Junk Not! Upcycling plastic into furniture

Designer furniture created using plastic ropes made from discarded plastic wrappers.
Designer furniture created using plastic ropes made from discarded plastic wrappers.PHOTO: JUNKNOT ECO CREATIVES

THE PHILIPPINES • Some eight million tonnes of plastic are dumped into the world's oceans every year, destroying marine biodiversity and causing significant environmental and economic damage.

According to a report last year by the non-profit organisation Ocean Conservancy, the Philippines is among the top contributors of plastics dumped into the world's oceans.

Along with China, Indonesia, Thailand and Vietnam, the five countries account for 55 to 60 per cent of the total plastic waste that finds its way into oceans every year, more than the rest of the world combined.

The report states that the Philippines produces 2.7 million tonnes of plastic waste every year, with half a million tonnes believed to end up in the Pacific Ocean.

This problem saw interior designer Wilhelmina Garcia, 39, start JunkNot Eco Creatives in 2011.

The social enterprise initially focused on producing bags and other accessories from plastic waste, but in 2013, turned the plastic waste - primarily used in packaging goods - into rope that Ms Garcia could use as material for designer chairs and other furniture.

Designer furniture created using plastic ropes made from discarded plastic wrappers.
PHOTO: JUNKNOT ECO CREATIVES

HELPING LOCALS, ENVIRONMENT

I want to pay them well. I know how difficult it is to make rope. In the end, it's not just about the cost of production, but also about helping locals and the environment.

MS WILHELMINA GARCIA, the interior designer who started JunkNot Eco Creatives in 2011. She has taught residents of a Philippine village (above) to make rope out of discarded plastic packaging and pays them a percentage of the profits for every item of furniture sold.

 

It took a year, while she was on a study grant in Morocco, for her to perfect the process, which is done entirely by hand.

Orders have started to come in, including from countries where the furniture passed durability tests with flying colours.

In 2014, JunkNot partnered the government to conduct a livelihood training programme for residents of Alas-as village on the volcanic island of Taal, south of the capital Manila.

Ms Garcia taught the residents how to make rope out of discarded plastic packaging, purchased for 500 Philippine pesos (S$13) per 90 metres. The rope-makers earn a percentage of the profits for every item of furniture that is sold.

"I want to pay them well," she said. "I know how difficult it is to make rope. In the end, it's not just about the cost of production, but also about helping locals and the environment."

With thousands visiting the popular tourist destination every year, plastic waste has become a major problem for Taal's residents, according to local tourist guide Bonifacio Pangilinan.

Over the years, the number of residents who make plastic rope has increased, reaching 60 as of last count - and plastic waste has been significantly reduced.

Ms Garcia said her initiative is far from solving the world's plastic waste problem, but JunkNot offers an alternative to addressing the issue. She said there is only one viable solution for reducing plastic waste: using less plastic.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on June 16, 2018, with the headline 'Junk Not! Upcycling plastic into furniture'. Print Edition | Subscribe