As if the pandemic is not grim enough, we have some worrying statistics on waste to share. Did you know, according to The World Bank, the world generates 2.01 billion tonnes of municipal solid waste annually, with at least 33 percent of that—extremely conservatively—not managed in an environmentally safe manner. And what’s even more worrying is that, this figure will only grow.
Compared to developed nations, Malaysia’s recycling effort leaves a lot to be desired with lack of awareness and proper regulation to ensure that there’s a good working system in place to handle waste management. That’s a story for another day.
Some individuals take it upon themselves to drive reuse, recycle and reduce waste initiatives; from Biji-Biji Initiative to Claire Lancelot from The Hive and right down to the folks who take the time to separate their waste at home. We tip our hats to all of you.
The term upcycling was coined in the 90s and became the single biggest trend to come out of the spring summer 2021 collection. Closer to home in more recent times, an upcycling effort by a Sarawakian turban designer Neng Kho Razali was making its rounds on socmed, all because she joined forces with Southeast Asia’s leading superapp Grab to refashion their delivery bags for a greater purpose.
It all began in June 2020, when Neng learned about Grab’s search for someone who can create something functional from their used delivery bags. She submitted a proposal with two ideas – one, to convert the used bags into fit-for-sale merchandise and the other to turn it into school bags, pencil cases and mask/money purse for school going kids who can’t afford these necessities.
“This is a meaningful collaboration, and I am so proud to be a part of Grab’s recycling initiative,” she shares from Kuching. To-date, Neng has produced about 174 upcycled items out of the 94 used GrabFood delivery bags she received.
Typically every few months, Grab riders return their delivery bags to get it replaced with a new one. “And this is where the lifespan of the used delivery bags ends but as one story ends, so another begins. When the used delivery bags reach me, I start with thorough sanitisation before ripping them apart and segregating the usable parts from the worn-out and unusable.”
Her mission is to achieve minimal wastage, which she says is impossible as these delivery bags have been used daily for months and are exposed to extreme weather conditions. The unusable parts such as the aluminum insulation, zipper and small worn-out parts are collected and disposed off properly.
“Meanwhile, the usable parts are soaked, washed and dried. Once dry, these parts are cut into desired sizes and sewn into school bags, pencil cases and mask/money bags. And this is where its next life begins,” she adds.
Her favourite part working on this project?
“Collecting the washed and dried pieces of the bags, definitely!” She says it took a lot of effort to carefully unstitch the Grab delivery bags given its solid workmanship, not to mention the dirt that has been collecting in the inner and outer part of the bags after many months. “When these parts look almost brand new after the washing/drying process, the satisfaction renders me speechless! It really feels good to see how my hard work pays off.”
Also noteworthy, the feeling she gets seeing the items received by the schools. “My team and I are so happy to be given an opportunity to embark on this noble initiative with Grab. We keep the school children in mind during the whole process, as a reminder that we must give our all to produce the best bags for them. We wanted it to look brand new. It’s amazing to see these materials take on a new life and purpose, while serving two very different owners.” Unfortunately, these bags are not for up for sale at the moment.
According to Grab Malaysia, every month around 100 used GrabFood delivery bags are returned to the company under its used bag exchange programme. To give these bags a new lease of life, they partnered with Suri Lifestyle and designer Neng for a social good programme. So far, over 200 used delivery bags have been repurposed into 400 items and distributed to Yayasan Anak Yatim and Tadika Istika Jaya orphanages, the SK Long Pelutan school and Grab’s driver-partners.
Neng has been designing turbans since 2016, after getting inquiries on the turbans she made for herself. Among her first few customers were cancer patients/survivors. From turbans, the started exploring the other facets of Sarawak fashion industry and continued to fuel her passion for fashion, art and culture.
(Photos: Neng Kho Razali)