The last glass recycler in Penang


Last of his kind: Paramasiwam holding up a glass bottle at his recycling shop in Lebuh Victoria. — CHAN BOON KAI/The Star

GEORGE TOWN: In a small shop in Lebuh Victoria lies what is likely the last glass recycler in Penang.

K. Paramasiwam, 66, sits quietly at his desk in a small office with gunny sacks of separated glass bottles filling the storehouse beyond.

“This shop has been here since 1926. It was opened by my relatives from India, who focused on recycling gunny sacks used by traders,” he said.

In the 1980s, the use of gunny sacks dwindled and TMI Traders – now owned and solely operated by Paramasiwam – switched to recycling large plastic bags used to transport goods like rice and sugar.And when those became less popular, the shop turned to glass.

Penang, which leads the country in recycling, achieved a 44.04% recycling rate last year. This is more than double the national average and glass remains the most unpopular category for collectors.

“There used to be five shops doing glass recycling, but they started to close in the early 1990s. Now, I’m the only one left.

“People think glass doesn’t have much value but that isn’t why glass recycling is not popular.

“The reason is that in Penang, we cannot get enough supply to make it worthwhile,” said Paramasiwam.

The ex-production manager, who worked in factories and multinational corporations for over 30 years before taking over the recycling business from a relative after his retirement, said glass bottles were often reused in their original state.“That is one reason only certain bottles are accepted for recycling,” he added.

Paramasiwam pays an average of five sen to 15 sen for each bottle and sends them off to be cleaned – an expensive process that often costs the same or more than what he pays for the bottle.

After cleaning, they are sold at a profit margin ranging from three sen to 18 sen a piece, depending on the size and make of the bottle.“I send some bottles back to their original manufacturers while others are sold to businesses that need them, for example to pack honey.

“The local supply of glass for recycling in Penang is very low. It accounts for not even 10% of my needs, so I get bottles from Thailand as well,” Paramasiwam said.

The Covid-19 pandemic has dealt a large blow to his supply lines as lorry transport service from Thailand has been disrupted.

Paramasiwam estimated that his business declined by 70% to 80% since the virus outbreak.

“Now, I can’t even afford to pay a worker to help me. But in business, there are good times and bad times.

“Granted, this is a very bad time but hopefully things will get better,” he said.

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