Klean-ing up Asean’s plastic problem

  • Want to make a multi-functional machine that turns plastic into gold
  • Aims to raise US$5 million to help scale its business


Klean-ing up Asean’s plastic problem


EVERYTHING we know about recycling plastic is wrong according to Malaysian-based startup Klean’s chief executive officer Nick Boden, who believes that current methods including the banning of plastic bags, separating trash and fining individuals are ineffective on their own.

Boden cited a report by McKinsey titled Stemming the Tide: Land-Based Strategies for a Plastic- Free Ocean, that shows that the most effective method to recycle plastic is by way of increasing collection points.

Even though there have been various state-level initiatives like the banning of plastic bags in Selangor and separating waste, Boden claims that most of the waste doesn’t actually get recycled because these plastics get contaminated and can’t actually be reused. Eventually, everything goes into the same landfill as the rest of the trash.

This led Boden and co-founder and chief operating officer Mohamad Arif Abdullah (pic) to found Klean in 2016 with the aim of developing a reverse vending machine that does more than collect empty polyethene terephthalate (PET) bottles and aluminium cans.

Users need only tap their Malaysian identity card (IC) on the machine to begin recycling and the machine will award Klean points to the user’s account that can be checked on a smartphone app, currently in beta testing. These points can be exchanged within the app for airtime over Digi, Touch’n Go value or investment-grade nano gold via HelloGold.

Klean was voted the best startup among 17 others that competed at Pitch@Palace in Singapore in early June 2018.

Boden believes that increasing the value of a bottle will change people’s habits and make recycling part of everyday life. “In Germany, the practice of recycling plastic has been going on for over 40 over, so much so that it had the highest rate of recycled PET bottles at 93.5% in 2015,” he said.

Conversely, he conservatively estimated that there are 10 billion PET bottles sold in Malaysia annually but only a small fraction is actually recycled.

The challenge, is that in Malaysia the concept of recycling at a reverse vending machine is fairly new. The cost of the machines is not cheap either. He said that the prototype Klean reverse vending machine cost RM30,000 to make though he is hoping to reduce the cost once they are able to scale.

The idea, according to Boden, is to make the machines smart and multi-functional as opposed to a simple vending machine that just accepts recyclable materials. He said some of the ideas they had, was for the machines to act as WiFi hotspots for the community, running advertisements on the video screen and static advertisements on the body of the machine.

There are even more elaborate ideas for the Klean machines to be used for Know Your Customer (KYC) verification by fintechs or banks, with the help of its IC card reader and built-in camera to verify the person’s identity.

For now, Arif said Klean is actively engaging with the government to work towards policies that would result in more efficient recycling and reducing waste.

They are also tackling the problem by talking to plastic bottle producers and even telecommunications companies on ways to collaborate. At present, they are looking to raise some US$5 million to help them scale up and produce their reverse vending machines and eventually deploy them across the country.


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