The 1950’s were a noteworthy decade. Amongst a myriad of other things, Walt Disney released Cinderella, Charles M Schultz launched his Peanuts comic strip and Princess Elizabeth ascended to the British throne. It was also the genesis of the mass production of plastic and, sixty years later, Earth is heaving with 8.3 billion metric tons of it. A mere 9% gets recycled while the rest wreaks ecological havoc on land and sea. The degradation has multiple sources but since plastic is typically tossed within a year and decomposes over four hundred years, it takes the heaviest toll on the health and wellbeing of people, the atmosphere, creatures and eco systems. If present trends continue, there will be twelve billion metric tons of plastic in landfills by 2050, an amount that equates to 35,000 times the weight of the Empire State Building. The human race is living as if there was a planet B.
This article first appeared in Khuluma inflight magazine in March 2018
Consumers and industries are being pressured to step up and re-think their high impact lifestyles, purchasing decisions, usage habits and waste distribution, post haste. Switching to bamboo straws, fabric shoppers and glass water bottles is a no brainer and as people adopt a greener approach, designers are identifying retail opportunities across all sectors of the market and putting pizazz into pollutants. Throwaways of every description are undergoing a marvellous metamorphosis and emerging on the flipside as good-looking garbage.
Magpie, an art collective based in the Klein Karoo town of Barrydale, has been in the business of re-imagining rubbish for the past twenty years. With reuse and up cycling central to their design philosophy, they link high-end art, design and craft with an ethical approach to commerce in conjunction with social and environmental awareness. The company, steered by visionaries Scott B. Hart, Shane A. Petzer, Sean Daniel and Richard Panaino, produces commissioned works, lighting concepts, and utterly unique chandeliers that are coveted the world over. Two of them, constructed in the Regency style with plastic bottle tops and trinkets interwoven with glass beads and crystals drops and illuminated with candles, were bought in 2009 by celebrity LA decorator Michael Smith and installed in Barack and Michelle Obama’s private quarters at the White House. Magpie’s redefined artworks hold deep sentimentality for those who acquire them. “We create bespoke objects using family trinkets and heirlooms and transform them into treasured pieces,” explained Shane, who is an Ashoka Fellow. Through Magpie’s well established income-generating craft programme, locals are also trained in the making of small gift items for the tourist market that include delicate ampoule couture, the tiny ‘dresses’ knitted out of fine copper wire and heat resistant beads that are wrapped around energy saving light bulbs to create a magical lighting effect.
Turning PET plastic into lightweight pants
Leading the way on the apparel front is Spiritgirl, based in Woodstock and owner managed by Rochele le Roux and Leigh Sarembock. The on-trend bright workout leggings are made from spandex woven into recycled polyester (PET) and the end result is a superior, next-to-naked lightweight pair of moisture wicking fancy pants. 25 bottles make up one pair and the energy saving eco production process involves chopping the PET containers into flakes ad pellets that are melted and made into fibre that gets stretched and processed into fabric. Aside from their mission to divert plastic away from landfills, the company also supports conservation projects Greenpop and I Am Water. Their latest collaboration is with a group of artistic Ndebele women from Verena village in Mpumalanga who have designed the stunning graphics printed onto the Ndebele African Queen pants range.
Delicate jewellery made from up cycled cellphone & PC circuit boards
Not everyone knows that within every cell phone is a measure of silver and gold but Ashley Heather is all over it. “I have always been inspired by this fragile blue green planet of ours. I believe in honesty to materials and in doing things differently”, she says. According to a UN report on electronic waste, it takes fourty-one mobile handsets to yield one gram of precious metal and in the United States alone, cell phones containing $60 million of gold and silver are dumped every year. Ashley dismantles the devices and fashions jewellery out of reclaimed circuit boards. At her Woodstock store-come-studio on Albert Road, she adheres to sustainable practices from the manufacturing phase right through to the packaging. Using an old silversmithing technique she creates contemporary and understated designs that are refined and uncomplicated, and available off the shelf and on order.
Upcycling is a way to create a product of higher quality or value than the original and Sealand has this down to a fine art. Heavy duty and industrial materials like yacht sails, truck tarpaulin, Bedouin stretch tent and billboard nylon are re-contextualised into a number of highly desirable functional accessories such as sling, duffle and tote bags, backpacks, laptop cases and wallets. Mike Shlebach, Jasper Eales and Meagan Webb are the fabrication specialists behind a brand inspired a passion for the outdoors and a fealty to the environment. Their products are durable and built to last a lifetime. “We live the Sealand brand with combined passions for business, for the wondrous outdoors, for life.”
Trimming excess and switching to a low impact lifestyle means making choices that won’t cost humanity the earth. The time is now to reduce, reuse and recycle. “There are so many ways in which we are destroying the planet. And once we understand, once we care, then we have to do something.” – Dr. Jane Goodall
If you must (please don’t though) use a plastic bag, make sure it gets to a recycler like Hangar 18
Hangar 18 in Milnerton is a coffee shop come craft emporium and social upliftment programme run by Amanda Solomon, an ex-sound engineer and LEAD SA winner in July 2017. Her up cycling initiative has created employment for more than thirty women since she started the project a year ago. Every day, ladies from Joe Slovo township and surrounding communities come together to crochet bath mats from T-shirt off cuts and handbags from plastic carriers. Everything is sold on site alongside goods made by other local crafters such as the adorable tin angels and fairies made by Cheryl Clark from used Nespresso pods. Eco bricks are another part of Hangar 18’s mini production line, an innovative waste solution using two- litre bottles that are filled with non-biological waste and used as building blocks for modular furniture, walls and full-scale buildings. The ethos at Hangar 18 is empowerment through a commitment to tread lightly on the earth.
Give your throwaways a makeover
Looking for a nifty way to way reduce planetary pollution and keep Grandma forever close? Recreate will turn any unwanted memorabilia into ever- present memories – a worn old suitcase can be transformed into a lounge chair or a vintage vacuum cleaner repurposed into a standing lamp. Recreate, situated a block from the Old Biscuit Mill in Woodstock is a browser’s paradise and a trip down memory lane. Established eight years ago by one time interior designer Katie Thompson, the shop specialises in the restoration of furniture, bicycle wheels, antiques, glass milk bottles and an endless array of discarded things that have been given a new lease on life. Thompson also stocks items by crafters like Phanny Mangwiro, a gentleman from Zimbabwe who has a skill converting tin bottle tops into containers, pencil cases and cutlery trays. His bottle cap basket was part of the Cape Craft & Design Institute’s annual Handmade Collection at Design Indaba in 2011, alongside a cupboard made by Katie from an antique wooden printer tray.
I’m passionate about the environment and sustainability. Plastic and other non compostable waste is throttling our planet and I urge each and every one reading this to do everything possible to make a difference in whichever way possible. The time is now, there is no planet B.