It’s Trashion Time – Schoolchildren in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands show how plastic can become fantastic…
Words and Pictures: Andrea Abbott
From a distance, it was impossible to tell that the bride wore rubbish. Elegant in her off-the-shoulder, figure-hugging wedding gown, Lindokuhle Sikhosana smiled radiantly as she posed for the cameras. Of course, at just twelve years old, she wasn’t really getting married, but was a model in a fashion show at a rural school in Dargle, in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands. Kwandokuhle Ndlovu, the young designer of the gown – his first creation ever – looked on with pride.
“A picture in a magazine inspired me,” he said. “The dress took two weeks to make, mostly from plastic feed bags.”
He’d created a pair of impressive high-heeled shoes too. However, made of wire, the shoes weren’t exactly wearable. But that didn’t matter. The show was a celebration of rubbish or, rather, ways of re-using it. Hence the name Dargle Trashion Show.
There’s nothing new about recycling. I recall my grandmother knitting plastic bags into floor mats. The phrase, ‘Reduce, Reuse, Recycle’ seems to have been around forever and, worldwide, recycling all manner of waste has become big business.
“Waste is wealth,” says recycling expert, Mark Liptrot, who lives in Kloof near Durban. Sustainability manager at a packaging company, Mark is well-known for his innovative and award-winning approach to waste, especially materials that, currently, cannot be recycled. For example, he transforms mixed plastics into home-decor items, novel furniture, and quirky clothing.
“It’s old-school thinking to put everything into black plastic bags and then forget about it,” he says. “If you look through the average rubbish bag, very little of what’s inside needs to go into landfill sites.” Instead the contents can be composted, recycled, re-used or, as with many of Mark’s inventions, upcycled. “We’re running out of landfills,” he points out. “We need to find other ways to deal with waste.”
Which is what the Dargle Trashion Show is about. Says Nikki Brighton, chair of Dargle Conservancy that convened the event, “The idea grew out of lessons that one of our members, Gugu Zuma gives to schoolchildren on the creative use of waste and litter.” The show’s programme also features a drag car race. “I had long wanted to hold a wire-car race, and the two projects fitted together perfectly.”
And so, on a typically glorious KZN winter’s day last July, trashionistas and petrol heads converged on Corrie Lynn Primary School to attend the inaugural Dargle Trashion Show and Drag Car Race. First up was the fashion parade. As the five models swanked across the dusty field, compère Éidín Griffin entertained the audience with her witty commentary.
“Give a twirl,” she said to the youngest competitor, wide-eyed Sphumelele Mpungase, whose dazzling aquamarine wig eclipsed her little black number made from a refuse bag. “It’s quite well finished,” said Éidín indicating the bread bag ties used as fasteners. Wandiswa Ndlela’s winning outfit was fashioned from plastic packaging, and she literally had a feather in her cap. “Just so you know,” said Éidín, “no animals were harmed in the making.”
Brandon Shateke cut a dash in his tailored black-bag tunic with its trimmings styled from sweet papers. “It has a kind of dinosaur look,” said Éidín. Bold pink and black frills made Lyuanda Madlala’s dress a show-stopper but it was her jewellery and accessories that won her an award.
The fashion show over, it was time for the race. Seven competitors lined up for the practice lap. The handmade vehicles were mostly in the classic wire mode but two followed the latest trashion trend, the bodies made from battered plastic jugs that once contained maas. One had even started out with a trailer (an old margarine box) but that proved too much of a handicap and was abandoned. Empty shoe polish tins and other circular discards were upcycled into wheels.
During the demo lap, the car that had lost its trailer also lost a wheel. Things were not looking good for the driver but he kept his calm, fixed the wheel, and took his position on the starting grid. Race judge, Brandon Powell gave the signal and the cars were off.
A streamlined wire sedan took an early lead. At the turn, it lost its advantage. There was high drama when another sedan overturned. For a moment, it was anyone’s race but then the blue jug car – the one that had lost its wheel – streaked ahead to finish first.
Second was the streamlined sedan which ultimately scooped the prize for ‘best car for a government official’s wife.’ Other prizes were for ‘best suspension,’ and ‘most ambitious vehicle,’ the latter an articulated truck. The eye-catching white maas jug car was voted ‘best car not made of wire.’
It was great fun, there were prizes (each in line with the theme of sustainability) for everyone, and spectators were impressed by the children’s creativity. Antoinette McInnes from nearby Balgowan is co-owner of E’Yako Green, a company that makes stylish corporate gifts, mostly bags, from end-of-campaign PVC billboards and polyester marketing waste.
“I was so excited about the Trashion Show initiative,” she said. “The cars were amazing and the designs very creative. Kwandokhule’s talents are extraordinary and I am sure he’ll be able to use them to make a good living.”
As Mark Liptrot said, waste has value. But what of the greater good – of the need to change the way we look at rubbish? Could the Dargle Trashion Show help shift attitudes toward waste? “In a society where waste and its negative impact on the environment is not always taken into consideration, this kind of event is critical in raising awareness,” says Antoinette. Awareness is one thing but how much influence does that have on people’s behaviour?
“In our situation, a big influence,” says Nikki. “Gugu works for the Midlands Meander Education Project (MMEP) whose vision is to help Midlands schools nurture capable, confident, curious children who are sensitive to environmental issues, who have the resilience to cope with a changing world, and who are able to contribute positively to their communities.” Gugu’s lessons are thus part of a wider approach that emphasises wise resource use, creativity, sustainable living, and community building.
Nikki explains the role of Dargle Conservancy in the project. “Rather than doing our own vague thing, we contribute to meaningful environmental education by supporting MMEP with an annual grant of between R10 000 – R15 000.” She’s convinced that youngsters do have an influence on their parents and communities. “We hire the Snake Man (Pat McKrill) each year to do presentations in schools and we’re sure the kids’ confident knowledge about snakes rubs off on their elders. So why not everything they learn?”
- Plastic waste poses a challenge globally and goes beyond being an annoying eyesore. “Plastic packaging is often considered the biggest baddy on the waste front,” says Mark Liptrot.
- Mark says disposal or recycling is a huge problem as the different types are difficult to distinguish (and hence separate), and littering and dumping means that it gets into watercourses and eventually into the food chain when they break down.
- A recent article on the online information portal, Urban Earth, indicates that, during 2014, 1 084 400 tons of plastic waste was sent to South African landfills.
- Mark Liptrot gives the following waste-decomposition rates:
• glass bottle 1000 years
• cool drink bottle 450 years
• aluminium can 80-200 years
• steel can 50 years
• plastic container 20-30 years
• plastic bag 10-20 years