To Junk...or Junk not
Ida Anita Q. Del Mundo (The Philippine Star) - July 21, 2019 - 12:00am

MANILA, Philippines — On the heels of news of the Philippines stamping “return to sender” on shipping containers of trash from around the world, interior designer Wilhelmina “Willie” Garcia collects trash – and turns it into award-winning art and furniture creations through her social enterprise, Junk Not.

Garcia’s trash is locally sourced from Batangas and her hometown Biñan, Laguna, where she empowers communities through the livelihood project.

Garcia has advocated for the environment as early as college when she would upcycle materials in her interior design projects.

With designer Wilhelmina Garcia’s masterful manipulation of materials, you can’t tell that these chairs, stools and home decor pieces are made of trash

“My frustration is to solve the plastic issue,” she tells STARweek. Her pieces use bottles, newspaper and agri-waste, among other materials. Even small pieces of trash like candy wrappers find their way into Garcia’s work as cushion stuffing.

After winning the interior design category of “The Environment Shapes You” at the Metrobank Arts and Design  Excellence (MADE) in 2007, Garcia started doing bags and fashion accessories in 2009. But, she says, everybody was doing the same thing.

In 2013, she started to experiment making chairs out of plastic waste for her brother’s restaurant in Davao. Growing the concept from there, she involved the women of Barangay Alas-as, San Nicolas, Batangas in her endeavor, when the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) tapped her to conduct a livelihood program in the community. She taught them the technique of “twining” or rolling newspaper into thin tubes.

Garcia’s latest collection highlights coral preservation

By 2017 there were 60 women involved in the Junk Not advocacy. The community continues to grow, with more and more residents concerned about the environment.

Garcia says she makes it a priority to teach the community about proper waste management in a holistic way. The women in the community collect their own trash from home, sari-sari stores and schools. Junk Not uses only the trash gathered within the community.

“Be responsible for what you consume,” she often advises the women in her partner communities.

Engaging and empowering the community is a vital part of Junk Not as a social enterprise

For Garcia’s new Coral Collection, she used 83 kg of plastic waste. Taking inspiration from the Pantone color of 2019, Living Coral, Garcia dedicates the collection to marine life conservation. “Corals are a source of food and shelter of marine creatures, but now it is contaminated with plastic pollution,” the Junk Not website says.

Garcia’s designs are whimsical, bursting with life despite being made of trash.

Her stools in the collection are made up of the thinly twined material, fashioned into colored loops that emulate corals. The Mr. Tired D’Table is made to resemble tube coral using materials like old tires and glass aquarium parts. The table coral bed is made primarily of 25 pairs of old jeans and 74.5 kilos of plastic waste.

A previous collection was dedicated to keeping the mountais trash-free and featured high-backed ‘mountain chairs’

Her earlier collections use the same colorful roped plastic waste. The high-backed mountain chair is an ode to the mountains that are now, just like our seas, littered with plastic waste from inconsiderate hikers.

In her lamp collaboration with Dei Jardiniano, Ilaw ng Kalikasan, the plastic ropes become creative dresses for Mother Nature. “This is not just a lamp or a piece of art,” the Junk Not website explains. “Ilaw ng Kalikasan is a call for action, on protection, conservation and preservation of the environment. It is a guiding light, that will inspire everyone to come up with innovative and resourceful ways of saving Mother Earth, for the future generation.

The woman behind Junk Not, Wilhelmina Garcia

Garcia’s winning entry for Manila Fame 2018 is titled Anak ng Tupa. She explains that she thought of the title because she lived on a farm and witnessed their sheep die slowly because of the plastic waste that they accidentally ate.

The designer says it takes a long time to conceptualize her pieces, “trial and error for the most part, especially in weaving.” But now that she has her communities behind her, production is much faster, “each member of the community has a designated role. Everything is handcrafted.”

The bits of trash woven into ropes by the women of the community

There have been several challenges along the way. Only four participants joined Junk Not after her first workshop – it took a while before the project caught on. Garcia is also meticulous about the quality of the products. However, she is adamant on employing her communities to make the products by hand than to buy machinery for mass production.

In 2017, Garcia had to cope with losing her mother and almost gave up the social enterprise, wanting to just continue as an interior designer. “Minsan talaga I am giving up na (Sometimes I really feel like giving up already),” she confides.

turn into colorful pieces of furniture art (above left). Garcia’s latest work is the Coral Collection

But the calling to help in her own way is strong. “Plastic waste is a global problem and we have to do something about it.”

Garcia urges everyone to do their part in reducing plastic waste. Buying recycled and upcycled products instead of newly-made ones can help the environment. Starting to refuse single-use plastic for less waste is another step that everyone can take to support the advocacy.

Junk Not helps the process become interactive – they sell pillowcases made from scrap fabric and plastic that people can fill up with their own shredded trash to create a cushion.

Garcia’s journey with Junk Not has brought her around the world – her work is being sold in France and Belgium aside from being featured in various design expos, proving that one man’s trash is another woman’s Junk Not.

Learn more at www.JunkNot.ph or order online at www.pinas-sadya.com. The Junk Not showroom can be found at the 8th floor of Selah Pods Hotel, Pasay City.

SHIPPING CONTAINERS OF TRASH WILHELMINA “WILLIE” GARCIA
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