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Trash to treasure: Mission to help women and turn non-recyclable waste into bags

Trash to treasure: Mission to help women and turn non-recyclable waste into bags
Kudakwashe Chigariro started Bin to Beauty about three years ago. She turns unrecyclable chip and cholocate packets into different styles of bags. (Photo: Bin to Beauty)

Kudakwashe Chigariro’s business turns non-recyclable materials into various styles of bags, reducing the impact on the environment of lightweight litter such as chip packets, while also helping to uplift women.

Kudakwashe Chigariro had a long-term goal to turn non-recyclable materials such as chip and chocolate packets into various styles of bags while empowering women at the same time. 

Three years ago, she started Bin to Beauty.

Today, her handmade products are available at the Longbeach Craft Market in Cape Town, the Festive Market in Watercrest Mall in Durban, and the Honeydew Urban Market in Johannesburg.

trash to treasure bags

About 10% of thro-away plastic lands in the oceans. Collection and upcycling initiatives aid in reducing waste that ends up in stormwater drains and canals. (Photo: Bin to Beauty)

trash to treasure recyclable waste

Chigariro works with three women with whom she creates the products. She operates out of her home’s garage and distributes to markets in Cape Town, Johannesburg and Durban. (Photo: Bin to Beauty)

She told Daily Maverick that her goal of empowering women with skills to sew different materials also extended to vulnerable youth. Now, she hopes the art of stitching polyvinyl chloride (PVC) into bags is transferable to clothing. 

“I’ve always wanted to do work with empowering women and skills development through making clothes. It just so happened that there was somebody doing what I am now doing, but they retired from the business.

“It seems as though it was just an idea that worked out. I figured once they knew how to make our products, they would learn how to make clothes. That would be the beginning of their sewing skills,” said Chigariro.

“We get stuff from the bins and we work with an office in Sandton. They do their grading on-site and keep the packets for us to collect. We then clean the packets and the women learn to stitch the protective plastic layer on, attach the zips and finish the product. It’s not always that quick as we have a variety of products such as sling bags, laptop bags, shopping bags,” said the Bin to Beauty founder. 

Chigariro was raised on a farm where her mother sewed – that’s where she learnt some of her skills. She polished her skills with another seamstress at the age of 22 and later opened her own company, Liza Brands, offering alterations and wedding dresses.

Chigariro currently employs three women from challenging backgrounds. The work has been a lifeline for them.

Jane Ramaloko, 23, is the sewing supervisor who ensures quality control at Bin to Beauty. She said she was grateful to have met Chigariro when she did, as she had grown up in a children’s home. She had to learn to become independent shortly before meeting Chigariro. 

“I’m grateful that she could offer me what she had when she did,” said Ramaloko.

“For a while, I had to learn how to make the products look good. But since last year, I learnt how to sew the plastic on to the PVC. I actually hated sewing after learning it in high school, which was when I sewed last. Then Kuda taught me and I found I actually enjoyed it.

“I’m still learning and hopefully I will learn how to make my own clothes as well.”

trash to treasure recyclable waste

About 10% of discarded plastic lands in our oceans. Collection and upcycling initiatives aid in reducing waste that ends up in stormwater drains and canals. (Photo: Bin to Beauty)

The PVC and the chip and chocolate packets used by Bin to Beauty come from people who drop off the materials at the markets where the company sells its products. People can also drop off materials at Chigariro’s garage in Blairgowrie, Johannesburg.

“We have drop-off points for chip packets and we go to markets where people bring their waste to us. It’s encouraging as people drive from different places to drop off the packets.

“We are doing something [to address excess waste] because those packets would end up in a landfill. We have begun our journey to help the environment and marine life and also to contribute towards sustainable living.

“A lot of people are not aware that you cannot recycle stuff with foil. You cannot recycle chip packets and people need to consider where those materials end up once they are rejected by recycling companies. 

“The big companies are supposed to take care of disposing of those packets but they don’t… hopefully we’ll get there one day,” said Chigariro. 

Chip packets and similar products are made of aluminium laminated with polypropylene (a type of plastic) and because they are made of mixed materials that cannot be separated, they are considered not recyclable.

Read more in Daily Maverick: Here’s how to dramatically decrease plastic pollution in three practical steps

According to WWF South Africa, lightweight litter such as chip packets and sweet wrappers are often blown about by the wind. This ends up polluting the environment and blocking stormwater drains and canals.

About 10% of discarded plastic ends up in the ocean, making it the biggest component of marine litter.

Chigariro wants to grow her business and empower even more women. 

“Hopefully Bin to Beauty will be everywhere,” she said. 

“We need people to buy the products so that I achieve my goal of uplifting women and ensure they get paid.” DM

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