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Turning Plastic Waste into Treasure

By September 18, 2023Inspiration

Young girls from Khayelitsha focus attention on smaller plastic to make a better change.

Turning Plastic Waste into Treasure

To the passing eye, the clear night sky is a dark canvas. If one looks long enough however, the dark canvas comes alive with stars refracting light so many times they twinkle. The inquisitorial eye tracks fast moving stars, red stars, orange stars, yellow stars, green and blue stars. With the focus of one’s attention, the night sky’s complex beauty reveals itself. Such is true for many things in life. Underwater, the deeper our attention the more we see: schools of fish swimming under us, eels hidden in the crevices, and nudibranchs swaying with the moving current. On the beach, a picnic turns into a trash hunt. Once you start looking, you begin to notice how plastic waste seamlessly blends in with the seashells and vegetation.

Earlier this year, the Black Girls Rising (BGR) – a group of young girls from Khayelitsha who are part of The Beach Co-Ops Women and Water Program supported by Best Water Technology (BWT) – conducted a beach clean up at Monwabisi Beach. During the clean up, they found themselves focusing their attention on the smaller plastic waste on the beach, spending more time on one stretch of the beach than they had anticipated. To their surprise, they were picking up handfuls of lollipop sticks, sparking curiosity as to why there were so many on the beach despite bins being available and what they could do with all the collected lollipop sticks.

Lollipop sticks collected by the BGR during their beach cleans at Monwabisi Beach | Image by Jamila Janna

More often than most, plastic waste has little value to any person, traveling from home to landfill to the ocean in a never ending cycle. In a year, approximately 2.4 million tonnes of plastic waste is generated in South Africa. This is around 41 kgs per capita per year, exceeding the global average of 29 kgs – only 14% of this is recycled.*

With the support of BWT, The Beach Co-Op organized a workshop with artist Amy Rusch on reusing plastic waste to create art. Amy Rusch is an interdisciplinary artist working in a range of fields. “[She] explores an expression of mark-making, using stitched thread into layers of found plastic bags.”

Amy Rusch demonstrating to BGR how to use heat to stick plastic together | Image by Jamila Janna

“The lollipop sticks that we worked with exist in abundance as a waste material and allow for a making without being too precious about the outcome. The making can involve unfiltered play. Working with the girls from Black Girls Rising reminded me again to play. Working with children can shift the way one engages with the world and it was truly a wonderful day of learning for me.” says Amy Rusch

Met with youthful energy and song the girls whose ages ranged between 8 – 16 years old enjoyed exploring their creativity through the lollipop sticks. Here are some of their reflections from the day:

“I learnt that we can make necklaces from the lollipop sticks and other materials such as paper.” – Ayana Nyenteni

BGR member looking at art made from old plastic | Image by Jamila Janna

“I learnt that lollipop sticks, cigarette butts and other plastic waste are harmful to marine life. I also learnt that you can make beautiful things from the waste and lollipop stick without using glue but using just heat.” – Onalo Nyenteni

BGR facilitator looking at bag made from old plastic | Image by Jamila Janna

The inquisitorial eye looks at the night sky, the stars a constant reminder of how small we are in the universe. Submerged in the ocean, meters below with water enveloping us, the ocean reminds us of its vastness, its mystery and power to keep secret life that we might never live to see. Sitting at the beach, uncovering plastic litter around us, it reminds us that our impact is not small on this infinite universe… and on our ocean. The BGR teach us that when we focus our attention, we can learn more from the little things, like turning trash into treasure.

*Source: SA retailers and brands making headway in cutting plastic waste | Biz Community

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