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Tembusu Talks: An Interview with Adrian (Circlepac)

Hi, could you introduce yourself and what is Circlepac?

I am Adrian, one of the two co-founders of Circlepac. Circlepac is a compostable packaging company that aims to provide packaging made from plants to help the foodservice industry reduce plastic waste.

What sparked your interest in embarking on this journey?

It began in mid-2020 when Malaysia was undergoing the first Movement Control Order (MCO). We realized that many people were not able to dine in due to the lockdown restrictions and had to resort to online food deliveries and takeaways. We had first-hand experience of ordering hotpot delivery (which was the trend back then) and the delivery came in more than 30 plastic containers for the ingredients.

My co-founder and I asked ourselves – “Is there no better way to do this?”

While the trend of online food delivery is here to stay, we hope to provide a sustainable alternative to adapt with the shifting trend. Hence, we established Circlepac to provide plant-based packaging as an alternative to the foodservice industry.

Circlepac provides compostable packaging that is better for the environment compared to traditional disposable plastic boxes or containers

Could you share some insights into the plastic waste problem in Malaysia? What are the challenges in addressing this issue?

In 2020 alone, we used about 148,000 tonnes of plastic packaging for food and our annual per capita plastic packaging usage is 16.78kg. This means we are the highest users of plastic packaging in the ASEAN region.

The biggest reason still lies with what is lacking in education. Since young, we were taught in schools about fancy recycling catchphrases and to opt for eco-friendly alternatives. However, the education portion was not realised into action. Implementation has not been very effective. Stricter enforcement or policies must be in place to encourage the adoption of those concepts that we were taught before. In this case, practical experience is much more important than just reading a book.

Based on your estimation, how much plastic waste have you reduced?

Based on high-level estimation, we have reduced more than a million pieces of plastic packaging for various industries ranging from the foodservice and hospitality industry to the healthcare industry.

What is the difference between compostable and biodegradable?

While all compostable material is biodegradable, not all biodegradable material is compostable. Biodegradable materials will eventually break down due to natural processes. However, the definition of biodegradable does not have a time limit placed on it. It could take anything from 12 months to 700 years to break down. This means that, technically, almost any product could be labelled “biodegradable” because most things will break down at some point in the future even some conventional plastics will eventually break down into smaller and even toxic components.

On the other hand, compostable materials are certified to break down completely into non-toxic components (water, carbon dioxide, and biomass) that will not harm the environment. And yes, it does not become microplastic floating in the ocean! Some materials can be home-composted (like loose tea leaves and apple cores) but not all materials are suitable for home composting. Compostable packaging is fully plant-derived and fully compostable, but it requires the right conditions to fully break down. For anything to be industrial compostable, it needs to be certified to break down in industrial composting facilities within 180 days. Compost has many beneficial uses including fertilizing and improving soil health — plus, it does not leave toxic residue behind because it is organic.

What are the products of Circlepac?

At Circlepac, we have two types of packaging – bamboo and sugarcane packaging.

Our bamboo packaging like our lunch boxes is industrially compostable. The bamboo material makes our packaging sturdier, and it is suitable for foodservice players who are doing food deliveries and takeaways. The sturdier nature of the packaging also means it requires a more robust condition such as an industrial composter that can provide a suitable environment for composting - higher heat/moisture level or even requires microbes to compost it.

Our sugarcane packaging such as party plates is home-compostable. The sugarcane material is slightly softer than bamboo which makes it much easier to be composted. You can even compost sugarcane packaging at your backyard compost bin with the usual composting methods such as using organic waste.

What makes your products and services different from other players?

One notable difference is that even our lids are fully compostable and are made from plant fibres, which means we eliminate the entirety of having a plastic lid on our packaging. This also means that the end consumer does not need to segregate the lid from the container when composting as compared to when you have a plastic lid. A plastic lid is not recyclable once it has been contaminated by food which adds up the burden to recycling companies having to either separate it from recyclable materials or clean it up before recycling it.

Aside from that, we are laser-focused on educating and raising awareness among our community on the importance of consuming sustainably while also collaborating with like-minded partners to ensure that the objective of a zero-waste Malaysia can be achieved.

Are there any plans to add more sustainable raw materials to manufacture your products? If so, what would they be?

At the moment, we are hoping to introduce the concept of compostable packaging into the Malaysian market first as it is something very new here compared to other countries. Once the market hits maturity, we will be introducing new products made from new materials or even materials from the composting services. At the same time, we will also research any alternative materials that we can use to make compostable packaging more efficient and practical for the end consumers.

How can we play a part in helping to reduce plastic waste?

People always think that “sustainability” is such a huge topic and one person cannot make a difference. To play a part, reversing that mindset to one person can actually make a difference. If everyone thinks the same, reducing waste becomes a much easier task. Spread this idea or mindset with the people around you and soon, we will be able to witness a ripple effect that enables us to achieve our objective of reducing waste.

Lastly, could you share with us what is the most fulfilling experience in this journey?

The most fulfilling experience in this journey is seeing people who use our packaging become our agents of change. They will share it with their friends on social media platforms that Malaysia has a sustainable packaging company that they can shout about, and their favourite eateries are taking big strides in going green. We may not know them personally, but we feel a connection with them as we have finally found people who share the same love for the environment as us.


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