Malaysia Looks To Improve Its Recycling Rate With New Incentives

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May. 20 2019, Updated 5:02 p.m. ET

Malaysians are combating single-use plastics with two initiatives designed to increase recycling rates. Throughout the country, vending machines are being installed that trade gold for recyclable plastic and cans. And Tesco stores in the capital city of Kuala Lumpur are rolling out reusable shopping bags with barcodes that provide customer discounts. 

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HelloGold is a tech company based in Kuala Lumpur that came up with the idea for a reverse vending machine. Similar to kiosks where people can swap old mobile devices for money, HelloGold machines will trade gold for single-use plastic or cans (about 25 cents per item). 

Here's how it works. First, you download HelloGold's mobile app on your Android or iOS devices. Then, anytime you have a piece of recyclable, single-use plastic or a soda can you can put it into one of HelloGold's kiosks. The app keeps track of the credits you earn, which can be redeemed as coins, cash, or even gold bars. HelloGold plans to install 500 machines across Malaysia by the end of this year. The company is also expected to expand to countries like Singapore and South Africa that have major carbon footprints.

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"Unlike cash, physical gold is a desirable form of savings in emerging markets such as Southeast Asia," Robin Lee, CEO of HelloGold, told Eco-Business. "By making access to gold easy and affordable, we believe that customers will be incentivised to recycle."

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Another way citizens in Malaysia can cut back on plastic use is through using Tesco’s “Unforgettable Bag.” Eleven of these food and home-goods stores across Johor and capital city Kuala Lumpur will offer a 20-cent discount for people who bring in their reusable bags, limited to two per transaction. Store director Azliza Baizura Azmel said the bags are designed to curb the unsettling statistic that 70 percent of people who own reusable bags end up leaving them at home or in the car when shopping.

Local advertising agency Grey Group Malaysia came up with the concept for the bag, which will be available in three different designs depicting endangered sea animals. Tesco will be the first superstore in the country to offer the discount for reusing shopping bags. The program will be available through the end of 2018.

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“We have halved the number of single-use plastic bags given out in our stores between 2011 and 2017, but the rate of reduction is not fast enough,” Paul Ritchie, CEO of Tesco Malaysia, said in a press release. “Our aim is to further halve the number of plastic bags this year through the Unforgettable Bag campaign.”

Malaysia has a recycling rate at just 17.5 percent as a country. That’s around half of the number that Americans recycle at (34 percent), and significantly lower than the rates of some European countries (more than 60 percent). These recent incentives should help get that number to a better mark.

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