For anyone who is environmentally inclined, a trip to the trashcan tends to launch a hundred questions that we thoroughly obsess over before allowing an item to plunge to its final death. Is this really the end of the road for this object? Can I turn it into something else? Do I know anyone who could conceivable benefit from it? Does my recycling service process this type of material, and if not, would driving it to the facility across my state border negate my good green intentions altogether? Come on, use your brain… WWEBJD (What Would Ed Begley Jr. Do)?
The Ring Pull Project. Photo courtesy of
With care and dedication, it is quite possible to considerably reduce the amount of household waste that we produce. Most of us are already composting kitchen scraps, recycling every bit of paper/glass/metal/plastic that passes through our hands and trying to creatively repurpose things that are no longer usable in their original incarnation. There are, however, teensy weensy things that add up over time — things that would never occur to us to recycle or repurpose, such as twist ties, jar lids, the plastic pull strips from gallons of milk and metal bottle tops or aluminum can tabs. Inspired by the sight of an artisan-produced Ugandan wire frame handbag decorated with a collection of recycled metal beverage bottle tops, Cameron Saul and his father, Roger, set out in 2001 to establish, the organization through which they would soon sell a refined version of the novelty fashion item. Their Mulberry Bottletop Campaign began as an eco-friendly endeavor offering local craftspeople viable employment by enlisting them to duplicate their design. They were able to channel the profits toward artisan salaries and any remaining funds back into the Ugandan community. By taking advantage of the senior Saul’s status as the founder of Britain’s leading fashion manufacturer, Mulberry, they sold Bottletop’s bags along with key rings and T-shirts and obtained enough income to fund various youth-focused educational programs (including STD/HIV/AIDS prevention and awareness), while at the same time successfully lifting residents out of poverty. In an effort to offer a similar empowering, income-producing opportunity to people living right outside of Salvador, Brazil, The Ring Pull Project was born. Working in conjunction with Luciano Dos Santos and Oliver Wayman, this sustainable artisan program revolves around transforming the aluminum pull tabs from beverage cans into various fashion accessories, including clutches, bags, purses and belts. With 77% of the population in Brazil subsisting well below the poverty line, those who handcraft just two pull-tab handbags a day earn the equivalent of $32 USD, or approximately $400 USD each month, which is considered to be a small fortune in a land where $237 USD/month is more often the norm. The Ring Pull Project pays salvagers close to $7 USD for a little over 2 pounds of recycled soft drink and beer pull tabs. Once the material is sorted via color and rusty or damaged tabs are discarded, anything in good condition is washed, dried and crocheted together with a heavyweight string (all told, one bag requires a total of 1,200 pull tabs to create). In a final step, artisans sew a fabric lining into each completed bag and finish it off with a zipper. With sustainable income projects currently running in Malawi as well as Great Britain, Brazil and Rwanda, Bottletop has emerged as a remarkably simple yet clearly effective way to enhance the lives of those who are less fortunate while also offering a clever waste management bonus. Apparently the little things really do add up over time! For more information on and its mission, read its background information.