From trash to treasure

September 4 - 10, 2019

Gulf Weekly Mai Al Khatib-Camille
By Mai Al Khatib-Camille

Gulf Weekly From trash to treasure

Environmental enthusiasts flocked to Atrium Mall over the weekend to educate people on the benefit of upcycling as well as support Bahrain’s ban on plastic.

The two-day event, which was organised by Baloo’s Buddies in collaboration with Lulu Hypermarket to raise awareness about upcycling and funds for RIA Institute Bahrain, featured a group of volunteers and artists converting secondhand and unwanted t-shirts into reusable bags and toys.

According to Baloo’s Buddies founder, Sarah Clarke, the upcycle concept came about following the success of April’s Trash to Treasure event in which people transformed t-shirts into 5m x 1.5m artwork as well as a bags and other useful items.

“This also raises awareness on minimising the use of plastic as well as supports the government’s drive to move away from single use plastic,” said Sarah, author of the popular Baloo’s books based on her chocolate brown Labrador. “A lot of supermarkets are also supporting the ban on plastic such as Lulu Hypermarket which has introduced a green checkout.”

Lulu Hypermarket was the first to acquire a license to import and trade in plastic since all its plastic shopping bags are made of biodegradable plastic. The hypermarket is also encouraging its shoppers to invest in a one-time purchase of its eco-friendly and roomy shopping bags made of plant bagasse. The sturdy bags can take a lot of weight and those that purchase the recyclable shopping bags will be served exclusively at the green counter.

“It was really fabulous to see the creativity that we brought out in young and old through this activity,” said Sarah. “Some of the t-shirt bag designs were incredible and truly innovative with participants experimenting with new designs and making different sized bags.

“We made around 150 bags. Our message was well received that there really is no need to use a single use plastic bag.

The event was designed to be inclusive, enabling and inspiring and judging by the smiles on everyone’s faces, I think we succeeded. We are looking forward to staging similar events in the future.”

People were invited to either bring their own t-shirts to be upcycled, which is the process of transforming waste materials or useless items into new products with environmental value. Sarah and her big-hearted volunteers were set up in front of Lulu consisting of different stations such as a cutting area, a stitching table, an art counter and bags for sale section.

“Basically, people either brought along their own t-shirts or upcycled some of ours,” explained Sarah. “We had some from our past event and also the British Embassy donated tons of t-shirts. We will be recycling the plastic wrapping for the t-shirts and we are using scraps from older items to make toys.

“We had a stitching table for those that wanted to their designs. People could also paint whatever they wanted on their new bags. There were pre-cut shirts for children to tie up while teens and adults could cut up their own. Artists, including Mohammed Taha, were also on hand to paint on bags and those were also for sale with the proceeds being donated to RIA.”

The RIA Institute Bahrain is an inclusive education centre situated in Adliya that caters to the needs of students with special needs. It was set up in 1999 by singer Christine Gordon and her husband, Dr Emad El-Attar, a chemist and fellow musician, to educate for children with learning difficulties such as her son Othmann, now 23, who is autistic.

It has grown from humble beginnings with seven youngsters to an operation catering for between 70 and 140 students. Since its inception, the centre has helped more than 1,500 families with its services.

Christine, the mother-of-three, was lending a helping hand at the event with her artistic son. The duo cut up shirts into scraps with her autistic son who turned these pieces into a work of art on a large canvas.

She said: “This is such a fun way to raise awareness and start the creative juices. There is something for everyone to enjoy here such as painting and creating. This event reminds you that just because you are one person, you still can have an impact on the environment.”

Mohammad Rafiq, a 68-year-old former financial controller, brought four t-shirts to transform at the event for his family to use. He was cutting up a shirt for his daughter to tie up at a later stage.

Commander Paul A Windsar from the Royal Navy defence attaché also cut up and designed his own bag to fulfill his shopping needs. He said: “Green is good and very important that we do this for the environment. It’s very important to participate in these events. It makes a positive statement and helps support UK and Bahrain relationships.”

Volunteer Amanda Clerkin, who runs a consultancy business with her husband and studies positive psychology, was helping visitors cut up and plait the bottom of the t-shirts. She said: “What’s beautiful about this event, aside from raising awareness on how to be more environmentally conscious, is that it also brings everyone together from different nationalities and backgrounds.”

Sarah also demonstrated how people can host an event without causing much of an impact on the environment. For example, she placed recycle bins around the area, reusing past posters and pictures to spread the message on a big board. They even had their own water cooler and encouraged using reusable bottles or glasses.

She thanks the hypermarket, the mall, the embassy and volunteers for all their support.

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