In urban areas of Malaysia, especially in the Klang Valley, residents are no strangers to the concept of zero waste store. But outside the Klang Valley, it would be hard to find them.
It is curious to know why it seemed that the zero residual or ecological trend had not just resumed in Penang, what we found contradicted our assumptions. In 2019, Penang was leader in national recycling rates, recording a rate of 42.69%, higher than the national recycling rate of 21%.
With this data, I would think there would be more stores like these, as penangites are quite proactive when it comes to creating a greener city and community.
Ecological, but not yet zero waste
By asking this question at OWL, we learn that while penangites may have a better understanding of garbage recycling, garbage reduction is still a new change that not many have adopted.
That’s why recycling rates and initiatives in Penang are impressive, but so few zero waste stores have sprung up in the state.
OWL was founded in 2019 by Jo and Vivienne, who ran it for two years before the current owners took over. Now, Cathie, Christine, Denise and June, who are all mothers of young children, run the store.
The store is located in Tanjung Bungah, which is a suburb of Georgetown in Penang. There you can find groceries and toiletries in bulk, basic products for cleaning, skin care, masks, etc. without plastic packaging, similar to what The Hive carries.
Could it be a blue ocean in Penang?
Well … potentially. The team shared with Vulcan Post that since they took office during the MCO, they have invested RM80K to cover the costs of products, rent and utilities, and earn approximately between RM8K and RM10K in monthly revenue.
Overall, it seems like a decent business if we take OWL revenue as a standard. So what keeps more penangites from venturing into this business?
What happens with zero waste stores is that they are known to have more expensive products than you would get in a supermarket. Take, for example, the price differences between OWL and Tesco products:
One of the possible reasons why employers may be wary of opening zero waste stores in Penang? There are not enough T20 residents to serve them.
Zero waste is still cared for by the rich
In the Klang Valley, above all, you will find that many of these shops are Found in zones T20 and M40. Depending on the prices of these stores, however, the T20 is likely to be more frequent.
The T20 group represents approximately 37% of Malaysians August 2020and, of course, they focus largely on the Klang Valley, which make up almost half of the population of KL and Putrajaya.
In comparison, Penang’s T20 group (18.8%) is only slightly more than half of Selangor’s T20 group (33.2%). Even Johor, which has the fourth largest T20 group in Malaysia (19.8%), has only 2 zero waste stores MORE zero waste i The general store for commodity markets, hinting at a possible correlation between T20 group sizes and the number of zero waste warehouses in a state.
What to note: Speaking of income groups, a The Edge report presents a good point about how T20 is simply a term that defines how much income a household earns. If there is a single breadwinner that meets the needs of a family of five in a T20 household, they may not necessarily be okay, but this analysis would yield different results on a case-by-case basis.
Never say never
While the purchasing power in Penang for zero waste stores may not be as great as in Klang Valley, it is not a bad thing to start a business like this.
It will take a lot of education and awareness initiatives to turn the penangites they already recycle into those that adopt zero waste. While it’s easier said than done, what OWL has shown is that there is a lifestyle-receptive audience.
To develop their mission, they actively work with schools, colleges and companies to achieve a waste-free lifestyle. For example, they recently had a virtual event on Zoom with 100 TAR College participants and have a close one with Keysight.
“It’s an exciting development, as these groups brought us closer during the first month we opened in Permai, Tanjung Bungah, Penang,” the team said, noting growing potential.
There could be debate about the need to have zero waste warehouses, as it is possible to design the lifestyle, but the fact is that these stores exist to facilitate the transition. Many citizens don’t have the energy or time to devote to a zero-waste DIY lifestyle, so stores like OWL are a way to lower barriers to adoption.
As the adoption of zero waste grows and so do stores, we are likely to see price declines, which will allow the lifestyle to be more accessible to other income groups.
- You can find more information about OWL Zero Waste Grocer here.
- You can read about more zero waste stores we’ve written about here.
Featured Image Credit: Cathie, Christine, Denise, and June, current owners of OWL Zero Waste Grocer