Low-profile plastics and packaging manufacturer Velson Packagings Sdn Bhd is adamant to play their part in helping the environment. Founded 30 years ago by Datuk TR Vijayasagren, the company pioneered the manufacture of compostable plastic bags in Malaysia about two years ago. In an exclusive interview with MALAYSIA SME®, Vijayasagren said he was driven to start producing the compostable bags, which are made from corn and starch byproducts, after being educated on the damage biodegradable plastics had on the environment. “When I ﬁ rst started the business, plastics were the next big thing in packaging and everyone loved it because we thought we were saving the trees. Gradually we learned that traditional plastic didn’t break down even after decades of being thrown away, and then came the invention of oxo-biodegradable plastic bags, which we have been producing for the last 10 years. “Then we learned that when oxobiodegradable bags break down, they release a lot of carbon molecules in the air. At the same time, the bags also break down into smaller plastic molecules and all of this is being breathed in, which ultimately is no good for any of us,” he said. Vijayasagren explained that the technology of producing the compostable bags has been around for a while, b u t Ve l s o n Packagings is one of the only manufacturers in Malaysia to make them. The bags are certified by SIRIM, and Velson is the appointed licensed manufacturer for retailers in Wilayah Perseketuan.
Vijayasagren grew up in the small town of Pandamaran in Klang, and from a young age, he said he had always wanted to set up his own factory. After ﬁ nishing secondary school, he worked for ﬁ ve years in a shipping company in Port Klang, which is where he formed working relationships with clientele in the plastics industry. That company was one that did forwarding services for Indian textile shops, and it was then that the idea of becoming a plastics manufacturer to cater speciﬁ cally to the textile shops was formed. “Being a shipping man, I had no idea how to manufacture plastic, so I went for an 8-month course in Nanyang University (formerly known as Nanyang Technical College) in Singapore. After that, I bought a second hand machine and started producing plain bakery bags,” he said .
Slowly, over the years, his company then known as Sejati Plastics, grew in size and capacity before it saw a reversal of fortune. In 1989, Vijayasagren suffered a loss of about RM1.9 million. In 1990, he decided a change of name was needed, in hopes of improving the company’s prospects. The new name of the company was Velson Plastics Sdn Bhd, and things did indeed take off. It gained many of the major retailers in Malaysia as clients over the years, supplying plastic bags and other packaging nationwide. Now, however, in line with its aim to be environmentally conscious, Vijayasagren decided it would be best to distance the company from the word ‘plastic’ – and so, it went through a rebranding exercise in June to become known as Velson Packagings. Currently, the company still produces a mix of traditional plastic as well as compostable bags, but within the next ﬁ ve years, Vijayasagren said he wants Velson to only produce compostable bags for retailers.
Challenges in adoption, more enforcement necessary
One of the biggest challenges in getting businesses to adopt the use of compostable plastic bags ultimately boils down to cost, said Vijayasagren. Most of the time, proﬁ t is prioritised and most companies are willing to settle for a nongenuine product if it means paying less. “The compostable bags are three times more expensive than traditional plastic. Our bags are a certiﬁ ed product, but there are those who would market their products as being genuine compostable bags but in fact are not. So of course, they are able to offer customers their products for a price lower than ours,”Vijayasagren said. He explained that the cost of buying conventional plastic is about RM6,000 per metric tonne, while compostable plastic goes for about RM18,000 per metric tonne. Currently, about 90% of Velson’s retail clients have opted to use their compostable bags, but this translates to only about 40 companies – a mere fraction of the number of businesses in the country. In terms of awareness, he explained that things could be better. However, in addition to educating retailers Vijayasagren said enforcement of laws were crucial. “We can only do so much on our part to work with retailers. There also has to be a part that the government plays in implementing rules and enforcing them. Malaysians seem to have a different mindset when it comes to going green. It’s not viewed as seriously as other countries, particularly in the west,” he explained. He stressed there is a pressing need to switch to compostable bags, particularly in Malaysia, where the process of recycling material is not widely practiced. “If things don’t change soon, the future is going to be very bleak. Pollution will just continue to increase, so people really need to be educated on the importance of this. “I’ve been in this business for 30 years, and I’m trying to change because now I know better. Knowing the consequences, I don’t want to do it [manufacture conventional plastic] anymore. I want to be the example that people can follow,” he said.
Eventually, Vijayasagren said he hoped to expand Velson’s compostable product offering to include nursery bags, food handling gloves and roll plastic bags. Additionally, he said Velson has received export enquiries from companies in the United States, Australia, the Middle East and Hong Kong. Exports to these markets should begin by next year. “These products we export will only be our compostable bags. We want to change. Eventually we may not be producing plastic bags at all, otherwise there’s no point in championing the use of compostable bags and then still encouraging the use of plastic by making it,” he said.
By Shalini Kumar ([email protected])