ANN/THE STAR – For 25 years, Leong Yet Pin taught Geography in secondary school. She enjoyed teaching her students about environmental concerns like sustainability, deforestation and the 3Rs (reduce, reuse and recycle).
Since her retirement in 2021, the former teacher from SM Sentosa in Kampar, Perak, has gone on to set up KampaRefill, a zero-waste store.
“For over two decades, I taught students about environmental awareness where at the end of each lesson, I’d always encourage them to reduce plastic waste. One of the options was to reuse plastic bottles.
“However, back then, I could never give my students an answer as to where they could refill (items) in their plastic bottles as there wasn’t a zero-waste store in Kampar.
“With KampaRefill, I can provide this service to my students and the community,” said Leong, 58, from Kampar.
The pensioner knows that climate change is a pressing issue, and she wants to educate her community on ways to reduce their carbon footprint.
“We have only one Earth, and much damage has been done to it in the past due to ignorance. It is important to practise the 3Rs and do our part, no matter how small, to protect our environment. I think that preserving the Earth is ultimately for our benefit,” said the mother of three.
The area isn’t big, measuring 1.8 metres by two metres. It’s a simple set-up where Leong has fitted two rectangular tables on which she displays many 10-litre refillable containers of detergents for laundry and cleaning floors, kitchens and toilets.
She gets her supplies from KitaRefill, a Petaling Jaya-based bulk store founded by Clytia Wong.
“I joined Zero Waste Malaysia’s Facebook group in 2017. It was there that I learned about KitaRefill. I admire and salute Clytia for setting up a detergent bulk store where consumers can refill household cleaning products like dishwashing, floor cleaning liquid, and laundry detergent.
“KitaRefill aims to provide products that are kinder to our planet and safe for humankind. They strive to provide quality products with the best ingredients, which is something I support.
“Clytia has been working closely with me to set up KampaRefill. She’s been providing coaching and tips to kickstart Kampar’s first refill store,” said Leong, who invested MYR8,000 to set up her business.
But Leong isn’t the only one who is starting a zero-waste revolution in her state. Up north in Taiping, green enthusiast Law Shu An operates Sabun Refill Store Taiping (SRST), a two-month-old zero-waste store that also resells KitaRefill products.
Leong and Law share the transportation cost to get their supplies from KitaRefill.
Leong launched her business about a month ago, operating three days a week – Thursdays to Saturdays. Business is slow at the moment: She only has about five sales per week. But she is optimistic that things will pick up.
“Many people assume that the products at zero-waste stores are expensive. People agree that we should reduce waste but are also concerned about the price.
“I believe in raising awareness through education and providing an accessible refill service store that allows the community to save the environment without breaking the bank. It is never easy initially, but hopefully, it will slowly become a way of life.
“It is still a very new idea to the local people and it takes time to grow. But there is no rush since I have time,” said Leong.
The products at her shop are affordably priced, she shares: A kilogramme of dishwashing soap is MYR4, for example.
She also sells her handmade soaps, shampoo bars, conditioner bars and hydrosols at her store. Before KampaRefill, she started off selling her products on Shopee.
“I learnt to make these items in 2018 because I wanted to reduce plastic bottles in our bathroom. But handmade soaps are quite expensive so I learned to make them from watching YouTube video tutorials. I make simple soaps as a hobby, selling them with small profit margins,” she said.
Leong is also learning how to promote her business on social media platforms. However, she admits it’s been a struggle to upload photos and videos due to her lack of knowledge in managing her social media accounts on Facebook and Instagram.
“Taking Insta-worthy photos, making short videos and designing pamphlets aren’t my strong suit. But I get a lot of help and input from my children and Google. Self-learning is a very important skill,” said the enthusiastic lady.
“Keeping active after retirement is good for the body, mind, and soul. I need to plan and seek opportunities to keep busy since I’m a pensioner now. The sense of achievement and knowing that I can continue to contribute and make an impact even after retirement is good for the soul,” she concluded.