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Turning trash into treasure

By Kaelanne Jordan in Tobago

Even the Pope agrees — recycling is good for the environment.

In Laudato Si’- On Care for Our Common Home, the Holy Father states that pollution and waste are closely linked to a “throwaway culture”.

He writes, “Most of the paper we produce is thrown away and not recycled … We have not yet managed to adopt a circular model of production capable of preserving resources for present and future generations, while limiting as much as possible the use of non-renewable resources, moderating their consumption, maximising their efficient use, reusing, and recycling them” (#22, Laudato Si’ ).

Pearlette Sealey recalls fond memories of recycling as a child. Her uncle, a tailor, would set aside cardboard boxes and scraps of cloth for her to make floor mats at school.

Her involvement in recycling continued at Vacation Bible School (VBS) where she learnt to create abstract pieces from plastic bottles.

“I think recycling was around for a while, but we have taken it to another level. Sometimes you forget, but when you see something, you remembered you did it as a child but in a different form,” Sealey told Catholic News.

For the Golden Lane, Tobago resident, recycling is not just a hobby, it’s also good for the environment.

“First I started out because I wanted to show people what is possible. And then when I left my job, it became a source of income and then I saw the piles of papers in offices…you tell yourself, you can save the environment by getting rid of them properly.”

According to Sealey, there is potential in recycling everyday household items. She has used plastic bottles and cement to make balusters, life-sized animals from cardboards, broken crayons for candles, tyres for chairs and centrepieces, PVC to make shoe racks, and newspapers, her favourite material to recycle, for just about anything.

“Newspaper has beaten them all. When you look at paper, it doesn’t look like much, it looks like something that would not stand the test of time, but it beats them all. Concrete can crack, plastic absorbs fumes, but newspaper craft is simple, harmless, durable and very attractive….”

Sealey has crated ottomans, laundry baskets, garbage bins, pencil holders, cutlery holders, tissue holders, place mats, all from newspaper.

“If I see I need something, I think of what I can use that is available to me that I can create. I don’t spend a lot of money. And people would say ‘Can you tell me where you bought this’ and I would laugh and say ‘newspaper’.”

Most of her creations are held dear to her heart. “Sometimes I make the thing and don’t even want to sell it,” she adds.

Sealey is the President of Tobago Ingenium Debate Forum, a group aimed at fostering a positive learning environment for persons six years and older via debates, culinary camps, environment and innovation camps, life skills and travelling.

She shared that she is usually called on to create recycled craft for school students as far as Scarborough to Buccoo to Speyside for projects and competitions.

“And when they take it to the schools, the teachers hold on to it because they like it. I have had so many parents tell me, ‘You know I had to go up there and fight to get my project back’,” Sealey said with a chuckle.


The recycling problem

Sealey spoke of being invited to a biodegradable competition in Tobago where participants had to create beach and evening wear from biodegradable products. She chose newspaper. “And when she [her model] got there, she was disqualified because they did not believe it was newspaper. …”

Cognisant of the perception that newspaper ink is “dirty” and “nasty”, Sealey underscored the benefits of turning trash into treasure.

She spoke of Nigerians converting plastic wastes to bricks and Grenadians making products from weaving dried coconut husks.

“Right now, I did ottomans for my house and people think its rattan furniture. When you hold it, it is so stiff and durable that they don’t believe its newspaper. But once you cure it with things like PVA bond glue and paint, it lasts… I have baskets from 2014 that have not deteriorated or disintegrated. They look like they did it yesterday. And all you do to make it waterproof is add clear varnish and that keeps it shiny…it’s really, really adorable, and durable,” Sealey said.

She observed that during her years of selling her craft at the local markets, persons are usually fascinated “but they want to pay minimum amount for your talent”.

“Tourists will buy, and they will tell you they went to this place and this other and they’ve seen the tie dyes, seashells, but they have never seen newspaper craft…And that’s why they are coming here to buy…”

The Tobago Recycling Resource Initiative (TRRI) is a waste management and recycling project that was launched in November 2020. TRRI is public-private partnership venture of the Tobago House of Assembly (THA) – Division of Infrastructure, Quarries and the Environment (DIQE), Division of Health, Wellness and Family Development (DHWFD) and Recycling Waste and Logistics Limited (RWL).

This project engages and involves two of the major programmes operated by DIQE and DHWFD such as the Unemployment Relief Programme (URP) and the Little Eradication Programme (LEP) in the role of Public Education, Engagement & Awareness (PEEA), Manufacturing and Recycle Collection.

While commending the initiative, Sealey is hopeful the venture would be fruitful in its endeavours.

Sealey expressed eagerness in extending her knowledge of recycling to members of the public.

Interested persons can contact Pearlette Sealey at 328-1251.