Trash becomes treasure as TI volunteers use recycled plastic waste to build an eco-park

From trash to treasure - transforming plastic bottles into a park for elementary students
On a recent Saturday in Baguio City, Philippines, volunteers from our company and their family members headed to a nearby eco-park. But the outing was no company picnic.

They went to complete the final stage of a year-long project to transform a trash dump into a park.

Situated behind Bonifacio Elementary School, the park is a new place for students to play, plant flowers and vegetables, and learn about ecology and entrepreneurship. But this isn’t a typical park – it’s built with plastic eco-bricks that were collected by TIers.

An eco-park is brought to lifeOver the past year, our employees contributed more than 2,000 1.5-liter plastic bottles, each jam-packed with non-biodegradable pieces of plastic waste. With help from families, friends and neighbors, TIers spent thousands of hours in their spare time collecting and filling the clear and green-tinted vessels with chopped-up plastic shopping bags, plastic packaging waste, and other down-cycled bits to create solid, heavy eco-bricks.

At the school, parents and other community volunteers began cementing the plastic bricks in place in December to pave pathways, create plant boxes and build stairs in the hilly terrain. On this recent February weekend, volunteers put the finishing touches on the park by constructing an eco-brick stairway to the park.

A heartbreaking problem and an eco-friendly answer

Saving and stuffing 2,000 empty soda bottles did more than just keep 4 tons of trash out of landfills and off the beaches. Nicole Dela Cruz, an engineer at our company who spearheaded the effort, said the project raised awareness about the world's plastic-waste problem, which she called especially heartbreaking in the Philippines.

"The Philippines is an archipelago of 7,100 islands in the Pacific Ocean. We see the difference when we dispose of plastic properly," she said. "Instead of continuously throwing away plastic, the message is to be more conscious of how we use and dispose of it."

A heartbreaking problem and an eco-friendly answer The Baguio elementary school isn't the first place to benefit from an eco-brick construction project. Inspiration for the project came from an article Nicole read in late 2016 about how budget-challenged communities in Africa, Central America and elsewhere in Asia were repurposing their plastic waste this way. To erect sturdy structures, builders lined up the stuffed bottles horizontally and covered them with cement, or they placed them into a basic support structure and framed them with wire mesh and bamboo. Nicole saw an opportunity to repurpose our company’s own castoff materials the same way.

She pitched the idea to members of Baguio’s Community Involvement Team, who agreed it could have a big impact. In February 2017, the team set up collection boxes around campus and launched a factory-wide #StuffItChallenge campaign to round up 2,000 eco-bricks. On weekends, they collected plastic industrial waste and organized fun events where talented TIers performed small concerts for colleagues as they filled bottles together.

An eco-park is brought to life

The program also promoted camaraderie, said Sandy Paguio, communications manager for the company in the Philippines. "The events got larger as people brought friends and their whole families. People from outside TI would say what a nice initiative it was, and we heard stories about TIers who would go out on their streets collecting waste. Then their neighbors would start collecting and stuffing bottles themselves."

Nicole explained: "The goal was to convey the message that, because plastic is going to be around forever, we should be reducing the amount of plastic we're using and doing something with the plastic we can't avoid using."

She and her team identified potential projects that could put the eco-bricks to good use, and the nearby school, which several TIers once attended, became the first beneficiary. Bonifacio Elementary School was already building eco-brick bleachers for its basketball court, and Principal Margie Estoesta dreamed of adding an eco-park for students. "She lacked the budget for materials. It was the perfect partnership," Nicole said.

Looking to the future, volunteers are eyeing an opportunity to construct a retaining wall at another school in a remote, hilly area. "We need to start collecting eco-bricks again," Nicole said. “They are already getting requests to set-up donation boxes to collect the eco-bricks that TIers have continued to make from home.”