From trash to frame: Colombian store turns recycled plastic into eyeglasses

By Laia Mataix Gomez

Bogota, Mar 31 (EFE).- Plastic waste takes on an entirely new shape at a store in the Colombia capital, where in just minutes recycled pieces of discarded items potentially noxious for the environment can become the frame for a customer’s new pair of eyeglasses.

That innovative concept is the brainchild of the founders of Saju, a company that is named after the moniker for capuchin monkeys in the Andean nation’s Pacific region and has a mission to make recycling more personalized and fun.

Polypropylene plastic either provided by the customer or kept at the store – sourced from “damaged toys or school folders” and in a dozen different colors – is the raw material fed into a transparent tube known as the “machine.”

A button is pressed to kickstart the roughly 20-minute process; when less than a minute remains, the store’s lights are turned off and a timer counts down the seconds.

When the clock says zero, a compartment opens up, a cloud of smoke is released and the product is finally revealed.

Customers book that experience through Saju’s website and receive a packet at their home with information about recycling and instructions on which plastics they can use.

They are stunned to see the final result, Saju co-founder Juan Pablo Pradilla said. “When the glasses actually emerge and they understand the colors they mixed are (the colors) of the glasses, they’re really surprised.”

“The sad thing is that it would be cheaper for us to make our glasses with new plastic than how we’re doing it,” through recycling, Pradilla said.

For example, lids often “have another type of plastic” that is not usable and “needs to be separated manually,” he said. “The thing with recycling is that you can’t mix plastics.”

That material “has to be separated by colors. There’s a very complex manual process,” Pradilla said. “We incur additional cost (in making glasses this way), but we understand it’s part of the process of doing things well.”

Work on this entrepreneurial project began when its three partners were still at university and had not yet placed their focus on sustainability.

After spending a year abroad as exchange students, they returned to Colombia with neck-hanging glasses that were all the rage a few years ago in Europe.

They started selling them to classmates and decided on the name Saju because “what we wanted was to make neck-hanging glasses that were fun, so people could hang them and have their hands free to do what they wanted,” Pradilla said.

The company’s first store, which recently opened in Bogota, also sells vouchers that range in price from 39,000 pesos ($10.40) to 79,000 pesos and allow customers to make up to three swaps of previously purchased glasses for new ones that are made from a fresh mixture of polypropylene plastic and are ready in 20 minutes, the co-founder said.

Following the initial store’s success, Saju plans to open another one in Medellin, Colombia’s second city, and then branch out to other locations in Latin America such as Mexico City and Montevideo. EFE


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