Island Youths in Malaysia Start a Plastic Waste Upcycling Tour together with Beach Resorts

14 June 2024

by Bryan Yong

A local university eco-project brings together a group of island youths passionate about marine conservation and resort operators to begin a plastic waste upcycling tour under a social enterprise model.

On the beautiful white sandy beaches of Redang Island, tourists took a break from their usual sun, sea, and sand itinerary. Their afternoon was spent learning how a machine churned empty bottles of mineral water or sunscreen into tiny, elaborate keychains and cup coasters. For a small fee, they are paying to see the island’s plastic upcycling machine.

The island youths operating the upcycling machine and the resort tour guides watching on curiously are being paid a new source of eco-revenue. This plastic waste upcycling tour took a village to set up and has recently joined the fight against the island’s overwhelming plastic waste issue.

Beautiful Island, Not So Beautiful Plastic Waste

Redang Island in Malaysia is a tourist hotspot. Photo courtesy of EcoCupid.

Redang Island is a small tropical island on the East Coast of Terengganu, Malaysia, and it braves the strong northeastern monsoon winds for up to half a year. When the rain stops, the island welcomes 100,000 visitors annually to its white beaches by boat or plane.

Before tourism, Redang was a quiet fishing village, where people built and lived on floating houses by the sea (which they no longer do). The Malaysian government soon caught on to its heritage and natural value and established Redang as its first marine national park.

Decades of massive development later, the island has an airport, a golf resort, and a string of popular 5-star beach resorts that appeal to tourists across the globe. Most of these resorts have garbage collection boats that ship all their waste back to the mainland for disposal. 

Redang Island's local community have poor waste management awareness, coupled with the lack of proper infrastructure. Photo courtesy of EcoCupid.

Ironically, the island’s only village with a population of 2,000 still lacks a proper waste management system. A landfill was once available but was full a long time ago. Talks of establishing waste incinerators were quickly brought up but have yet to result in anything. The entire village’s waste collection is handled by one garbage truck, which only sends the waste to a collection point by the village jetty. 

The village jetty itself is one sorry sight. Garbage collection boats that come once every two days are sometimes fully loaded and are forced to leave some waste behind. On top of that, the villagers need to be more aware of managing their waste.

“I’m sad and disappointed looking at the waste problem”, said Hasmida binti Hasan, a local born and raised on Redang Island. “When foreign tourists come, they see our village and think it’s so dirty, we need to fix this.”

Hasmida stares at the jetty dumpsite in her village which is an eyesore for both tourists and locals. Photo courtesy of EcoCupid.

Hasmida is a member of Redang Marine Conservation Group — a youth group for island villagers who act to conserve the island’s marine ecosystem. She is trying to tackle the island’s waste problem. She has been asking friends and family to recycle but not to much avail. The island lacks a proper recycling system and people have no incentive or avenue to contribute their waste for recycling.

It will take a village to solve Hasmida’s dilemma. Fortunately, help arrived in the form of a machine and social entrepreneurship.

Setting Up a Plastic Waste Upcycling Tour

SOA MY Ocean Hope is a student-led marine waste management eco-project based in Terengganu, Malaysia. They wanted to continue to do what they do best on Redang Island — solve marine waste problems with social entrepreneurship. 

Nur Zafeera Ezana binti M Nasimudin, a project lead for SOA’s social enterprise wing Hermie’s Hub, understood that the island locals are concerned with the impact of tourism on the island, particularly with plastic waste pollution. When many tourists visit Redang, and garbage collectors are overwhelmed, people will opt to burn plastic which causes air pollution. If coastal or marine wildlife come into contact with plastic waste, they might mistake them for food.

“Not only are we trying to solve the plastic waste pollution on this island, but we’re also trying to connect the [collaborative] gap between the community and the resorts”, said Zaf who developed a concept with her friends to start a plastic waste upcycling tour in Redang Island.

RMCG and SOA MY Ocean Hope jointly organise a plastic waste upcycling workshop for arriving guests. Photo courtesy of EcoCupid.

Like any other long-term eco-project, SOA needed three ingredients: environmental solution, community engagement, and sustainable income.

Firstly, SOA already has the plastic upcycling machine set up. Installed in the village town hall is a workstation-on-wheels as big as a shopping cart. On it is a small-scale machine platform that shreds, melts, and compresses high-density polyethylene (HDPE; type 2), low-density polyethylene (LDPE: type 4), and polypropylene (PP; type 5) into SOA’s custom-made moulds. SOA had already laid the groundwork by negotiating with the local council to use the town hall as a garage and workshop space for the machine.

Hasmida collecting plastic bottles from villagers. Photo courtesy of EcoCupid.

“The plastic that we take for our workshop mostly comes from beach clean-ups, donations by local people, and the plastic we get from resorts,” said Zaf.

Secondly, SOA needed to empower locals to operate the machine and lead the workshop. Zaf and her team realised that locals were in a better position to carry on the tour when they left. A lot more is at stake for Redang’s population of 2,000 than a group of passionate university students from the mainland.

More importantly, honest work should never be exploited for free, especially for non-profits. SOA knew they had to pay whoever leading the tour even though it was done based on goodwill for the environment. And lucky for them, Hasmida signed up. She is carefully trained to operate the machine and lead the workshop tour simultaneously. Every tour she leads will earn her a commission, funded by paying tourists who come to see her demonstrate how the machine works. 

SOA MY Ocean Hope training Hasmida how to use the plastic upcycling machine. Photo courtesy of EcoCupid.

Thirdly, SOA developed a strategy to work with the local resort operators, the island’s biggest waste producers. If approached with diplomacy, the resort operators can supply recyclable plastic materials for the workshop and willing tourists for the tour.

Give Resorts a Responsibility Spotlight

To put into perspective, the Taaras Beach and Spa Resort, one of the island’s biggest resorts which happens to be within walking distance of the village, welcomed roughly 18,000 guests from around the world. From these tourists alone, at least 70,000 kg of waste has been generated, a big portion of which is plastic waste from bottled water.

Muhammad Danial Hakim bin Ali is a junior marine biologist at the Taaras Beach and Spa Resort. He represented his resort employer to sign a contract with SOA which requires them to set up a plastic recycling educational booth and promotional campaigns to attract tourists to the plastic waste upcycling tour.

SOA MY Ocean Hope convincing hotel operators in Redang Island to adopt their plastic waste upcycling tour. Photo courtesy of EcoCupid.

“The tour will be held in the village because we are working together with villagers on Redang Island, ” said Danial, also a member of RMCG. “When our guests reach the town hall, they will learn that we can make something from rubbish, which does not have to be always discarded.”

On behalf of Taaras, Danial clarified their stance on zero waste and sustainability. Perhaps, this plastic waste upcycling tour will be a litmus test for their determination and openness to be part of local community efforts to fight plastic pollution.

“I think it’s easier [to do plastic upcycling] when we do it with friends,” said a hopeful Hasmida. “When working together, we feel it’s faster and easier, and it makes me more excited to do the tour!” ~

Our featured Eco-Hero

Redang Marine Conservation Group is a group of local community youths from Redang Island who are passionate about marine conservation on their island. Based in Redang Island, Terengganu, Malaysia, Redang Marine Conservation Group focuses on marine conservation and marine waste pollution. You can reach out to them at


This article was produced in collaboration with the Institute for Global Environmental Strategies (IGES) through the ASEAN SDGs Frontrunner Cities Programme Phase 2

Bryan Yong

Bryan Yong is a freelance environmental journalist and chief editor for EcoCupid. With a background in oceanography and experience volunteering with youth environmental NGOs in Malaysia, he brings curiosity and enthusiasm to discover Southeast Asia’s environmental movement through his stories. Bryan is an avid traveller and loves local food the most.

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