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Title: The recycling man
Date: 01-Sep-2009
Category: Integrated Solid Waste Management
Source/Author:         TAN CHENG LI, The Star (www.thestar.com.my)
Description: One man finds worth in other people’s discards and uses them to raise funds for charity.

THE Seri Sinar charity organisation has succeeded where many have failed – establishing a network of centres for people to drop off their recyclables with ease. And that feat can be attributed to the efforts of its founder, Datuk Eadon Ching.

Ching, 52, started the organisation in 2003 with the aim of raising funds for charity by collecting and selling recyclables. The group has donated over RM700,000 to date, benefiting orphanages, poor students, underprivileged children, the sick and disabled, single mothers, old folks’ homes and orang asli communities.

Much to be done: ‘I consider my efforts a failure because many people are still not aware about recycling and sim ply throw things. We need to educate people,’ says Datuk Eadon Ching .

While many recycling ventures struggle to survive, Seri Sinar’s continue to grow as Ching, who has a car dealership, runs it as he would his business. He adopted numerous measures not commonly seen in most recycling schemes, such as hiring workers instead of using volunteers, and investing in huge recycling boxes (they each cost RM2,000), storage space as well as vehicles for prompt pickups and speedy clearance of the boxes.

“We provide a platform for people to give away their things instead of throwing them away. We’ll find a use for the things and generate funds at the same time,” says Ching, an avid charity volunteer for the past 20 years.

He brought into the group his experience in helming a recycling scheme for another charitable organisation in the 1990s. “That earlier scheme collected mainly newspapers. Since many other items can be recycled, I wanted this new organisation to take everything and not be selective like some groups which do not collect low-value waste,” says Ching.

Seri Sinar (www.recyclecharity.org) now has 200 recycling boxes in residential sites all over the Klang Valley for people to drop off their recyclables and support charity at the same time. Its 26 mobile collection centres, held on specific days at specific sites, also makes it easy for the public to recycle. Its lorries will also pick up bulky items such as furniture and electrical appliances from homes.

“For recycling to work, it has to be convenient for people,” says Ching.

Because the activity is labour-intensive, Ching does not rely on volunteers but has hired a staff of 60. Some of them start work as early as 6am to distribute educational leaflets to the morning crowd at markets while others stand in the hot sun manning mobile collection centres, carry heavy furniture down flights of stairs or sort through messy trash.

Wary of workers channelling away recyclables for personal profits – something which has caused the breakdown of other recycling schemes – Ching monitors his staff closely.

“I am very strict with my workers as human greed is always there. I will move the workers around and will not have the same people working together for too long.”

It is estimated that the Seri Sinar recycling scheme has diverted over 60,000 tonnes of recyclables from landfills.

“I have had to move to bigger premises five times because of the growing volume of waste. You must have ample storage space as some items cannot be sold immediately,” says Ching.

His newest waste sorting centre sprawls over 0.52ha in Hulu Langat, Selangor. Each day, his fleet of 20 lorries haul in 40 to 50 tonnes of waste from the recycling boxes scattered all over the Klang Valley. At the centre, workers sort the waste according to types: plastic, metal, plastic bags, clothes, bags, shoes, books, glass, paper, furnishing, electrical appliances (TVs, refrigerators, washing machines), computers, wires and so on.

“We get all sorts of things, some stuff you’ve never seen before. And you will be surprised. Whatever the waste, there will be someone who will want it,” says Ching.

At the sorting centre, wastes which have reusable value are quickly carted away by traders looking for deals. Other discards, such as the bags of unused cotton gloves lying in one corner, will have to be stored until someone wants them. Usable furniture and electrical appliances are given away to charities and sometimes, sold to second-hand dealers or scrap dealers.

But there will always be things which no one wants or can no longer be used. One bin is full of such waste: soiled pillow and clothes, broken furniture, odds and ends (including those plastic gold-coloured nuggets used for Chinese New Year decorations) and other stuff beyond recognition.

“Every day, at least one lorry-load of such waste has to be sent to the landfill,” says Ching. It appears that people still use the Seri Sinar recycling box as trash bins. And not everyone who call its hotline are genuinely charitable. “Some just want to clear their unwanted things conveniently. They insist that my workers take even broken furniture. If we don’t, they’ll accuse us of only choosing the good things.”

With success comes copycats. Some groups have used recycling bins similar to Seri Sinar’s, and claiming them to be for charity. Ching has even discovered a group of teenagers using his organisation’s name to ask for public donation of recyclables and cash. He has made at least 10 reports of such false claims in the past year alone.

Requests for Ching to start similar recycling ventures have come from other towns and even as far as Tawau, Sabah, but he has had to turn them down.

“It is not easy and I cannot find the right people to do it. Even now, I do a lot of the work myself. I will personally visit a location to see if it is an ideal spot to put recycling bins.

“A recycling scheme requires passion and dedication. People only see where I have succeeded, not where I have failed, especially in my early days. Initially, I even had to sell old toys and kitchen appliances at the pasar malam as I had no space to store them and needed to pay my staff.”

Dispelling claims that he had profited from the recycling scheme, Ching says he had initially forked out some RM30,000 to kickstart the organisation. And when prices of recyclables plunged last year, he resorted to seeking donations from friends to sustain the charity group.

Ching points out that the shifting prices and fluctuating volume of recyclables – it peaks during festive seasons and year-end – as well as the growing number of collectors meant that Seri Sinar could not depend solely on this activity for its funds.

To sustain the group in the long run, he has ventured into environment-related businesses such as marketing gadgets that save electricity and reduce fuel consumption in cars.

Bearing witness to man’s excesses every day, it comes as no surprise that Ching is one to practise a less wasteful lifestyle.

“At home, I have three bags for different trash. I use containers when buying food and drinks, and seldom buy clothes. I always tell people to reduce, and try and make full use of everything they own. Because people have buying power nowadays, they are always buying new things. These excesses will result in waste.”

He downplays his contributions in promoting recycling, stressing that a lot still has to be done.

“I consider my efforts a failure because many people are still not aware about recycling and simply throw things. We need to educate people,” he adds.

But it has to be said that the Seri Sinar recycling scheme has expanded faster than any other setup and the group has done more for recycling than any local governments or solid waste management consortia.

Seri Sinar accepts all kinds of recyclables including plastic bags, CDs, videotapes, cassettes, computers and electrical appliances. For the locations of their recycling boxes and mobile collection centres, call 03-9021 1888 or e-mail: serisinar@recyclecharity.org.

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