From trash to cash: Women’s group finds ‘KURE’ to plastic waste

At a time when coastal cleanup activities generate sacks upon sacks of plastic garbage taken from the sea, the shores, and households, members of a women’s group in Tagbilaran City are taking matters in their own hands.

The Kalipi Upcycling Resource Entrepreneurs (KURE) has decided to become part of the solution to the problem of plastic garbage by turning garbage collection into their livelihood.

KURE, an offshoot of the Kalipunan ng Liping Pilipina, is composed of 255 women who are solo parents, battered women, persons with disability, housewives, and unemployed or underemployed.

“Seeing the scattered plastic bags that are eyesores littering our streets and communities, we looked for ways that these can be recycled or repurposed to give these a new lease in life,” shared KURE upcycling project manager Rowena Bernales, who was experimenting with repurposing dried leaves into decorative materials.

Bernales, who was unemployed in Cogon District, said she was up for anything that could help augment her family’s income.

She has been keeping used plastic bags and picked up those that she found littering the streets, washed them clean, and cut them into tiny strips to be heat-pressed.

With tons of plastic bags discarded every day, the challenge was bigger in Tagbilaran City, which is the gateway for tourists coming to Bohol.

SNIPPING AT THE PROBLEM. KURE members cutting the plastic bags into tiny strips so these can be heat-pressed into plastic sheets, which can be used for various decorative and practical applications in homes, fashion, and industries. (PIA Bohol/KURE photo)
From trash to cash

In February 2018, KURE members were introduced to a recycling project that would end up becoming a source of income for them while saving the environment as well.

“The Plastic Recycling Project for Increased Women’s Income (PRP4IWI) introduced a non-conventional recycling project  through innovation and technology to start a livelihood and improve the lives of families,” said Erickson Nangkil, a product designer who helped the women.

With the help of the Department of Trade and Industry, Department of Education, Tagbilaran City government, and the Japan International Cooperation Agency, the technology of heat pressing was introduced to the women’s group by Chrisato Kanno, a Japanese volunteer.

The next challenge was how to digitally fabricate a heat-press.

Another Japanese volunteer, Shiro Takaki, stepped in to help the women by designing the heat-press machine, which they fabricated locally.

“It was a heavy machine but it worked in such a way that the plastic strips we laid out for the press finally stuck, the colors remained and the texture hardly noticeable,” said Berlie Reyes, KALIPI federation president.

Reyes said they were happy that they finally found the right heat-press setting to produce what they envisioned as plastic sheets from plastic bag strips.

These strips were laid on discarded tarpaulin, and pressed into plastic sheets as raw materials for new products.

Over 200 women had tasks to do each day. Some women collect plastic bags, sort them according to color, wash them and then dry them before straightening the creases so they can be easily cut into strips when dried.

These sorted plastic bags are sent to their fabrication shop, where another group of women snips them into thin strips. Then another group gathers the strips, arranges them according to their color, and prepares them for the heat press.

Another group would handle the equipment, making sure they get the fit, temperature, and settings correctly, which would ultimately determine the thickness of the plastic sheet by-product.

For more than a year, the members performed their tasks without receiving anything in return.

“This we did for over a year without pay, everyone volunteering and giving their free time,” said Reyes.

“Until now, we could not fully describe how happy we were when we had the first sheet coming off the press,” added Bernales.

A display of the products produced by the Kalipi Upcycling Resource Entrepreneurs (KURE) made out of plastic waste: totes, backpacks, school bags, ID and passport holders, wallets, billfolds, purses, keychains, bracelets, table coasters, mouse pads, slippers, home accents and wall decors. (PIA Bohol)
Upscaling and reinventing

In its original form, the pressed plastic measures 12 x 14 inches, A2 sized, with specific thickness and an option for a glossy, matte, or textured finish.

These raw materials serve as an alternative to acrylic plates, countertop laminates, and fake capiz shell sheen for a variety of home and fashion applications.

From these tarpaulin-backed pressed sheets, the group manufactures totes, backpacks, school bags, ID and passport holders, wallets, billfolds, purses, keychains, bracelets, table coasters, mouse pads, slippers, home accents, wall decors, and lampshades.

Creating a livelihood by upcycling discarded plastic bags is KURE’s way of reinventing trash into useful products and home accents.

KURE offers a creative solution to the growing environmental concern over plastic waste, which takes a long time to decompose and has started clogging the ocean.

Most of these women desire to have financial freedom, something they can call their own contribution to the family, but they were never given the chance to do while working full time as housewives.

“Here, we wanted to achieve our goals of environment, empowerment and employment,” said Ellen Grace Gallares, PRP4IWI consultant.

The KURE women are cutting into the garbage problem by recycling the plastic trash and turning it into something useful and beautiful.

Every purchase of a KURE product saves a kilo of plastic from ending up in the ocean. (RAHC/PIA7 Bohol)

KURE’s solution is simple: Use trash by upcycling, and making beautiful things from plastic trash. Now, KURE pays P324 a day to the women in their production shop. (PIA Bohol)
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