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People categorise food waste with diapers

What is MAEKO? 

A group of 3 people that are passionate about going green and making changes into composting and most of all food waste management. They were in interior design and were looking into management of waste in construction, green and recycled products. There was something missing in their search, a small matter of food waste management. Financially, they were pondering how to start MAEKO and in 2011, they established the company and started research and development process for food waste by visiting; 

  1. Schools, because school children tend to not finish food.
  2. Hotels and buffet restaurants, people take too much food in hopes to finish it but end up throwing the piles of extra food away.

After seeing the amount of food wasted they finally decided that this is the right business to go into, it had to make money in some way while at the same time divert food waste away from landfills creating more waste in Malaysia, so how is that possible?

In the first few years of establishing their company, there was no support, awareness and education programs that bring attention towards food waste management. They first sold their machine back in 2015, looking back, they now have been moving fast and establishing themselves as leaders and spearheads of the movement, having well established customers.

To understand how the machine and company works, we first have to understand what is composting. Composting is a process of creating a nutrient rich fertiliser or more known as soil enhancers and one other term that needs to be highlighted is soil health.

Because for a long time the use of chemical fertilisers is killing the soil health and the Earth itself just because we want more yield and a quicker process to produce food crops. The good thing about composting is;

  1. Food is being recycled, closing the loop and ending the process of creating more food waste.
  2. The process produces something for farms, that will in turn be used to make more food, creating a circular economy for farming.
  3. It helps in rebuilding an economic system that helps to solve food waste by using waste to create more products instead of throwing them away, creating more waste.

It took a bit of time to create the awareness necessary for food waste management and benefits of composting, when they first started there was bad reception from the Malaysian public. To battle this lack of awareness, the team from MAEKO did;

  1. Awareness events and worked with communities.
  2. Classes for students to bring awareness to school kids.
  3. Education and information sharing events, so people learn and share their experiences of composting.
  4. Social media awareness movements by Maeko really helped educate people in composting and it’s benefits.

“Today, Malaysians are more aware that there are solutions to this issue and it was important to start with awareness”, says Chelsea.

When asked what was the tipping point for Malaysians to be more involved in composting, Chelsea said “It takes someone in the ministry to start talking about waste and more specifically, food waste”. The ministry should make more roadshows and raise public awareness so the public becomes more aware about the benefits. These efforts should be more noticeable to the public and highlight that food waste is a problem in Malaysia.

To raise concern in the public, since no one really remembers what they learnt in school about waste separation, what MAEKO is trying to cover this gap by teaching school students because they can influence their parents to start composting or separating their household waste. 

“There are two types of waste, avoidable and unavoidable waste”, Chelsea pointed out how to handle both of these wastes step by step, the first was to refuse the excess of food and only take the food that one has to eat. The second way is to educate people on the technologies of composting like MAEKO’s machines that takes composting from 2 months to 24 hours. 

MAEKO has done many workshops that are focused in educating people on how to segregate waste, use the composting machine and what to do with the compost.

There are also programs that happened at the SEA games in 2017, MAEKO had done some volunteering programs focusing on waste management in the food trucks that are located in the stadium area.

How does the machine work?

When they were designing the machines and also learning how to adapt it to Malaysian food what they found were there are problems in composting food waste, it is hard and it takes a very long time to compost food, so they wanted to create a change and make composting easier.

They researched motorised composting systems that have been innovated in Japan and Korea, they bought these machines and tested them out on Malaysian food.

What they discovered was the Japanese and Korean machines could not process the food waste to compost, the problem was in our food, it is rich in fat and spices that Korean and Japanese food lacked. What they did next was adapted the machine to composting Malaysian food, changing the bio-enzyme that broke down the waste, they then patented the bio-enzyme system. The machines are built with different sizes to hold different capacities for different buildings. 

Most of the machines that MAEKO sells are seen in municipal and corporate buildings because that is their main customers.

There is an emerging market that is asking for MAEKO’s machines that makes odourless, fast compost or fertilisers, it’s  households and MAEKO is moving towards getting their machines into homes. For that they did some research and development to create MunchBot, a machine built to be in homes, especially people that live in high-rises, of course MuchBot is child safe and aesthetically pleasing, this is one of the products that are going to be released soon.

Chelsea has stated that MAEKO will be making a new product. The only information that was given was it is going to be more visible.

Chelsea will be one of the speakers in Me.reka’s Open Source Circular Economy Minifest on 21st July 2019.

Where would Maeko go in five years?

Business has to be balanced between creating profits and being a social enterprise, they created Sahabat MAEKO to bring the benefits of composting and MAEKO to the public. Education is still main key for MAEKO, keeping the passion in the people while wanting to save the planet at the same time. MAEKO is moving towards corporate and private homes, they are also renting the machines that they have produced to anyone. 

Ending the interview Chelsea restated that their machine actually makes composts in 24 hours and does not make any odours unlike any other composting machine or normal composting.