At first glance, these brightly-colored school chairs look like they’re made of wood, but the furniture material is actually from recycled plastic waste! It is the brainchild of a mechanical engineer named Winchester Lemen, who runs Envirotech Waste Recycling in Davao City.
After installing a recycling plant in Davao City, Envirotech started collecting plastic waste from a nearby landfill. It eventually reached out to help a neighboring barangay that had a plastic problem piling up in the landfill.
It was around this time that the idea of making school chairs came to Lemen. In an interview via Facebook Messenger, Lemen shared that an acquaintance visited the recycling plant in Davao and asked if it would be possible to create something helpful to students using recycled plastic. It just so happened that Lemen already had a prototype of a school chair made from plastic waste. The visitor excitedly ordered 200 chairs to be shipped to Manila.
“Little did I know that he showed the chairs to Quezon City Mayor Herbert Bautista. After that, they created a ‘Green Fund’ for this particular project,” Lemen shares. The Green Fund is part of Quezon City’s initiatives, which includes various environmental projects that establishments operating in the city can support.
One of Lemen's first clients was a councilor who donated the school chairs in various public schools in his Quezon City district. Then, companies like Robinsons Supermarket and SM bought chairs to give to schools that belong to their corporate social responsibility campaigns. Soon, local government units (LGU) would either tap Lemen to set up a recycling center in communities or help out in delivering plastic waste to the recycling plant to be converted into chairs.
In 2017, Lemen with Derrick Tan, an entrepreneur who is also an environmentalist, decided to become partners and founded Winder Recycling Company, a Davao-based business that wants to do its share of reducing the plastic waste in the country.
“This is a partnership that helps create jobs, helps with reforestation and solves the problem of plastic waste,” Lemen tells Smart Parenting. With their new company, they are able to manufacture more chairs and attract more clients. They also gained more recognition as visitors from other countries like India, France, and Kenya came to their plant to know more about their products.
Lemen shares that he was motivated to manufacture school chairs because he wanted to reduce the gap in the number of chairs that are still needed by various institutions in the Philippines. “We have a huge backlog of 1.7 million school chairs in our country. One of our objectives is to reduce the gap,” Lemen says. “The chairs can be used for a very long time, so we do not have to change them every year as was practiced in the past.”
The school chairs are made from all kinds of plastic waste like sando bags, candy wrappers, junk food packaging, plastic straws, sachets, laminated plastics with foil, sacks, and plastic bottles of any shape. These are then shredded and properly cleaned to eliminate the dirt and oil. After shredding, the plastic waste is melted and molded to form a school chair. Then it is assembled, sanded, and painted.
Each chair costs Php1,700, a little more than wooden chairs, which can go for around Php1,500 each. However, Winder offers a 20-year warranty with free replaceable parts. “Our chairs are very sturdy. The material is also fire retardant, has low lead content and zero mercury content.”
The best part: “We are saving a three-year-old tree, which is used to manufacture school chairs, for every plastic chair that we make using recycled plastic waste,” Lemen says.
Part of Lemen’s advocacy is to partner with various LGUs to install a recycling plant in their communities. He hopes people can learn to manage waste on their own and even produce chairs for their schools. But Lemen's plans do not stop with the chairs. In 2019, he envisions the production of 28-square meter houses made from 95% plastic waste. “It will have good ventilation, solar light, and eight liters of water from the air,” he shares. “It will take one day to build and can last for 20 years or so with free replaceable parts.”
This story originally appeared on Smartparenting.com.ph.
* Minor edits have been made by the Entrepreneur.com.ph editors.