Vision of keeping the world clean

CYBERJAYA: In 2013, the idyllic holiday island Pulau Pangkor was plagued by a rubbish problem and local boy Dr Tan Ching Seong knew that something needed to be done.

Frustrated by the mess resulting from the use of an incinerator to burn rubbish on the island, he developed a reward-based collection system to encourage the villagers to recycle.

The campaign successfully encouraged them to separate waste as they could redeem rewards through it, said Tan, an associate professor at the Multimedia University’s (MMU) engineering faculty.“I used the community centre to run a project to build a system like the iCycle that you see today.

“We gave every house on the island a set of barcodes that they could paste on their bag of recyclables.

“That way, when they brought in items to be recycled, we knew who participated and who didn’t, as well as who was eligible for rewards.

“For the households that didn’t recycle, I would knock on their doors to talk to them and pressure them.

“Today, most houses on Pulau Pangkor practise waste separation and the incinerator on the island has closed down and become a white elephant, ” said Tan.

The system was then gradually developed into a full-fledged model called iCycle, which has won awards and international accolades.

Looking at how effectively iCycle handled waste on Pulau Pangkor, the government then hired Tan to introduce the system to other cities.

“Many city councils in Malaysia were running into deficit because a huge chunk of their expenditure was spent on waste management and paying contractors to take the rubbish to the landfills.

“The government wanted to reduce the cost of waste management. They turned to iCycle as it provides a cost-saving model, ” said Tan.

Those registered with iCycle via the website or mobile app called Phinonic will be issued a set of barcode stickers that they need to paste on their bag of recyclables in order to track and accumulate points.

Then, users just need to drop the bag of recyclables at the iCycle bin nearest to their home.

For every unit of recyclable items sent to iCycle, points will be given and these can be exchanged or redeemed for merchandise or cash vouchers.

According to Tan, the iCycle system is currently available in seven states, including Kuala Lumpur, Melaka and Penang.

Besides Malaysia, it is being implemented in China, Singapore and Thailand.

Its world partners include the United Nations Technology Innovation Lab, Tetra Pak and Milo, said Tan, adding that there are over 60 staff members working for iCycle.His long-term objective is to expand the homegrown technology to help other countries with their waste management issues.

“We have our own patents and trademarks. We expanded without a single cent of donation.

“In a few more years, we want to be in over 100 countries.

“Wherever there is a waste problem, we want to go in with our solution, ” he said.

For his efforts, Tan is recognised as one of the 10 winners of Star Golden Hearts Award 2019, an annual award that celebrates everyday Malaysian unsung heroes.

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