When we take a last swig of a beer or soda and toss the can away, we know we’ve added one more item to the planet’s ever-growing garbage problem.
We also know recycling is a better option, even if it may not be easy to do in Costa Rica. Now, a new project from volunteer organization Coalición Reciclaje and environmental organization Terra Nostra is bringing together ideas of reuse, recycling and art to remind us that an alternative future can be found for our garbage.
The pull tab from that discarded beverage can has become a symbol of environmental and social responsibility with the launch of ReciclArte, a range of inventive, funky and reassuringly ethical jewelry made from discarded tabs woven with fabric.
One could reasonably ask: How can bracelets, necklaces, earrings and belts made from pull tabs really make a difference to our beleaguered environment?
Alexis Fournier, coordinator of Coalición Reciclaje and a designer, explains that the jewelry project is part of a far-reaching campaign to raise awareness about recycling and to support associations of women who depend on recycling as a source of income.
“Making jewelry from waste materials is nothing new,” Fournier says. “What makes us different is that we’re putting the work into the hands of communities already working with the materials, and providing them with an additional income.”
Described by Fournier as “recupe art,” to reflect the process of recuperating or reviving materials, the combination of roughedged fabric in strong colors woven with metal gives the pieces a flamboyant, innovative, “trash chic” style, that, although created in the country, is quite urban by design.
The jewelry is being made by women who operate or work closely with recycling centers in some of the remotest communities in Costa Rica, earning what they can by collecting and sorting waste to be sold to big recycling companies, largely for export.
Work began with one group from San Antonio de Escazú, a suburb southwest of San José, and with training for women from Coto Brus, in the Southern Zone; Quepos, on the central Pacific coast; and Sarapiquí and Nuevo Arenal, both in north-central Costa Rica. The project is growing into what Fournier hopes will eventually be a national network of regional micro-businesses.
The associations of women will receive half of the revenue from sales, and half will be used for marketing and administration costs.
Fournier is clear that the project is not just about groups of women making money – it’s about education. She says Coalición Reciclaje was born out of the realization that not only is little recycling going on in Costa Rica, but there is also a lack of structured environmental education in the public schools. The organization works with community associations and volunteers to teach people how to recycle, why recycling is important, what happens if a product is not recycled and goes into the environment, and how it can harm.
“We want to do what we can to stop garbage from ruining the reputation of Costa Rica as an ecologically viable place, to change the culture of recycling and the mentality of the people,” she says.
The jewelry is an extension of that aim.
“It’s a way to motivate community associations to continue their work, and to help keep young people interested and involved in recycling,” she adds. “It’s also a way of reinforcing the survival capacity of the recycling center.”
Naturally, sustainability of the project comes back to money. Fournier has no doubt that a sufficient market exists in Costa Rica.
“Coming to Costa Rica is an environmental statement,” she says. “The tourist who comes to Costa Rica for ecological reasons will seek out this kind of product. That’s what we’re counting on.”
But the project is also in need of funding, and, as an income-generating enterprise, it is hopeful of securing it. In the meantime, organizations and businesses seem eager to get involved.
Terra Nostra, a partner in the project, provides much needed organizational strength in communications and business management, and experience with environmental education programs. San José’s Parque del Lago Hotel provided accommodation, food and work space for a training course this month, and Florida Ice and Farm, makers of beer and soft drinks, have provided kilos of pull tabs for the workshops.
For a guilt-free treat for yourself or perhaps some ethical Christmas presents, head to La Pulpería de Arte in Escazú (300 meters south of Multiplaza, in Plaza Boulevard), a sponsor and artistic and commercial adviser for the project, where the collection was launched this month.
ReciclArte products are also available at Parque del Lago Hotel on San José’s Paseo Colón, Biesanz Woodworks in Escazú, TEOR/éTica art gallery boutique in the historic San José neighborhood of Barrio Amón, and Cyclus gift shop in the eastern suburb of San Pedro. Also look for the jewelry in gift shops in hotels around the country as of mid-December.