A friend of mine who lived for several years in an European country recounted how she dumped some old newspapers together with plastic waste in the rubbish bin in front of her new home. Soon after, she was made to pay a hefty fine; she was seen by a neighbour, who made a report to the authorities. How I wish this is the way things go in Malaysia. Seeing the image of plastic litter washed ashore at a local beach, heaps of rubbish by the roads on Sundays when the street sweepers are taking a break, drains choked with bits and pieces of cigarette butts, plastic containers and food wrappers right in front of restaurants, are painful reminders of how far we still need to go in terms of caring for our beautiful country. I spoke to two mothers, Seet Huay Ping and Fu Swee Yun, who have taken up upon themselves to start a business aptly called Origin Bulk Store in an effort to promote zero waste in their respective families and communities.
Origin Bulk Store founder, Seet Huay Ping (above), and co-founder, Fu Swee Yun (below) believe it is not
too late to revert to how things were before, when the throw away culture and single-use plastic were non-existent.
Jamilah: Tell us about your personal and professional backgrounds.
Huay Ping: I am an accountant by profession, a mother of a 5-year-old. My partner, Swee Yun, is a registered town planner, who deals with various challenges in urban development. She is a mother of 2 young sons.
Jamilah: What made you start Origin Bulk Store (“OBS”)? Since when?
Huay Ping: I started to embrace zero waste lifestyle since September 2017. I found it very beneficial in various aspects of my life. Nonetheless, getting others to practice the same (getting people to purchase groceries from our store with their own containers) is a big challenge.
Swee Yun: As a town planner, I believe in building a sustainable community and environment, not only through policies, but also through consumers, starting with individuals being given the option for an eco-friendly lifestyle. The mutual passion on ours brought about the idea of setting up an online green grocer store. We registered OBS on 19 September 2018, and we are now moving gradually to penetrate the market by investing on digital marketing.
Jamilah: Where did you get the idea?
Huay Ping: Most of the common grocery stores we know of only sell prepacked groceries. We wanted to set up a retail zero waste grocery store. Noting our existing commitments and the high operation costs to sustain a mortar-and-brick shop, we felt that things would be more manageable if we could build a customer base by having an online store for a start.
Swee Yun: Besides, we also like to advocate for green delivery. All our groceries shipped to customers are packed with compostable brown bags, reused glass jars and recycled plastic containers. Contrary to the practice of general online stores, which incurs lots of plastic wastes such as bubble wraps and single-use plastic bags, we pledge to only pack our groceries in a mindful way.
Jars are washed and air-dried for reuse.
Jamilah: How is the response so far?
Swee Yun: For the time being, we are taking orders from our circle of family and friends. The response is good as we often get repeated orders from them.
Huay Ping: We spend quite a lot of time sourcing for the best supplies for our dry groceries range to ensure the best quality.
Jamilah: What are the challenges and rewards? What do your respective families think of it?
Huay Ping: We would say the biggest challenge is time, as selling groceries in bulk requires more time and attention. We do not use oxygen absorber as it isn’t eco-friendly. Besides the eco-friendly packaging and delivery policies, we also have to ensure our products are stored optimally to prevent items like nuts from turning rancid. In spite of that, we have chosen the path less travelled, mainly because our mission is to contribute to the new normal.
For our eco-gifts, we use reused glass jars which we source from 3 different recycling centres. These are mostly jars of spaghetti sauce, fruit jams and seasoning sauces. Once collected, we soak the jars with our homemade garbage enzyme and baking powder. This helps us to remove the labels and odours. To further remove the sticky patch left on the jar, we use oil and baking powder mix. These reused jars would then be sun dried, just like the practice of the yesteryears, to ensure it is clean and hygienic to reuse.
This is truly a labour of love, to ensure the jars used are without labels, spotless and odourless. We hope that by transforming these abandoned jars into (almost) brand new ones, the recipients would come to realise that reusing containers is doable, and the unreasonable, insane wish to use plastic containers and utensils could be reduced.
Swee Yun: Besides, green delivery could be challenging as well. We need a bigger storage place for second-hand containers to pack nuts and dried fruits. We do not use brown bags to pack dried fruits as it is not sealable. It is not wise to compromise on the quality of food delivered just because we want to be mindful of Mother Earth. Thus, we are prudent on our packaging procedure.
We are rewarded by the count of plastic wastes we saved for Mother Earth, and affirmations of our customers. We do aim to build up this brand in order to make it a sustainable business. Our families are rather concerned for the business model we have adopted. Nonetheless, they respect our vision to build up this humble eco-friendly business.
The massive throw away culture in the community is indeed serious, and the biggest threat is, no one sees this as a problem. We are hoping, the little baby steps we have taken could help to raise the awareness among Malaysians.