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Apr 5, 2018

Precious Plastic Pilot #2 - Patagonia

A deep look into Precious Plastic Pilots. This time through beautiful Patagonia in South America.

Precious Plastic Recycling Container in Patagonia.
Plastic Recycling Container in Patagonia is ready.
This article is part of Precious Plastic, a One Army project tackling the plastic waste problem. You can learn more

Curious to know what we’ve been up to in Patagonia, read all about it in this blog post 🎉 One of the core goals of Precious Plastic is to offer people in developing countries ways to work with plastic waste as this resource is so freaking ubiquitous in their environments. We do this on a daily basis with our knowledge, technologies and platforms but sometimes we want to go a step further and give our full expertise and support by going in areas and set up plastic recycling workspaces- we call these projects Precious Plastic Pilot.

After Kenya 🇰🇪 last year, this time we came to Puerto Varas in Chile to help Karun, Baloon and Rekaba to tackle one of the most pressing challenges in their community. Yes, you guessed it right, plastic waste. We helped them create a Precious Plastic workspace to work with the plastic generated in their area and train local women to transform plastic waste into valuable products.        

men standing in a field
Johe, Mattia & Dave ready to set the Recycling Container.

Pilots help us to learn, share and improve Precious Plastic so that more people can work with it around the world. With this project in Chile 🇨🇱, we were particularly interested to research on a number of points and explore new directions. These are some of them:

  1. Collaborate with different kind of partners (in Kenya we worked with the UN). This time we joined forces with the private and social sector to see if we could find more agile and efficient ways of working, testing and iterating to come up with solutions faster and more successfully. Karun, one of our partner, have been making kickass 100% recycled sunglasses for a few years now while Baloon is an established NGO working with local communities across Latin America with excellent results.
  2. Work in Latin America. Since the early days of Precious Plastic, South America has been incredibly active with millions of people sharing the project and dozens of people building the machines and beginning to work with plastic across the continent. We’ve also heard they have insane avocados 😍
  3. Import the machines from the Netherlands. In Kenya, we built the machine sourcing most of parts, motors and material locally with epic challenges and difficulties leaving us with the bitter feeling 😐 that we could have made better machines. In Chile, we tried a different approach building most of the machines in the Netherlands (excluding the frame as they’re easy to build everywhere) and shipping them on a boat across the Atlantic.
  4. Work with women. We are aware that Precious Plastic tends to be rather male-oriented for various reasons (even though we already have very successful women-run workspaces around the world). So as soon as we were presented with the proposal to work with only women (and Pedro 😃) we were delighted to explore this new approach.
  5. Work with smaller containers. We know how to fit a plastic recycling workspace in a 40ft container, however, this can be costly, difficult to find & transport as well as complicated to find the appropriate location to drop it. In Chile, we’ve were asked to work with smaller container 6x4m and were happy to accept the challenge.

Just like in Kenya, our heavily dutch-influenced plans had to come to terms with a different relationship with time ⏰ and punctuality 😱. Everything was late for one reason or the other 😅. Machines were late, containers arrived late, pavement for the container was late, painter was late and all the rest in between. We still managed to complete our task of creating the workspace but had to pivot and move days around which left us with fewer training days. Sorry ladies 😫

During the first week (waiting for the machines to arrive) we worked on conceptualising and designing the two container and build all the auxiliary spaces- frames, shelves, display, storages etc… This process went particularly smooth managing to easily overcome the usual few hiccups that come with working on the other side of the planet. Thankfully, unlike Kenya, Chile is equipped with great tools and material of high quality (made Dave super happy 🛠 ❤️) comparable to what you could expect in Europe. This helped a lot.  

precious plastic machines
Machines ready to install & run a full Recycling workspace.

Week two, originally planned for training, had to be re-thought so we could finish building the machines (only arrived on Sunday night at 9.30pm). After a couple of last-minute juggles on Thursday we could finally start training the eager group of women on plastic, how to work with the machines, make products and run a plastic recycling workspace effectively.

In Kenya, we trained every participant on every aspect of the project. We’ve learned the hard way that this can be confusing and overwhelming. In Chile, we divided the women in groups with very defined tasks and roles as well as leaders that can be responsible for their group. Each group relies on the work of the other groups to run the workspace and is built on collaboration and trust helping to create a cooperative workflow that will hopefully work better in the long run 🌈


a shipping container being installed
The shipping container arrived.
people talking on plastic recycling
Female words on Plastic Recycling.

colorful lastic caps
Sorting plastic by colors.
people talking about plastic
Once the Machines were installed, the Academy starts.
boys around a precious plastic machine
Johe explaining the Extrusion machine.
people showing plastic
Now we have some plastic to Recycle.

As expected we faced many challenges, some we solved some are still open to tackle. Facing this challenges taught us a lot, here are some of our learning with this pilot:

  1. Drives. One crucial problem we had in Kenya and represented itself in Chile is how to create the necessary drives and incentives for people to dedicate big chunks of their life to the project. Ethical or environmental reasons alone can’t work. We do not know the answer to this yet as we usually work with (awesome) people (like you guys) that already have the necessary personal drive to make projects successful. This time working with Baloon we hope their expertise can come in handy to solve this headache we bring back to Europe with us.
  2. Machines. We are totally happy with the machines we left in Chile. Strong, solid and reliable. And even though we built them in Europe, they should be easy to maintain and repair locally.  
  3. Everyone can join Precious Plastic. We worked with women from 25 to 84 years old and with great surprise everyone (even our shredder master Marta, 84) was able to receive our knowledge, ideas and technology and create valuable products from plastic waste.
  4. Mix gender. Working with women alone was a great experience. Undoubtedly, there are a number of tasks where women greatly outperform men like collection, separation, sorting, finishing as well as working with some of the machines. However, as with everything, a balance of ladies & lads is probably the best approach as some of the tasks tend to be a bit too rough for some women, particularly if older. We’re now working on getting a few guys to join the team to create a more resilient team that can tackle each issue promptly.
  5. Smaller container. Smaller containers are a great option. We are particularly happy with how the space felt with a smooth user flow never feeling to crammed or tight. We used one container for collection, sorting, shredding, storing and display and the second one for melting and transforming plastic.
  6. Community. Oh gosh, Precious Plastic community is amazing! You – are – incredible! All throughout the pilot, Precious Plastic community has been absolutely unique helping us in many ways from Chris introducing us to people in Puerto Varas that could help, to Ismael lending us his welding machine and CNCing our display, to Julie that helped us every single day building, painting, moving and cooking cakes 🍰 (made us very happy ~ feeding the famous Precious Plastic sweet tooth). And to conclude we had this little plastic event with many people travelling 2000+ km just to come and meet us and sharing their ways of working with plastic and solutions to plastic waste. Heroes from the Chilean army 💪

Between herds of street dogs and posh cafes, we’re rather happy with the first episode of our second pilot. Building on the learnings from Kenya we managed to deliver a very solid workspace, Mattia managed to convince few Chilenian chaps “intermitted fasting” is the way to go, Johe amused himself and half of Chile with his diablo skills while Dave emptied the chocolate reserves of the little Puerto Varas.

We’re now back home and will continue to support the local effort remotely. We also have a second visit planned for the end of the year to provide further support and help based on the feedback from the first months of working and melting.

Adios amigos 🌶🇨🇱

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