Düsseldorf, Germany — Stopping plastic litter in Asia from getting into the ocean — and then turning those dirty materials into something that can be used again — is a huge technical and commercial challenge.
But Malaysian plastic recycling company Heng Hiap Industries Sdn. Bhd. is making a serious try and believes it's found a way to make it work.
The Johor, Malaysia-based recycling firm this year started collecting waste specifically from waterways and coastal communities in its home country, cleaning it and then turning it into finished pellets that it sells to other manufacturers.
"We have successfully converted ocean plastics into different products," CEO Kian Hoe Seah said in a mid-October interview at the company's booth at K 2019 in Düsseldorf.
Heng Hiap's product launch is in its early stages, and the volumes are very small compared to its traditional plastics recycling business, which takes polypropylene from Malaysia's regular waste stream.
But Seah said his company has secured eight customers for the ocean-bound material, which it brands as Plashaus Ocean Plastics.
"We have one company doing apparel and footwear," he said. "We have one company doing furniture. We have one company that's doing all kinds of things."
Rollouts are beginning. One customer, Malaysian furniture maker Kian Group, has unveiled a prototype of an injection molded chair by Dutch designer Danny Fang, using Heng Hiap's ocean waste PP material.
It introduced the prototype, part of what it calls its line of Louvre Chairs, at the Furniture China 2019 show in September in Shanghai. Kian Group said it found "overwhelming" interest among corporate, hotel and restaurant furniture buyers.
"At this moment it is our pilot project," Kian Group said in a written statement. "We are currently very close to making it commercially viable for mass market."
The interest reflects growing concern among companies to try to address environmental issues like ocean waste and global warming, it said.
"We had an overwhelming response from visitors, both our existing customers and new visitors," the company said. "Most wanted to know the process of how ocean-bound plastics are made into a chair and how they can obtain the product."
The furniture maker first introduced its Louvre chair in 2013 and markets it to quick-service-style restaurants. It is optimistic about the new ocean-bound plastic version, but it is doing more testing to make sure it can stand up to heavy commercial use.
Using recycled plastics collected around waterways has challenges and adds cost, Kian Group said.
"Recycling and sustainability is not a cheap process in our industry, but in Kian we believe in a better world," it said. "Despite the cost, we continue to forge ahead with this endeavor and absorb as much of the extra cost as possible so that we can put more recycled and sustainable materials out to market."