, and hopefully inspire others to educate themselves on where their products come from and how to dispose them. We need more people to help clean up our country.”

NOW READ

5 Women Across Asia Who are Driving Change in the Sustainability Sphere

It’s Time for Businesses to Invest in Halting Climate Change

The Lost Food Project's Suzanne Mooney: Rescuing Surplus Food Saves The Planet

Tatler Asia
© 2022 Tatler Asia Limited. All rights reserved.