Since her college years, interior designer Wilhelmina “Willie” Garcia and Junk Not! Eco Creatives owner has been involved in projects that have an impact on society and the environment. So, when the Department of Energy and Natural Resources called her in 2015 to work on a livelihood project in San Nicolas, Batangas, an island town three hours from Manila, she immediately said yes.
Not wasting an opportunity
Garcia performed a WACS (Waste Analysis Characterization) audit in every household in the town, and the number one waste product wasn’t surprising: plastic bags. She also discovered that since they didn’t have any waste processing facility on the island, residents burned the plastic, contributing even more to the island’s pollution.
The designer saw an opportunity, and after conducting a waste management workshop, taught the women how to process and braid the plastic and packaging waste for use in the making of Garcia’s furniture pieces. “Sustainability begins at home,” she stresses. “It is our contribution in paying back our environment.”
From Laguna to FAME
These braided strands of plastic waste are then transported to Garcia’s home/workshop in Biñan, Laguna, which are woven by a group of housewives from the nearby community. They weave the plastic into webbed or looped seating for chairs, accessories, and lounges. Aside from these, she also dabbles with other recycled materials like plastic film rolls and water lily stems, which she transforms into tables, benches, and headboards
Garcia makes it a point to indicate exactly how many kilograms of waste are saved whenever she posts a newly completed project on social media. This is what she did when she completed Anak ng Tupa (literally, “Son of a Sheep”), a fluffy lounge chair and ottoman made out of 15 kilograms of plastic waste. The furniture piece won the Katha Award for Best Eco Product Design in the April 2018 of Manila FAME. The Eco-Design Award is conferred based on concept, as well as manufacturing processes and environmental benefits.
Healing by making
One of Garcia’s latest projects are the 2019 trophies and medals commissioned by the University Athletic Association of the Philippines (UAAP). Each component has a socially relevant meaning: the plastic waste is from San Nicolas, the wooden figures are carved by Ifugao artisans, and the metal are from iron scraps and bullet shells from the Marawi siege in Mindanao. “So many communities benefited from this. It’s a project that’s full of people’s stories.”
Garcia dreams of the day when all furnishings would produce zero waste, and use sustainable materials. When she was starting out, she sold her pieces online and in Paris-based social design shop Rue Rangoli, but she is optimistic that eco-conscious design practice is picking up. “Greening is a big market internationally, and a lot of designers are now willing to do it,” she muses. “You just have to think about the social impact first before profit or anything else.”
Learn more about Garcia’s Junk Not! journey on this clip from ANC’s Shoptalk.