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Collecting plastic for food

Global Goals & Global Society
Collecting plastic for food

Exchange ten collected plastic bottles for a lunch: not only the people of Nicaragua win, but also nature. The idea and funding came from Switzerland.

Three months of surfing in Nicaragua and living in a bungalow on the beach - that's Khalil Radi's (28) plan. But instead of just riding the wave, the Zurich native has become aware of the region's poverty and huge plastic problem. He knew he wanted to do something about it.

Radi worked with one of his shelter workers, Jaffet, to sort out lunch ingredients and let them pay with the plastic bottles he collected. He used his camera to document what happened in Virgen de Morena, near Popoyo, and then posted the photos online, which were discovered by Anna Garcia Herbst, 27, who had known Radi since elementary school.

"I thought it was a great idea and immediately donated and asked if I could help," Herbst said. After the first event, Radi and Jaffet organized two more plastic bottle swaps. Three months later, he returned to Zurich. But the idea of ​​paying for meals in plastic bottles stuck. “We invested a lot of time at this stage in gaining knowledge about the Nicaraguan problem.

Many ideas about sustainable processes that seemed good at first glance were not enough on closer inspection,” says Hebb, who studies communication sciences at the University of Zurich ster said. no collection point nearby "We asked ourselves, for example, what to do with all the plastic bottles we collected," continues Herbst. There are no collection points in Nicaragua, so a recycling cycle cannot be formed. Lardy befriended a determined German immigrant in Nicaragua. She told him about her idea of ​​recycling plastic bottles to cover the house. "Our first reaction was disbelief. We thought this was utopia! But she showed us it was possible," Herbst said. The duo thus gave their first collection of bottles a second life - as building material for the house. However, after the initial ecstasy, it soon became clear to both of them that later recovery would be difficult. Because cement and plastic are mixed together, they cannot be separated in the future. Something new emerges from the cover "Building a circular economy is important to us. The cycle should not end with one-off recycling," the communications specialist said.

So they set up a small factory to recycle the collected plastic lids. "Recycling PET requires more expensive machines, and we started with very little resources. We are happy to have found a sustainable solution for the lids (PP and HDPE), and we are working on other solutions," adds Herbst.

In January 2022, the plastic processing machine in Nicaragua was put into use. Plastic caps were used to create the first surf combs, which were used to scrape wax off wooden boards. “Khalil was there for nine months to set up the factory, and I was there for three months,” Herbst said. Today, two women and a man work there for reasonable pay. A team of six local staff also organizes monthly "Buy Food With Plastic" campaigns. "We wanted to show people what to do with their trash," explains Garcia Herbst. "By buying a meal, the bottle gains value and is no longer thrown away." Salary of 3000 francs. Everything is currently funded by donations from private individuals, partnerships and foundations. "Transparency is very important to us and we disclose all data on our website," explains the Zurich native. You will need a budget of approximately CHF 360,000 per year to cover all expenses.

Since 2020, Khalil Radi and Anna Garcia Herbst have been working 100% for the Social Association. Between 20% and 60% of the rest of the Swiss team is part-time. The fact that they do everything for their non-profit association is also reflected in what they call a charity gallery: this can be rented for events or for a few days for larger occasions. Then they move the desks in the office, organize catering (if needed) and everything else. "We use this revenue to reduce our rental costs," Herbst explained.

By making and selling more plastic products, they hope to be able to self-fund 70% of their bottled meal campaigns in the future, with only 30% relying on donations. "Our concept is super scalable so it can be used globally," said the co-founders. "But in order to do our job well, we have decided to focus on three countries for now." It's important to remember that every country is different, she said. In Ghana, for example, people are much less obsessed with plastic bottles than with so-called sachets. These are plastic bags that people use to drink water. "Each country has its own culture, different problems, different infrastructure. It is important to study local conditions individually and adapt our work to them," says Herbst. As a result, 62,000 bottles have been collected so far, about half of which were rescued from the wild. Another sense of accomplishment: "There used to be 200 or so people at the fundraiser, all of a sudden there were only 105. When asked why, they replied: We don't find plastic anymore on the streets.


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