Listed among this year’s Forbes 30 Under 30 Asia, Oh Chu Xian started Magorium to recycle plastic waste, which is then added to bitumen to subsequently produce asphalt for road construction. Called NewBitumen, this innovation isn’t just kinder to our environment but also produces road surfaces that last longer. Oh, a business management graduate from Singapore Management University, hopes to scale her company’s technology into other parts of Southeast Asia to help alleviate the problem of plastic waste.
What led you to create an alternative to regular asphalt?
My family has been in the construction business for 30 years, so I’m very aware of the challenges the industry faces in terms of sustainability and innovation. I was inspired by my dad, with whom I often discuss ideas on sustainable road construction materials. Magorium’s technology, which re-engineers plastic waste by drawing on the fact that both bitumen and plastic are derived from petroleum, took us several years to create.
Why is sustainability important to you?
Humans must reflect on how entitled we have been. We consume resources recklessly — as if they are infinite — but you know what, these resources will run out one day. And the most tragic thing is, our irresponsible consumption is affecting other living beings on earth! To move forward, we need to recognise that our actions come with consequences.
How has Covid-19 influenced your goals for Magorium?
Covid-19 has exacerbated the single plastic waste problem, making it even more urgent for a viable solution; I believe our technology can do that. With the waste construction tech start-up scene still in its infancy, I see many opportunities. But all this is accompanied by huge uncertainty, hence we must remain adaptable and resilient to deal with the unexpected too.
Where does your resilience come from?
My family, who taught me that strength is being able to persevere and press on despite setbacks and failures.
Why is your business named Magorium?
[laughs] One of my favourite movies is Mr Magorium’s Wonder Emporium. It’s about a young woman who is tasked by her dying boss to keep his toy shop running, and eventually develops self-confidence.
Art direction by Catherine Wong; photography by Darren Gabriel Leow; grooming by Angel Gwee Using Chanel Beauty & Davines