When Roland Tee retired as a chartered accountant in 2009, while reading the newspapers, he realized that there had to be a more environmentally friendly way to dispose of our country's waste.
"The more I read, the more I realized that there is so much news around waste management problems, weaknesses and puzzles that don't find effective solutions," he said.
“Technologies that have been designed are often costly in terms of investment, operating costs and maintenance. They frequently fail and often remain idle and inoperative. "
So he caught up with some friends who were university professors to find out if there was a way to burn garbage without diesel.
This was his basis for developing a machine that left virtually no carbon footprint.
“I was in my early 60s when I developed the first prototype in 2010. I went through numerous trials and errors, part by part, section by section of the ASHER, before I put all the pieces together into a working unit, ”said Roland.
Apply the invention
The ASHER unit in a rural area / Photo credit: Pamarai
The ASHER is essentially a tiny waste incinerator 6 meters high that can turn most solid waste (other than glass and metals) into ash.
It uses built-in solar panels to work continuously once just a small fire is lit. This means that it can burn continuously and is self-supporting as long as garbage is added.
The longer the machine is in continuous operation, the higher its internal temperature rises.
Inside there is also a filter system that filters out all toxic compounds and gases from the combustion, and what leaves the machine is supposed to be just lukewarm steam.
To ensure that his invention is safe and environmentally friendly, Roland put it through extensive testing.
Some of the laboratory agencies he went to were SGS and MYCO2, industrial and chemical product inspection and certification companies.
“The results have shown that the ASHER can meet both compliance and environmental aspects. For example, the discharge from ASHER is evidenced and supported by the tests I have carried out, ”he said.
The production of the machine used today cost Roland more than 3 million RM. It has also gone through three generations since its prototype in 2010.
Roland initially promoted his invention through a small network of friends and eventually turned to Pamarai Sdn Bhd to find a possible partnership to expand and grow ASHER.
"I decided to build a long-term relationship with Pamarai as they have experience in waste management. This makes them a very suitable partner to help me bring out the ASHER more effectively," he said.
Left to right: Pang Swee Lei, Roland Tee, and Datuk Mohamed Razeek / Photo credit: Pamarai
Pamarai's managing director Pang Swee Lei and chairman Datuk Mohamed Razeek were also impressed by the invention.
"The moment we got a deep understanding of the simple principles combined with applied technology, it became clear to us that it was meant to change the game," they said.
Now the ASHER is sold and registered exclusively under Pamarai and costs around half a million ringgit per unit.
To date, 75 units have been used in 13 countries including Singapore, China, India, Nigeria, Australia and the Philippines, to name a few.
Turn waste into new sources of income
Because the machine is so small, we were reminded of municipal trash bins that were set up in the neighborhood for the public to dispose of old clothes, electronics and other recyclables.
But the team told us that this is not the case with ASHER. Although the machine is safe and easy to use, it can still pose a hazard if not handled properly.
"Ideally, the ASHER should be manned and operated by trained and designated personnel, while the public's accessibility must be restricted until it is placed at the intermediate storage containers in front of the loading in the ASHER," said Datuk Mohamed Razeek.
However, there are currently two ASHERs open to the Malaysian public.
"One is in Taman Sejahtera Rakyat Sg. Toh Pawang, Kedah, which is run, maintained and administered by the Kampung people themselves," said Pang.
"The other is in the Seksyen U2 TTDI Jaya, Shah Alam recycling center owned by Majlis Bandaraya Shah Alam Town Council."
The ASHER units in Kuala Lumpur and Guangzhou, China / Photo credit: Pamarai
Aside from these publicly accessible units, Pang shared with us that most of the ASHER units are used by private companies to manage their own waste on their premises.
Ashes from the machine can be used as a soil conditioner. By adding a simple mixture of soil and animal manure, it can be classified as suitable as a fertilizer.
"Compared to the lowest and cheapest fertilizers, fertilizers made from ASHER can be up to 40% cheaper," said Pang.
"ASHER users reprocess and sell the ashes while reusing their waste for general landscaping within their own premises."
A small machine with the aim of solving a global problem
In the Philippines, the local community in Marikina has set up an incentive program that rewards residents by bringing litter from their homes or litter cleaned from the streets to ASHER.
Waste collection costs have been reduced by 75% per ton.
The resulting ash is mixed with sawdust and sold to farmers as fertilizer, giving the district a new source of income.
However, the team informed us that some materials burned in the machine, such as diapers and plastics, cannot be made into fertilizer.
"It can still be used for a variety of purposes, such as general landscaping and conversion into building materials."
"A temple in India is turning ashes into sandstones that are used to repair the temple, build more benches and create walkways around the site," said Datuk Mohamed Razeek.
Government agencies have expressed interest in working with Pamarai to market and roll out the ASHER overseas as part of a government program.
You are currently in the final stages of obtaining a MyHijau certification mark for the ASHER.
It is a green label issued by the Malaysian Green Technology Corporation, an agency under the supervision of the Ministry of the Environment.
"Ultimately, ASHER can help the government save a huge amount of waste disposal costs each year," he said.
"From there, the government can leverage ASHER's ability to provide services to other countries to help with waste management issues, particularly illegal and non-recyclable plastics."
- You can find out more about the ASHER here.
- More information on Malaysian startups can be found here.
Selected image source: Roland Tee, inventor of ASHER