Sunday, May 09

From Recycling to Upcycling

June 02, 2018 | Nana Nadal

Instead of staying at home on a Saturday, children wisely spend their time making rags out of cut strips of old clothes. The activity entails utmost patience as the children weave one strip at a time into the mesh. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

Story Highlights

  • Tzu Chi Foundation fixes up a dilapidated room at a public school in Quezon City. The space will be used as storage of materials for the community project of upcycling old magazines to gift bags and old clothes to attractive mats.


Since 2013, the Department of Education has been implementing “Brigada Eskwela” (School Brigade) or National Schools Maintenance Week. The program encourages all education stakeholders to contribute their time, effort, and resources to prepare public school facilities for the opening of the school year.

At Pasong Tamo Elementary School in Quezon City, the principal, Dr. Arsenio Honrejas Jr, assigned Tzu Chi Foundation volunteers to tidy up the property room. The institution has a population of 5,900 students, all belonging to families below poverty level, earning less than Php279 per day.

“We encourage volunteerism in the community but it’s so hard to convince people to participate. With Tzu Chi, I did not have difficulty because the volunteers collaborate with us regularly,” he related.

Tzu Chi volunteer Woon Ng revealed what they discovered upon close inspection of the space. Apparently, it required more than just cleaning.

“The room was too smelly because of the cockroaches and the rotten wood.  A big part had termites, it’s so infested already. We have to do something to that room to make it into something really useful”.

They also had to go up the roof to find the cause of the leak. With the rainy season coming, repairs cannot be delayed.

Despite the big mess that they had to fix, the volunteers from the community who were at the venue as early as 7am had no complaints. They were more than happy to help the school that educated generations of their children.

“I have grandchildren studying here. Three in grade 1, one in grade 3, one in grade 5, and one in kinder. All my children are alumni because it’s near our home, they just walk to school,” enumerated 66-year-old Concepcion Panesa who had to put off her laundry job for the day to participate in the activity.

The camaraderie they build while keeping their hands busy is a big plus. There is a collective sentiment of joy and fulfillment.

“We enjoy when we are helping out here, it takes our minds off our problems at home,” she adds why she continues to show up for volunteer duties.

Besides, once fixed, the room will serve as storage for the materials for the community recycling project.

Every Saturday, these volunteers get together to sort the donated recyclables that they receive. Then they get busy creating new purpose for the trash. Old magazines are made into paper bags. They sell these at the annual Tzu Chi bazaar, Fiesta Verde.

Using her experience from working in a handicrafts company and helping one of her children in a school project that required the use of old newspapers, 45-year-old Lina Lajara developed the prototype of the gift bags and transferred the knowhow to the other volunteers.  

“I used to work in a handicrafts shop making Christmas décor. I also had to help out one of my children for a school project requiring the use of old newspapers. That’s how I got my idea for this. I taught them how to do it step-by-step, how to fold, how to choose the magazines to use. For the newbies, it takes roughly 30 minutes to finish one bag,” she related.

Recently, the group added another product to their line up and started learning how to make mats from old clothes.

“We were given two sacks of old clothes. We separated the good ones from those that have stains and holes. We will use the tattered ones to make rubber mats. First thing we need to do is cut up the clothes into small pieces of 4 inches by 1 inch. Then they’ll be sent to the other side of the assembly line and inserted into the tiny holes of those rubber sheets. Each hole must have a piece of cloth,” described Tzu Chi volunteer Elvira Chua.

Once the volunteers have mastered the craft, the plan is to provide them with materials and have them do the work in the comfort of their homes. And hopefully transfer the skills to their neighbors so more people can get involved in the project.

Even kids can do it. Young volunteers at 11 and 12 years old joined the assembly line and patiently labored alongside the grown-ups, checking on each other’s work, and calling out anyone who is making anything that is less than excellent.

“It’s challenging. We just need to be patient and to stay focused,” shared 12-year-old Mecayla Buan. But they were clearly having fun knowing they’re creating something useful while protecting the environment.

“It can cause floods and pollution,” she explained the consequences of having too much trash.

“We’re all happy because we are able to help,” concluded Renalyn De Guzman, also 12 years old.

Regular-sized mats at 12 x 18 inches will be priced at P200 each and is expected to be made available to the market soon.

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  • Every Saturday, Tzu Chi volunteers go through sacks of recyclables at the Pasong Tamo Elementary School. This youth is going through a sea of plastic bottles. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • In another area, Tzu Chi volunteers fold paper products to be recycled. While most of the recyclables come from the school itself, some come from all over Barangay Pasong Tamo. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Grateful for Tzu Chi's contribution, the school's principal assigns this room as the Foundation's storage for recyclables and other materials. But it requires repair before it can be used. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • With Tzu Chi's help, the stainless steel panel to the right was installed to protect the classroom behind it from rain, as well as guide rainwater safely down. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Tzu Chi volunteers check samples of what the children have worked on during their spare time. As these will be sold for charity, the volunteers reiterate the importance of paying attention to detail to achieve excellent quality. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • More than the benefits of recycling, the activity teaches Renalyn De Guzman the virtue of patience. The mat can only be properly done with a slow and steady hand. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Next to the table where the mats are made, Tzu Chi volunteers sort magazine pages based on color and layout. These will be folded and made into paper bags. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • Some clothing donations to Tzu Chi have signs of wear and tear on them. These cannot be repacked as relief goods, but Tzu Chi volunteer Elvira Chua finds use for them as raw material for the rags. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The worn-out clothes are reduced to strips to be used for the weaving of the mats. Like the creation of the mats themselves, this process also teaches patience. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】

  • The fabric strips are then grouped by color and sent to the team making the mats. 【Photo by Jonas Trinidad】