Honey, you really can go Zero Waste | Claire Sancelot, The Hive - Bulk Foods, Kuala Lumpur
Updated: Apr 7
Saving the world is no small task. How to save it is no small task as well, especially in the face of global level climate change events happening every so often. Though change needs to come from big businesses, change on an individual level can help push the planet in the right direction. One way that this is happening right now is with the movement to aiming for a life with Zero Waste. For those who haven’t heard about Zero Waste, it is a set of principles that focuses on waste prevention and minimization. The longer answer to what it is can be found here, but it does the end goal is always the same: eliminate trash from equation completely. It sounds daunting, but it isn’t impossible. The movement has grown significantly all over the world, with some choosing this lifestyle in response to the growing climate crisis, for others as a way of living a simpler life. If you find yourself in Malaysia and want to hop on the Zero Waste movement, a good place to start would be to look up Claire Sancelot and her social enterprise The Hive - Bulk Foods.
Once upon a time in Hong Kong
After Claire and her Malaysian husband had their first daughter in 2010, she started to become more aware of how much garbage her family was generating. At the time, they were living in Hong Kong, one of the most densely populated and highest waste generating cities in the world. It was at this time that Claire started becoming more aware of her family’s consumption habits.
Raising a newborn would usually entail plastic diapers and wipes, which does add up over the child’s infancy. As she made the switch to cloth-based products, she knew that she could do more by simplifying her life through conscious product choices. Along the way, her family began switching from cling wrap to a bee’s wax alternative, paper napkins to cloth ones. These small changes developed into bigger ones, such as who they would get their food from. This is where more farm-to-table applications would come in, especially when it came to minimizing or eliminating altogether the need for any kind of packaging. These small actions started adding up for Claire over time.
People took notice of how this was working out for her family, asking for advice on how to get started on a Zero Waste household. This eventually lead to Claire going to the internet to start a blog, founding Zero Waste Hong Kong, a blog that focused on the sustainability lifestyle and essential wellness aspects of the Zero Waste life. Locally, consumers and media responded to her online and in real life efforts to make Zero Waste as accessible as possible. The popularity of the blog gave the movement legs, and sparked real awareness. For those looking to clean up their ways, Claire showed them how to get started.
Making it Zero Waste in Malaysia In 2015, Claire and her family moved back to Kuala Lumpur, taking her experience with Zero Waste HK with her. 6 months after coming back to Malaysia, she began blogging about how locals could start minimizing their waste where they could. In her search for plastic-free, and waste minimizing products, she came across other like-minded Malaysians who were just as enthusiastic as she was about this lifestyle. On The Hive’s website, Claire said that “(s)ometimes you just need one person to do one thing and then people are like hey, i’m not the only crazy person here.”
After her stint as a consumer, the entrepreneurial spirit kicked in for Claire. “I wanted a [place] where I could shop as a consumer. I thought you know what, here I can do it. I’ve got the space, (...) rent is affordable. Let’s give it a shot” Claire said, refrering to what would become The Hive. What began as a packaging free co-op has now grown to five fully fledged stores that provide consumers a conscious space to go Zero Waste. “Everyone was saying at the time the market is not ready for a zero-waste shop in the middle of Kuala Lumpur.” Little did she know how big an impact that her venture would have on her community in such a short time.
Bees in the Hive The Hive is not a typical shop by any stretch. When they opened their first physical location as a co-op in Bangsar, The Hive operated as a recycling point, compost site, co-working space, holistic workshop venue, and storefront. You can find green alternatives to many of the biggest contributors plastic waste, consciously sourced from around KL and Malaysia.
Here, people can start their journey towards a life with Zero Waste. Whether it be picking up a bamboo toothbrush, or buying groceries in bulk, consumers now have options that weren’t there before. Malaysians also have a chance at learning how to take home some learnings after a visit to The Hive. From time to time, they hold workshops on things like making their own beauty products, bee’s wax wrap, vegan cooking, and sourdough starters.
Another impactful way that The Hive gets involved with the community is by selecting employees and suppliers based on their social awareness. Some of those who work there come from the more vulnerable sectors of Kuala Lumpur’s society, specifically hiring migrants and disabled people.
Proof in the Honey After a few years at work, The Hive gained much acclaim on a local level as the one-stop-shop for all things Zero Waste. The market responded overwhelmingly, leading to four new shops opening up across Kuala Lumpur and Petaling Jaya. The Hive currently offers customers packaging and fee free delivery for orders over RM 100 and above. Their reach across the metropolitan sector has shown that they are addressing a real demand for consciously sourced goods.
Their efforts have not gone unnoticed through their growth. After only a few years of operations, Claire and The Hive were recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in 2017 for their sustainability efforts. The great commendation from the UN HCR put into perspective how much one shop, and one person’s advocacy can do.
Claire’s work in Kuala Lumpur has certainly made her a sustainability celebrity in their city. She’s seen her share of features and video segments over the past few years, with notable profiles in Malaysian Tatler, National Geographic, South China Morning Post, and her very own TEDx Talk to boot. The work never wavers for Claire as she continues to spread the message of sustainability wherever she goes.
For EO Members who want to learn from Clarie, and from The Hive’s success, you can join them at the upcoming Learning Lab, presented alongside the Asia Bridge Forum. Hear from her, and a number of Malaysian luminaries this 13 September at the Four Seasons Hotel in Kula Lumpur, Malaysia. You can follow The Hive on their official website, on Facebook, and on their YouTube channel.