A Tiny Shop in Bangkok Turns Trash into Cash

As we delve further into the 21st century, the modern world truly makes life easier. But it comes with a price. While some people crack jokes about how using battery-powered cars can save the polar bears from global warming, or ‘eco warriors’ are just a bunch of hippies that need to get real jobs, the impacts of poor waste management, for example, have boiled over to a point where it’s no laughing matter.

Time and again, we have seen images of animals, be it on land or at sea, dying because of waste products that have been disposed off improperly.

Last month, a whale shark that washed ashore on Tanjung Aru Beach in Kuala Penyu, 100 kilometres away from Kota Kinabalu, Sabah was found to have starved to death after ingesting a single plastic bag.

Marine life such as the whale shark don’t know the difference between food and trash. Alien debris in the ocean stands as one of the biggest threats to the ecosystem.

The post mortem found the bag measuring 46 centimetres in height by 32 centimetres in width had caused a physical obstruction in the whale shark’s gastrointestinal tract, which left the the creature starving to death.

That’s just one of the millions of cases involving alien debris that end up in our land and oceans. went to Tioman Island in Pahang last October in conjunction with the International Coastal Clean-Up Day and during the event, volunteers collected heaps of garbage like a refrigerator (yes, a refrigerator!), an ATV rear axle as well as bottles that had drifted all the way from Vietnam.

Volunteers picking up rubbish on the beach during the International Coastal Clean-Up Day on Tioman Island last year. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin

Read the story: Malaysia’s Tioman Island Gets Massive Coastal Clean-Up

Volunteers left with limited space as marine debris filled the speedboat to the brim. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin
A plastic bottle from Vietnam washed ashore on one of Tioman’s islets, Teluk Bakau. Image: Asyraf Naqiuddin

Changing mindsets, even as simple as recycling, has proven to be a mammoth task globally.

Survey group YouGov Omnibus recently found that despite the rising government campaign on banning single-use plastics, Malaysians are still big consumers of plastic straws and bags.

Of the 1,013 respondents, 22% of them still use plastic straws daily. Here comes the twist, 91% of them strongly agreed about the importance of conserving the environment.

The biggest reason behind it? They did not know where to get reusable straws. So to vendors out there, it’s time to sharpen your marketing skills and get the word out.

Last year, the Housing and Local Government Ministry permanently banned the import of plastic scrap after Malaysia was found to be the top dumping ground for plastic waste.

Trash strewn on land will eventually make its way to rivers and ocean, posing a big threat to marine life.

It was reported that Malaysia had imported a total of 1.8 million tonnes of plastic from 33 countries since 2015, and that the industry had generated RM30 billion.

Its minister Zuraida Kamaruddin was quoted by an English daily as saying: “With a population of over 32 million, Malaysia generates about 38,000 metric tonnes of waste on a daily basis.

“Out of the huge amount, waste separation and recycle rate is only at 24% while the remaining 76% goes to the landfill,” she said, adding education is of utmost importance to increase the country’s recycling rate.

Waste separation and recycling is vital to avoid increase in landfill size.

The story is almost the same with our next-door neighbour Thailand. Reported as the world’s sixth biggest contributor of ocean waste, the country generates 1.03 million tonnes of plastic waste annually, with over 3% of this making its way into the ocean. Last year, a beached whale in Songkhla was found to have swallowed 80 plastic bags!

Hopes remain high for the global community to start taking separating trash and recycling seriously.

We understand that Rome isn’t built in a day. But the foundations have to be set as soon as possible before the world crumbles.

This is when a community shop at a residential street in Bangkok’s Prawet district, known as the Zero Baht Shop, comes in. This tiny shop accepts recyclable items like glass or plastic bottles, cans, papers or cardboards as a currency in exchange for everyday goods like snacks, drinks, cooking ingredients and other essentials.

Zero Baht Shop in Prawet district, Bangkok.

A kilogramme of plastic bottles, for example, will get you a bottle of carbonated drink. The enterprise doesn’t only help address issues surrounding the low-income group, but also subtly but effectively guides the people in shifting their mindset to understand that recycling does have its benefits.

Recycling helps conserve raw materials and protects natural habitats for the future. We can’t keep clearing our jungles just so people don’t run out of papers. We need to recycle the used ones, and simply write something new and better for our future!

A trash collector, known as ‘saleng’ in Thai, with the waste collection at the shop.
The shop doesn’t only help alleviate the cost of living among low-income families, but also serves as an education centre for the community on the importance of recycling.

Separating trash is as simple as getting a couple of extra tiny bins at your home. Not only will you be rewarded with cash, but you will also help towards sustaining this world in becoming a better place. Fresh air, rich resources, we don’t want to see any of those things go away.

Check out the cool initiative below and maybe Malaysia can follow in its footsteps? Save the environment, save the world.

What do you think?

Written by Asyraf Naqiuddin

Asyraf believes there’s a story anywhere you turn that could inspire readers around the world. With a penchant for high-powered motorcycles, he hopes to one day get back in the saddle and cover the globe on two wheels.

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