The world’s population has been skyrocketing over the last handful of generations, and with the population booms has come an increasing need to figure out what to do with product waste.
Initiatives have pushed for increased access to reusable products for even low-income consumers, businesses have introduced zero-waste programs in certain areas of operation, and communities have upped their use of solar, wind, and hydroelectric power as the world comes together to reduce emissions and pollution.
With a still-devastating amount of single-use plastic circulating in the consumer economy, though, one Filipino engineer has come up with a great way to reuse plastics for the greater good.
Winchester Lemen, of Davao, Philippines, is the president and owner of Envirotech Waste Recycling, Inc. Founded in 2010, the company cites on their website that it “has been geared towards active involvement in the pursuit to regain the world’s ecological intelligence and balance.” It works with local governments to help other businesses properly adhere to environmental laws and standards, engineering fully recycled products in the process.
One of those products has gone viral, as Lemen’s creation of a fully recycled school classroom chair has proven that even the smallest waste products—like candy wrappers and single-use plastic straws—can be turned into something incredibly useful.
The chairs, Lemen explained, solve a pair of problems. They not only help to reduce the amount of recyclable plastic that gets thrown into landfills, but they help to meet a backlog of orders on school furniture that the growing education-eligible population in the Philippines requires.
“We have a huge backlog of 1.7 million school chairs in our country. One of our objectives is to reduce the gap,” Lemen says. “The chairs can be used for a very long time, so we do not have to change them every year as was practiced in the past.”
Lemen has coined the phrase “We ReUse your ReFuse” to raise awareness about the initiatives, which manage to completely reuse the “waste” products that go into the construction of the chairs.
First, the products are collected, as Lemen explained in a recent interview. They gather everything from sand bags—which are more durable and reusable than regular plastic bags, but more disposable than things like canvas totes—along with candy wrappers, junk food packaging, plastic straws, sachets, laminated plastics with foil, sacks, and single-use plastic bottles.
The products are then shredded down and thoroughly cleaned and sanitized, washing away dirt and oil, before being poured into molds to create the chairs.
From there, they just have to be sanded down and painted, and presto! The schools officially have new, durable products that can help them provide seating for students while keeping landfills a little bit emptier in the process.
These chairs aren’t the only things that Lemen and his company have been using waste products and recyclables to make. They’ve been able to mold and form everything from benches to staircases, taking advantage of the fact that Filipino local governments have been pushing for environmental protections to churn out planet-friendly products.
The chairs cost a little bit more than typical wooden school desks, but Lemen has made sure that teachers and schools are getting their money’s worth; there’s a 20-year warranty for replaceable parts, and the entire chair and desk system is made of interlocking parts so they’re easy to assemble and can trade out pieces when needed. Plus, they allow more trees to remain standing.
“We are saving a three-year-old tree, which is used to manufacture school chairs, for every plastic chair that we make using recycled plastic waste,” Lemen says.