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AirAsia Foundation upcycles old life jackets into lifestyle products, accessories with help from refugee community

PETALING JAYA ― Life jackets are commonly made out of non-biodegradable plastic materials such as polyester.

Instead of just chucking them in landfills across the country to sit for hundreds of years, AirAsia’s philanthropic arm — the AirAsia Foundation ― has given a new lease of life to its old stock of life jackets.

Instead of just chucking them in landfills across the country to sit for hundreds of years, AirAsia’s philanthropic arm — the AirAsia Foundation ― has given a new lease of life to its old stock of life jackets.

PETALING JAYA ― Life jackets are commonly made out of non-biodegradable plastic materials such as polyester.

Instead of just chucking them in landfills across the country to sit for hundreds of years, AirAsia’s philanthropic arm — the AirAsia Foundation (AAF) ― has given a new lease of life to its old stock of life jackets.

In partnership with a local social enterprise for Afghan refugees called Nazanin, AAF has repurposed its expired or discarded life jackets into convenient lifestyle products for the public under the Soggy No-More collection.

The Soggy No-More collection was initially released two years ago in 2018 as a line accessories such as a bicycle handlebar bag, coin purse, sling bag and cutlery case.

“Life jackets are non-biodegradable and they also have a particular lifespan. After a certain amount of time it can’t be used anymore, even if you’ve never opened the packaging,” said AAF executive director Yap Mun Ching in an interview with Malay Mail.

“And the moment if it's tampered with, opened or used, the entire thing has to be scrapped.”

Ms Yap added that because of the delicate nature of the life jackets (and some nosy passengers playing with things that they shouldn’t be), the airline struggled to find environmentally-friendly ways to recycle the jackets.

“We actually have not thrown any of the life jackets away, they are all stored in one of our warehouses. We use some for training purposes, but it was always in the back of our minds to recycle it but it wasn’t an easy process to actually get it done,” she said.

Through the foundation’s initiatives in supporting social enterprises, the AAF team bumped into Mr Qasem, an Afghan refugee eager to put his hands to work and rebuild his life here in Malaysia.

“He (Qasem) is very skilled in making bags. He used to work with leather exclusively in his home country.

“When he became a refugee, he couldn’t work anymore but he was still making bags and other things using a machine that someone had donated to him,” said Ms Yap.

“So we began working with him to come up with prototypes and his workmanship was amazing.”

She also said that Mr Qasem has been up for every challenge thrown at him, as he’s continuously manufactured quality products with varying designs over the past two years.

Mr Qasem even employs other members from his refugee community to help him out with large orders.

Ms Yap also said that roughly 75 to 80 per cent of the life jackets are able to be repurposed, which drastically reduces the amount of waste generated from an aircraft.

“We use everything we can from the life jackets to maximise the utilisation of its materials. That’s why we try to make both big and small items, so there are little to no scraps left,” she said.

“We even reuse the whistles, the small tabs. Everything is incorporated into the design of the products.”

Ms Yap said that this isn’t the only upcycling initiative carried out by AAF as the foundation has also repurposed other items from the airline’s aircrafts as well.

The seat belts, for example, are turned into environmentally-friendly toys for animals, specifically chew toys for dogs called Tuff Tug, in partnership with a social enterprise called Animal Projects & Environmental Education which makes the toys from seat belts and old hoses from the Malaysian Fire and Rescue Department.

Defective blankets sold on AirAsia X aircrafts were also transformed into a 12-piece fashion collection, in collaboration with design house Projek Jahat, which was unveiled at KL Fashion Week last year.

Ms Yap added that AAF plans to continue its efforts to reduce the airline’s waste materials with plans to release more upcycled products like leather bicycle bags made from the leather of the plane seats.

The upcycled products such as the Soggy No-More and Tuff Tug collections are available at AAF’s Destination GOOD store located in REXKL, while the Projek Jahat fashion line is currently sold out.

Products made by other social enterprises and underprivileged artisans around the Asean region are also available at the store. MALAY MAIL

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