Turning Trash into Treasure

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Feb 25, 2016
by Louise Hallman
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Turning Trash into Treasure

From garbage to garments, coffee waste to wall tiles, empty squares to urban oases Francis Sollano explains how he has turned trash into "trashion"

Whether it’s manufacturers’ waste, informal spaces, or plain old garbage, the panelists of the Salzburg Global session of Beyond Green: The Arts as a Catalyst for Sustainability brought new meaning to “one man’s trash is another man’s treasure”. 

The presentations of initiatives from Egypt, Thailand, the Philippines and Kenya, elicited utterances of “cool” and “wow” throughout Parker Hall, with one Fellow tweeting, “Singh from Thailand is really blowing my mind right now.”

Thailand’s “Scrap Lab” works with manufacturers to collect their waste, experiment with it, and ultimately turn it into marketable and profitable new products. Recognizing that manufacturers would be less resistant to this “upcycling” than to simply reducing their waste output, Scrap Lab doesn’t plan to change companies’ business models, but instead turn their waste into new business ideas. Examples of this reuse of waste have included turning the leftovers from the button making process into an alternative to terrazzo, glass dust into porous “eco stones” to help water plants, and even coffee into tiles (that cover the walls of a Bangkok Starbucks). 

In the Philippines, a similar approach has been adopted, turning garbage into desirable fashion items. Initially seen as a massive irritation, the trash of the city of Cebu, has been transformed into “trashion” by skilled local workers. This small industry has not only given the community additional income, but also a sense of pride and greater purpose. The locals now wants to make this industry and their communities more sustainable, with Youth for a Liveable Cebu engaging younger residents to not only harness their honesty (“Kids will tell you if it’s trashy”), but to also engage their parents and wider community. 

The trashion products are marked “Made in Cebu,” not “Made in Philippines” – a branding choice understood and being adopted in Kenya. Rather than exporting all its raw materials, Craft Afrika is seeking to expand Kenya’s design and manufacturing industries. If Germany inspires thoughts of cars and Switzerland watches and chocolate, what could “Made in Kenya” become most positively associated with?

The use of waste isn’t limited to trash; “junk” informal spaces in post-revolution Egypt are being utilized innovatively, from street stalls to mini urban parks, and even into access ramps to highways that would otherwise bypass whole communities.


The Salzburg Global session Beyond Green: The Arts as a Catalyst for Sustainability is part of Salzburg Global’s long-running Culture and the Arts series. The session is supported by the Edward T. Cone Foundation, the Robert Rauschenberg Foundation, the Bush Foundation and Red Bull Amaphiko. More information on the session can be found here: www.salzburgglobal.org/go/561. You can follow all the discussions on Twitter by following the hashtag #SGSculture.