From: Alice Elizabeth Taylor
Turning Plastic Bottle Lids into Designer Homeware

A new project has come to Tirana. The product of a cross-border collaboration between Tek Bunkeri (Albania), minipogon (Serbia), Tirana Ekspress (Albania) and Fablab Tirana (Albania), “Recycled Past/ Upcycled Future” is bringing a new concept of recycling to locals in Nivice, a small village in the south of Albania.

I meet Ivo Krug, one of the Tek Bunkeri team in the makeshift headquarters of the project in the Tulla Centre, Tirana. Over soft drinks and cigarettes on a hot, late summer’s afternoon, he describes his vision, the implementation, and the impact he hopes this project will have.

Everyday, across the world, humans use billions of plastic bottles. The caps from these bottles, are often discarded, ending up in nature, on beaches, and in our rivers and oceans. I know from cleanups I have organised and taken part in that they are by far the most common item we find, littering the countryside wherever we go. But what is the solution?

The solution is a wonderful new machine, built from an open source design that has the power to turn these bottle tops into beautiful, practical, eco-friendly products. The machines that this team have built first chips the plastic into flakes before melting them down and pouring them into pre-prepared moulds.

As long as they can find the right mould, they can make pretty much anything- cups, plates, bowls, ashtrays, chairs, tables- you name it, this machine can pretty much make it.

But the best thing about these products is once they have been made, they can be melted down and re-moulded an infinite amount of times. In other words, your plate could become a chair, or your chair, a cup- the possibilities are endless.

These possibilities present great opportunities, particularly for a community in rural Tepelene.

Nivica, once known for its thriving cannabis cultivation, is an area that cosmopolitan Tirana forgot. The villagers are resentful and cynical, have a low sense of community, and are blighted with issues such as lack of constant running water or electricity and little to no employment opportunities. Left feeling betrayed and forgotten by the governments of the past and present, these people have very much been left to fend for themselves.

When the Tek Bunkeri team approached the villagers of Nivica with their idea, they were met with a lot of skepticism. This tall, blonde, German guy turns up with some Serbians and a few Albanians and tells them that they are going to show them how to turn plastic bottle tops into cold, hard cash. I admit I would have probably raised an eyebrow as well. But that is exactly what they did, and more importantly than that, they went back again and again to engage the community and follow through on their promise.

That promise was to build them machines, show them how to use them, and help them get plastic together to keep a steady flow of raw materials, and then to help them sell the finished products.

After a week of fraught building in Tirana, which I interrupted with my interview, they loaded up the machines (built from bits and bobs and scraps including old ovens) and set off for rural Tepelene. Then, over the following seven days they taught several members of the community how to use and maintain the machines, as well as to hone the creation of products.

At first, Ivo tells me that they didn’t really take them seriously, even with the machines there working in front of them. But after a few days some children and adults started getting involved-helping to collect plastic bottle tops from the land around them, cleaning it and sorting it. From day three onward, they had around six community members getting involved, each coming with complaints that the Municipality did little to collect their household waste and plastic.

Of course, the Municipality turned up with Top Channel for their five minutes of fame, helping clean up some of the local area. Unfortunately, the team of municipality staff only helped for as long as the cameras were rolling- about 30 minutes, compared with the many hours that the Tek Bunkeri team and the locals had spent during the previous days.

Their next step will be to finalise the first machine in a workshop in unused rooms within the school building. Following that, they will build a second machine that will be installed in a bunker in Rrogozhina and they will work with the local Roma community to educate them on this new and innovative revenue stream.

Then, in 2020, the plan is to build more machines and to provide workshops in secondary schools as well as running open labs in different parts of the country.

Once the products have been ordered and created, they can then be distributed to customers via local shops, businesses, and social media. The money made returns to the community and can be used to lift them out of poverty, or to pump back into their social enterprise, building more machines or refining their products.

The possibilities are endless and with a free raw material- plastic bottle tops that blight the countryside- there really is nothing to lose.

To find out more, visit Tek Bunkeri’s Facebook page here.

This article was originally published on The Balkanista.