The foil fruit drink pouch is the latest way to deliver and sell drinks in the Philippines. They are fast replacing Coca Cola and Pepsi bottled drinks as the most popular school drink. But the foil pouches have a serious drawback as they are an environmental hazard. That is until the PREDA recycling project turned the hundreds of thousands of throwaway aluminium foil pouches into raw material for lucrative livelihood projects for abandoned mothers, survivors of sexual exploitation, youth rescued from prisons, students, and dozens of waste paper collectors and out of work sewers. All are getting a piece of the foil pouch project which recycles the pouches into quality, well-crafted shopping bags, back packs, wallets, hats and other attractive colourful and useful items.
The tough aluminium foil pouches are hard wearing and practically indestructible. They have bright colourful pictures of various fruits and make attractive products that are all the rage throughout the Fair Trading and world shops of Europe and Australia. Hundreds of poor people are employed and many more are joining the great recycling and sewing project.
In an amazing short time of three months the People's Recovery Empowerment and Development Assistance (PREDA) Foundation has turned the tables on what was once an environmental hazard - hundreds of thousands of discarded foil pouches. The collection and recycling of these throwaway pouches into valuable products is fast becoming a boon for the poor in Olongapo City and Zambales and a powerful and economic way of cleaning the environment.
It's a Friday afternoon at the Olongapo waste dump area and the PREDA waste management and purchasing team led by Donard Angeles and Roger Hermogino has just arrived to buy the thousands of collected foil pouches from a very happy group of collectors. They eagerly line up with sacks full of foil pouches they pulled from the piles of waste cardboard and scrap paper and jostle to get to the front of the line joking and laughing all the time.
Anita a young teenager school-drop-out screams with delight when her sack weighs in at ten kilos and she receives a thick wad of money in exchange that has her racing off to the grocery to buy rice, fish and a week's supply of healthy food that was once only a dream of luxury. Before the project most of her food came from left overs of the restaurants and fast food shops.
The pouches were considered useless and not worth picking up. But now everyone is eagerly snatching them from the rubbish. These are the poorest of the poor, but they are not so poor any more as they can turn thousands of bags over to the PREDA paymaster. In one month alone Donard pays out 24,000 pesos to these collectors.
Their lives usually teeter on the brink of continual hunger but now they are earning good money every week as they happily tell anyone who asks.
One is Maria, 22, with three children, living in a shack near the dump site with her mother. They gather waste paper and junk on the dump among the poorest of the poor, the most needy of all. They had hardly enough to eat and lived day by day in hope of finding something valuable in the dump. There was nothing until they heard PREDA was buying the discarded drink pouches. Previously they had no value, now they are like little grains of gold there for the picking.
Maria and her aged mother found the energy and started hurrying around here and there picking up as many as possible in the shortest time. More and more collectors arrived and the competition grew hot. There was enough for all and Maria and her mother collected 6,450 pouches in two weeks and earned three times their normal income. Now, they eat good meals everyday and have bought new clothes for the children.
Maria, speaking in Filipino, told the PREDA social worker, "Before collecting the foil pouches and selling them to PREDA, we were almost starving, I looked for food in the dump site. We are too weak to collect the valuable wastes like the metal scraps. The men push us out. But now they can't stop us collecting the foil pouches. We get well paid, we are happy now, she said, laughing and holding the pouches she collected up to the camera.
Throughout the province of Zambales and Olongapo City the schools welcome the PREDA seminars on environmental protection and good waste management. Their faces lit up when Donard and Roger explained the extra pocket money they could earn for themselves and for their classroom educational needs. The immediate result was astounding. Thousands of children went around the school collecting and storing the pouches. The schools alone earn an average 44,000 pesos monthly. No wonder the project has the enthusiastic support of the principal and teachers.
The foil pouches have to be carefully washed and sanitised and that you might think is child's play. It is - the youth in the PREDA Recovery Home for exploited and abused girls clean the pouches and earn a pocket full of pesos. They are so happy to have a chance to earn pocket money that there is strong competition to get the most bags to clean. Earning and spending their own money increases their self-esteem and confidence in their abilities. Some have learned to sew and they are earning even more as they create useful products that sell like hot cakes.
Then there are 37 teenage boys in the neighbouring home for boys. These are youth in conflict with the law that PREDA has rescued from the terrible subhuman conditions of the jails of Metro Manila. They get legal help to resolve the complaints brought against them and are enrolled in character and values formation sessions and non-formal education classes. They too are cleaning the discarded drink pouches and earning big pocket money for a few hours' work.
The sanitised and cleaned pouches are then given to the growing army of eager home-based sewers. Some are abandoned wives with hungry children. Others are recovering youth exploited in the sex industry. Some are skilled sewers out of work. But busy sewers they are. With skill and dexterity they turn the foil pouches into bright, attractive carrier bags, sun hats, back packs and wallets.
The adult sewers are all working in their own homes. They work in their spare time and the most skilled sewers can earn as much as 500 pesos a day. That is very good money considering that the average daily wage for a skilled working man in the Philippines is about 300 pesos. There are now 44 women and a few men eagerly sewing the popular and much sought after fair trade products.
All are then delivered to the Fair Trade warehouse where they are checked for quality and then packed and shipped to Germany and Austria and Australia. There are some importers who are so eager to have them on time that they pay to have the products sent monthly by airfreight to Europe - a high tribute to the skill and quality of the Philippine sewers.
From the earnings there is a fund to buy electric sewing machines for new applicants to the sewing circles. Each can have their own sewing machine at a low cost on a "sew now, pay later" basis. After six weeks of easy repayments from their earnings, they own their own machines.
The waste paper collectors are seemingly the happiest of all because their needs are the greatest - they have so little in life. This project brings them desperately needed income that they can earn no other way.
Angelina is the mother of three-year-old Rosalie. She was a frail wasted woman trying to feed an emaciated child when we first arrived at the waste collection area in Castellijos, a beautiful well managed town just north of Olongapo City where Mayor Billman is desperately trying to find more job opportunities for the needy people. Now they have arrived, more sewers are being recruited in the town to expand production of the finished products.
Angelina and many more like her are earning too from collecting the pouches. Today she has gained weight and energy and goes about the dump site filling a plastic sack with the discarded fruit drink pouches. From a once beaten down woman she is now laughing, joking and full of fun when pay day arrives and she has lots of foil pouches to sell. What a transformation - from a skeletal famine-like victim to a cheerful, well-fed mother.
The moment Angelina receives her money, she collects her child from the neighbours and hurries to the grocery to fill her sack with good food and lots of rice. What more can I say to you but come and see how a simple project of recycling throwaway materials and turning them into useful saleable items is changing the lives of many poor people. Buy a shopping bag today and help reduce poverty through PREDA Fair Trade.