Fun, funky, functional items made of upcycled plastics

In the recently concluded Design Week Philippines: On the Edge, the 12th edition of the annual initiative of the Design Center of the Philippines put together an “eclectic marketplace” that took place on its closing day, 21 October, on the ground floor of the Philippine Trade Training Center in Pasay City. The event served as a “melting pot for makers, independent retailers and communities of creatives and artisans,” thus, the myriad and inventive ways of showcasing functional design.

Plastics by Manila Automat owners Mica Agregado and Aileen Angeles, for instance, brought their wares made of upcycled single-use plastic materials that came from their community-based collection drive. These included hair clips, earrings, rings, bangles, keychains, notebooks, paperweights, bowls, chopping boards, clocks, chairs and Christmas tree decors.

“We use the HDPE plastics,” Agregado told DAILY TRIBUNE while tending their booth, referring to High Density Poly Ethylene type of thermoplastic polymer made from petroleum. It’s one of the most versatile plastic materials around that can be used in a wide variety of applications, such as plastic bottles, milk jugs, shampoo bottles, bleach bottles, cutting boards and piping.

She explained that they go for plastics that junk shops no longer get, like caps of shampoo and detergent bottles. “Whichever colors we get, kunwari (for example), we get bottle caps that are red, ’yun ang kinalabasan ng plastic na ginagamit namin (that’s the result of the plastics we use).

“These are thermoplastics. Meaning, if you melt it at a certain temperature, nagfu-fuse sila together. Ang plastics natin kaya may (The reason they have a) marble effect is because the plastics already melted together.”

Social enterprise

Agregado and Angeles put up Plastics by Manila Automat in 2019, with the former taking charge of design and product development, and the latter as community manager. Agregado, who took up Visual Communications in college, said she got into plastic recycling after working with designers, potters, sculptors and crafters in an artist residency.

“I explored ano pa ang (what other) possible avenues to expand,” she recalled on how she got the inspiration. “Kasi (because) instead of doing pottery nga, what if single-use plastics upcycling na lang? May (There are) available resources online na paano mag-upcycle ng (on how to upcycle) plastics. Four years of, like, research and development as a hobby at first.”

Angeles added, “Ang crucial kasi doon sa (What’s crucial in) upcycling plastics, dapat parating may community na involved (there should always a community involvement). Kasi sila ang magtatangkilik no’ng gawa natin at sila ’yung tutulong sa collection drive (Because they are also the ones who will buy the products and help in the collection drive).”

Aside from selling their products at the Design Week event, Agregado and Angeles also facilitated an upcycling workshop titled “Tying Up Loose Ends.” They taught the participants, who pre-registered for the workshop, how to give a new life to soft plastics like those used as delivery bags and bubble wraps.

Ang simple lang ng tools na ginamit namin sa workshop (we used simple tools),” Agregado said. “Meron kaming baking sheet para hindi dumikit ’yung plastic sa flat iron (We have baking sheets so the plastic won’t stick to the flat iron). Ito ’yung plantsa na hindi na ginagamit or spare sa bahay na luma na (This is the ordinary flat iron no longer used at home but still working).”

She explained that the flat iron melted and melded the soft plastics to make one sheet. “Gumawa muna sila ng isang sheet. (They first used one sheet.) Depende sa kulay na ginamit nila, kung gusto nila gawing stripes or rainbow (It depended on the colors they used, whether going for stripes or a rainbow design).

Nagbigay kami ng stencil na puwede nilang i-trace (We gave them stencil). Para makagawa sila ng wallet na envelope, pangtali ng cable nila, organizer din (So they could make their envelope wallet, cable bands, organizers). Ginupit nila kung anong pattern ang gusto nila (They cut the sheet according the pattern they chose).”

For more information on their products, workshops and collection drive, Agregado and Angeles can be reached through Plastics by Manila Automat’s Instagram and Facebook pages.