What’s the difference between recycling and upcycling? Put simply, recycling is the process of converting waste materials into new materials that can be used again, often for a different purpose, such as used paper that can be recycled into toilet tissue. By contrast, upcycling means transforming waste materials into products of better quality or of better environmental value than the original item, such as making fashionable clothes out of plastic waste.
This latter activity is the main undertaking of the Spanish Ecoalf Foundation, which creates high-quality fashion items and accessories out of solid waste such as plastic bottles, fishing nets and car tyres. After running a successful campaign to clear the waters around Spain of much of its plastic waste, in 2017 Ecoalf linked up with the Tourist Authority of Thailand (TAT) and the Petroleum Authority of Thailand (PTT) to launch the Upcycling the Oceans, Thailand campaign.
The first step in this three-year campaign was to secure the participation of scuba divers and beach cleaners to collect as much garbage as possible from underwater and along the coastline. To encourage this participation, the TAT offered discounted dive trips to divers who could fill special rubbish collection bags with trash. On filling a bag, the divers receive a stamp on a ‘divers’ passport’, which can then be redeemed for discounts on diving trips with participating dive operators.
After the waste is collected, it is separated into different types, and then it is processed into pellets and thread that are used to make value-added clothes and fashion accessories.
TAT Governor Yuthasak Supasorn commented, “We are well aware that several tourist destinations in Thailand are deteriorating due to environmental problems such as rubbish and wastewater pollution due to inefficient management. So we want to create a stakeholder collaboration network to give back to society while encouraging environmental sustainability.”
The project began on Ko Samed, a popular weekend escape for Bangkokians that has experienced environmental problems due to the high volume of visitors and a lack of organized waste disposal methods. In just five hours, a group of 100 volunteers managed to retrieve 700 kilograms of rubbish, indicating how serious the problem is.
From there the project went on to Phuket, where volunteer divers and beach cleaners collected over 800 kilograms of waste from Nai Yang, Nai Harn and Patong Beaches in just one day. The next stop for the Upcycling the Oceans, Thailand project will be Ko Tao and Ko Samui in the Gulf of Thailand.