Malaysians create awareness of recycling via beach clean-up event

A volunteer picking up trash at Tanjung Harapan in Klang, Selangor on Sept 11 as part of the Trashcycle beach clean-up activity. Photos: Muhamad Shahril Rosli/The Star

On a cloudy Sunday morning, a group of eager people descended on the rocky shores of Tanjung Harapan in Klang, Selangor.

But they were not there for fun. Instead, their mission was to clean up the beach.

This gotong-royong event was to mark the first anniversary of Trashcycle, a local recyclable waste collector based in the Klang Valley.

Trashcycle’s beach clean-up event, held Sept 11, attracted about 45 volunteers from different ages and backgrounds.

The activity saw them handling all sorts of waste matter, including diapers, clothing and even glass bottles, some which even had marine life within them.

“We were baffled by what we saw. Hopefully, this (situation) changes with more consistent clean-ups here. The aim of this event was to get the community we have created through Trashcycle to gain some awareness of how polluted our public spaces are.

“It was also to clean up the mess, so hopefully more of our marine life has a chance for a longer life span instead of getting killed by plastics,” said Trashcycle founder Santhia Subramaniam, 24.

The volunteers collected all sorts of waste matter during the beach clean-up, including diapers, clothing and glass bottles.The volunteers collected all sorts of waste matter during the beach clean-up, including diapers, clothing and glass bottles.

Trashcycle was founded in September 2021, when Santhia was in between jobs. Pondering what she really wanted to do in life, she happened to read articles about the severity and global impact of climate change.

Deeply concerned about the planet’s welfare, Santhia knew she had to act urgently, and that led to Trashcycle, which now comprises six people.

“Our mission is to raise awareness about how to recycle correctly, and that everyone has an impact on planet Earth, no matter how big or small the action is,” said Santhia.

Their work takes them from door to door all around the region, collecting recyclable items which are then sent to a factory in Sungai Besi.

These items are then separated, stored and compressed into bales before being sent off to paper mills, plastic and metal manufacturers, and glass crushers.Santhia said the aim of the beach clean-up was to create awareness of how polluted our public spaces are.Santhia said the aim of the beach clean-up was to create awareness of how polluted our public spaces are.

Trashcycle’s mission includes educating the community, often delivering talks to local companies and members of the public.

One of their biggest achievements to date is redirecting about 105 tonnes of waste from landfills in just one year.

According to Santhia, recycling is not a common habit practised by most Malaysians.

“One of our biggest challenges is to get corporations and business owners to recycle their waste. Most corporations don’t want to take the time to do it as it requires some sort of effort,” Santhia said.

“However, we at Trashcycle believe that businesses and corporations must be responsible for the waste they generate, and make sure that the waste is being disposed of in the most effective way possible. We are still facing this challenge but we will persevere by continuously educating them,” she added.

Another common challenge is receiving waste which is covered with food waste or dirt.

“The common misconception is that dirty takeaway packaging can be recycled, whether it is paper, plastic or glass. If someone intends to recycle something, it has to be cleaned, if not companies will just send them to landfills instead of recycling them.Volunteers auditing the waste collected from the beach clean-up effort.Volunteers auditing the waste collected from the beach clean-up effort.

“So please always rinse out your recyclables if you want to recycle them!” urged Santhia.

Trashcycle is hoping to expand to more states and work with the government in streamlining the country’s recycling processes.

Santhia said there was a lot of uncertainty about environmental practices here, which contributes to the low rate of recycling. For example, many Malaysians were unsure whether or not they needed to separate their trash.

She urged everyone to take direct action about the environment, including to march, vote and pressure the government to stop climate inaction through creating policies and laws.

Awareness without action is unproductive, Santhia stressed.

“Over one year of operation, we have definitely seen more people being aware of recycling and reaching out to us. But it is not enough, and we need more people to do it,” she said.

“I would like to share a quote, ‘waste is not something you throw away, it is a valuable resource to our ecosystem’.

“We should continue recycling so we have less waste in landfills and oceans, and more forests and marine life.

“Our future generations deserve a chance to see how beautiful Malaysia is,” she concluded.

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