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From Trash To The Fashion Runway: Samoa Recycling, Waste Association Tackles Rubbish

An outfit made of recycled bottle caps. Photo: SRWMA.

Dealing with waste and pollution is everyone’s responsibility. That’s the message from the Samoa Recycling & Waste Management Association (SRWMA), spearheaded by a Pacific waste management pioneer, Ms Marina Keil.

A few days away from the Third Clean Pacific Roundtable (3rdCPRT), scheduled for the 16 – 25 November 2021, Ms Keil, who will be one of the participants, is calling on everyone to be part of the solution by working to reduce, reuse and recycle for a cleaner greener and healthier Pacific. She is excited about the 3rdCPRT.

“The CPRT is a very important meeting. It promotes regional exchanges and national cooperation to achieve strategic goals,” she said. “It also facilitates networking, so it’s a platform to meet donors and stakeholders around the Pacific and a good opportunity to form partnerships, explore additional resources, investment opportunity so we can work together to ensure a cleaner Pacific.”

In Samoa where Ms Keil is based and working as the Managing Director of Waste Management Co. Ltd., SRWMA has come a long way. Since its inception in 2018 when it was founded by Ms Keil, Silafau Sio of Pacific Recycle and the late Potoi Asiata of One Scrap Metal, the Association has been at the forefront of promoting the 3rs Plus Return. It has also become the voice of the recycling industry in addressing the problem of low value waste that is recyclable, such as plastics, e-waste, glass, waste oil and end life vehicles.

The Association’s goal in promoting sustainable recycling and acceptable waste management practices is part of a drive to transform mindsets and attitudes towards waste. They recently initiated a first for Samoa, the Trashion Show, which was hugely popular and influential in raising awareness and changing the way we see rubbish.

“We’re always looking for ideas to keep the hype on 3Rs Plus Return, and I’m very blessed to have a great team that are multi talented. We can all be working in the office one day and the next were washing bottles and just last week we became designers,” she said with a smile. “Trashion is a mix of Trash and Fashion, it delivers a message on the importance of our environment and the impact of our actions through our trash that we throw away.”

Working with the National University of Samoa (NUS), the Trashion show also encouraged designers to consider sustainable fashion, be innovative and see the world of opportunities in dealing with waste.

“One man’s trash can become one man’s treasure,” Ms Keil said, “the opportunities are endless.”

She is also realistic and admits that there is a lot of work to be done given the threat of increased waste and pollution on Pacific people. Ms Keil and SRWMA have pledged to continue to do their part and they are encouraged by the progress thus far. For instance, in June this year, SRWMA pledged to collect one million plastic bottles for recycling overseas.

“Due to the lack of support for SRWMA Green jobs on plastic, we decided to do a call out for volunteers to come and help us wash, de-cap and sort to prepare for our first shipment in October where we exported approximately 500,000 plastic bottles for bottle to bottle recycling in Australia. The amount of people that came through our doors to lend a helping hand was unbelievable, we had schools, companies, group of friends, ministries, departments, families all coming through to help contribute to our plastic waste.”

Another highlight for Ms Keil was the Clean up to end Global recycling day in March. She recalled being overwhelmed by the response from leaders and the community when they approached them to help.

“We had Charg’ed’ Affaires Johnathan Lee Yoo, the Ambassador for Japan in Samoa, His Excellency Genichi Terasawa and Resident Representative JICA Samoa, MNRE CEO Frances Reupena, the Country director for APTC and many more,” she recalled. “I’m not sure if it’s the first time for our leaders to take part in a clean up, but it was a memorable event and definitely one for the books, true leaders leading by example. We witnessed our diplomats picking up rubbish and riding at the back of the truck, it was such a humble feeling. It sent out a strong message that regardless of your status, colour or where you come from, our environment is our responsibility, and we must all work together to protect it.”

Last but not the least, there is another project that is very close to Ms Keil’s heart.

“Our partnership with Senese is very important to me,” she said. “Just being able to provide an inclusive workspace through our green jobs, as well as encourage and amplify women empowerment in the waste industry, ensuring our employees get equal opportunities not only in our workspace but in their homes and in their communities is very satisfying.”

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