Everyone needs to do their bit to save the planet. The often preached principle is: Reduce, re-use, recycle. With her organisation, Plastic Shed Rachel Lewis puts this mantra into action. In her workshops, people learn how to repurpose bottles, containers or vinyl fibers. The regular meetings, however, do not only teach a lesson in sustainability.
When Rachel talks about plastic it seems like she is quite a fan of the material. „It is very sturdy and durable“, she remarks and adds: „That’s why it is so important that we recycle it.“
To bring this understanding to a broader audience Rachel founded the social enterprise Plastic Shed. Since January 2019 the 29-year-old who is originally from Southhampton organises regular workshops in Stockport. The courses take place in the local community centre, schools or Tandem Coffee Shop teaching participants different ways to re-use otherwise wasted things.
„We create stuff that’s useful.“
With a small portable oven, the material can be melted and then cut in various shapes. By using these handy tricks workshop guests turn lids of detergent bottles into jewellery or milk containers into clipboards. Rachel says: „We create stuff that’s useful.“ Most of the upcycling ideas are inspired by an open-source website called Precious Plastic that shares ideas and experiences of other sustainability groups throughout the UK.
When Rachel describes Plastic Shed she emphasises its communal character. To her it is very important that the project is not only about re- and upcycling – but also about community, getting together, having a nice experience in making something. „I wanted to come up with a project that raises empathy for each other“, she explains. „Plastic waste is a massive concern for everyone and therefore a common ground for people throughout society.“
„I felt a bit like a voyeur. I wanted to be more hands-on.“
Plastic Shed can be seen as the outcome of a year-long social innovation sabbatical called Year Here Rachel attended in 2018 in London. Before that, the young creative was working as a filmmaker focussing on videos for charities such as the red cross. Part of her work was documenting the situation in Lebanon and Jordan after the Syrian war crisis. It motivated her to find own project, she recalls. „I felt a bit like a voyeur. I wanted to be more hands-on.“
Personally, Rachel already sets a good example when it comes to banning plastic from everyday life. She uses zero waste products such as a wooden toothbrush or metal razors. Rachel even makes her shampoo out of mild soap, essential oils, and olive oil to reduce microplastics. In case there is any plastic in her household she collects and saves it for one of the Plastic Shed gettogethers. By involving people from the community in the recycling process Rachel wants to show how to live more sustainably. This starts with collecting waste at home to washing, shredding, melting or cutting it. A dream of hers would be an app that shows local plastic collection and drop-off points. „This would be ideal to connect and coordinate the volunteers“, she envisions.
One of the next steps for her business would be some sort of headquarter where she could store machinery and materials for her workshops. „This would also be a meeting point where everyone can drop in whenever they want“, Rachel explains. A place where people come together to make the planet a bit better. Until then watch out for Plastic Shed events on social media (linked below). The next workshop in Tandem Coffee Shop takes place Sunday, 1st of September.