Upcycling In Malaysia And The Organisations Doing More For Sustainability

With the concern on plastic usage and climate change, it’s no surprise that communities making a huge U-Turn and learning how we can help curb the damage done to our environment. So we’ve all heard of sustainable fashion and buying things mindfully. But what about the things we already own? How do we reuse that and make it more? This is where upcycling comes in, and we find out more about how to upcycle in Malaysia.

We spoke to Jey Bala, the Head of Business & Programme Development of Me.reka Makerspace which is based in Publika, on how one can slowly lean into this lifestyle. We also find out more on how Me.reka are contributing to the future of upcycling so read on!

What’s THE deal with upcycling?

We’ve heard of recycling, it’s been ingrained in our minds since we were in school. Remember the 3Rs and the different coloured bins!

CLEO (C): What is upcycling?

Jey Bala (JB): Upcycling is the process of turning waste materials or useless objects into something of a higher quality than its original state. You’re actually taking it and making something new out of it. And when you make something new, you’re actually extending its life. 

This differs from recycling, where for example, the same material would be melted and made into plastic again. It’s a rather new term and we like to champion upcycling and recycling.

Jey Bala conducting a workshop using old plastic bottles

C: Why is it important to start upcycling?

JB: It’s a good way to keep yourself being creative and helps you realise the potential of the materials you already have. It also helps you become more conscious about what you use and buy. So instead of buying, consuming and then throwing all the things, you learn to make full use of one object. In Malaysia (although it has been around for some time), recycling in a sense itself has not picked up as much as we want to. So with upcycling, it’s a fun way to tell people that it can be easy and fun while showing them all the different things you can do with this. 

C: What’s the most important thing to remember when upcycling?

JB: That it’s actually really easy. People often think that you need 10 boxes to segregate and make sure the labels are right but no. You really just need one box and make sure its clean and dry. So just wash whatever you have and dry them, that way it won’t smell and attract insects. This goes to tin cans, plastic packages and once they’re dry, you can put your e-waste in as well. So like tin cans, plastic packages once theyre dry, you can put your e-waste, you can put yout glass and when you have this you can go to the right facilities that actually recycle these things.

You also need to remember that e-waste can also be recycled. Don’t simply throw it around because it is harmful and will contaminate things.

Plastic bottles are often filled up to be used as a base

C: How does one differentiate items that can be upcycled and ones that can’t?

JB: One common mistake that people do is coffee cups/paper cups, every paper cup has plastic on it already so sometimes you cant recycle it. Anything with food waste in it, you cant recycle. You need to wash it first, sometimes if you just put it in, you might contaminate the other things in the bin. There are solutions for that, you can composte it but thats another step.


And what about sustainable living? 

All jokes aside, say no to that straw

“You need to know how you manage your waste. Like when you buy one bread, you really don’t need that plastic bag. Its all about making that conscious change.”

It’s more than just using metal straws, in reality every little bit counts. Objects that seem harmless like bottle caps and straws can mess up the environment, so why is it hard to believe that we can’t enact positive change in the countless choices we make every day?

Living a more sustainable lifestyle can be as simple as swapping your water bottle for a reusable variety or promising to only buy your eggs and produce from the farmers market. Making one of those a habit can bring an incredibly positive thing, once you get used to it, you’ll start to think about what else you can do.

C: People are always worried that you need a huge change if you want to switch to living sustainably. So what are the simplest ways to start?

JB: You need to know how you manage your waste. Like when you buy one bread, you really don’t need that plastic bag. Its all about making that conscious change. How you impact your community (your friends and family) matters too. There will be times that they’ll be like why are you even doing this? Let other people do their job. Yes, but making that small change will help.  

C: What are the benefits of living sustainably?

JB: Personally i’d say it feels good because you feel like you’re making the right choices. But as a whole I feel like everyone needs to get on it because you can see how it’s affecting the environment and our way of living. 

C: Some might still have their reservations about sustainable living, how can you change their mind on that?

JB: I think it really comes from wanting to understand it themselves, because you can only watch so many DIY videos, so many documentaries. It’s how much you practice it that really matters.


Me.reka Makerspace 

Participants can learn to make bags and purses at Me.reka’s Textile Fashion Lab

An innovative and alternative education space, ME.REKA Makerspace was created to challenge the limits of twenty-first century designing and making. ME.REKA aims to nurture the seeds of creativity; developing talent and entrepreneurs for the industries and businesses that will shape the future of tomorrow.

C: How does Me.reka help look into the future of upcycling?

We don’t want people to make something just for the sake of it, we want it to be practical and usable. We want people to be making things here, to run their own things here. It could be two friends who want to make an electronic device but they don’t know woodworking, then they can take a class here to learn those skills. It’s all about building that community. 

C: For Me.reka, where do you usually source the items that you use to upcycle?

Like I said, it’s all about making a community. So we have been doing this for 5 years now and we’ve partnered with a few junkyards. Now being in Publika, we work with the trash collectors over here. We just let them know what we need a few days or weeks in advanced and they’ve been nice enough to work with us.


Find Me.reka  at:

Lot 1C, Level G1 (A4 Entrance), Publika Shopping Gallery