As the country generates 35,000 tons of solid waste a day, stopping trash at the source is beginning to make good business sense.
In the 2011 book Green Growth, Green Profit, by Roland Berger Strategy Consultations, recycling waste was ranked as one of the six leading markets in the green business sector, whose global market was valued at 40 billion as of last year.
Market segmentation is a necessity in this line of business; the cost of added materials must be proportionate to one’s target demographic, in order to set reasonable prices.
“[Foreign clients] make a big portion of the A market,” said Carmela C. Rosales, manager of the Sto. Rosario Multi-Purpose Cooperative (SRMPC), which is known for their paper bead accessories.
“There is heightened awareness and aspiration for things that are green, organic and eco-friendly. People are not just aware, but are adopting these into their daily lives,” Tita Boluso-Rimando, co-founder of reclaimed handicrafts business What If? By Ti & Me Co., said in an e-mail.
As for the government, Ofelia Panganiban of the EcoWaste Coalition’s Steering Committee has been urging both national and local officials to invest more heavily in the recycling industry in order to create market demand.
Besides the materials’ affordability and abundance, Ms. Rimando said: “Another reason [to go into business] is because of the many, many possibilities that we see in them.”
The unique handmade quality of their second life is also a large part of the new product’s charm. “A product coming out of upcycling, repurposing, or recycling has been given special attention and care by the maker. [There are] no shortcuts, and no two are exactly alike. Overall, this is what you pay for,” Ms. Rimando said.
Trash Becomes Treasure
Unlike with virgin resources, the discards used for recycled or repurposed merchandise may have to undergo additional steps to clean and process them. For the Sto. Rosario cooperative, their product staples are dependent on weather, as the beads need to be soaked in clear gloss before being dried in the sun.
Similarly, Ti & Me Co.’s best-sellers, like their Travel Blankys, Game Cubes, and WooHoo doorstops, are made out of scrap fabric and old clothes that call for a lot of ripping, washing and ironing before they can be used.
However, before production can get started, prototyping—from forming ideas down to fine-tuning the product’s final details—is also a lengthy process that could take weeks.
All these plus the cost of labor explain why recyclable-content merchandise are typically more expensive. “It’s a labor of love and attention to detail that really accounts for its premium price,” Ms. Rimando said.
For products by cooperatives or their sourced labor, recyclable-content products provide the members a sustainable livelihood, or at least help augment their incomes. The skills that they pick up on the job can also create opportunities for self-employment later on.
And in developing nations like the Philippines, recycling waste processes—including collecting, sorting, grading, and converting them into new items—has supplied productive jobs for around 1% of the urban population, according to the World Bank.
However, reliable production partners who share the same vision and passion for a green storefront aren’t exactly in abundance, as Ms. Rimando shared, “It’s difficult to find people with the same interest or enthusiasm about repurposing old materials and recreating something else by hand.”
According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, the cost-efficiency of recyclable-content products is largely at the mercy of supply and demand forces, so purchasing them will not only “close the recycling loop” but eventually bring prices down.
Also, while the recyclables market has always been cyclical, slow demand from China, one of the world’s biggest importers of waste, has effected a recent dip in prices for reusable discards.
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