Upcycling Disposable Umbrellas in Japan (Dora & Kang Rui)

Link to article: https://zenbird.media/worlds-first-hat-upcycled-from-used-plastic-umbrellas/

Umbrellas are deemed a highly disposable commodity in Japan, with 120 to 130 million consumed annually. Most umbrellas that go into waste are made from plastic.  By leveraging the water-resistance of plastic, Plasticity managed to combine layers of plastic taken from umbrella waste to form a hat that possesses remarkable strength and water resistance. The handmade hat has low maintenance and can be used to substitute umbrellas. Moreover, hats that are produced vary from one another and are processed based on the combination and condition of different umbrellas.

The Umbrella bucket hat represents the disposable plastic situation in Japan to raise consumer awareness about plastic wastage and sustainability.

Commonly used in Japan, transparent umbrellas are seen as temporary and disposable as they are sold cheaply, widely accessible and made for one-time emergency use. The recent increased torrential downpour in Japan has led to a rise in sales of transparent umbrellas, causing a surge in plastic umbrella waste. Japan is the second-largest contributor of plastic waste in the world, producing 8.5 million metric tons of plastic garbage annually. Increasing plastic waste has become a national concern and the Japanese government intends to reduce disposable plastic by 25% by 2030. More than half of plastic waste is burned to produce electricity or sent abroad, with only 20% of plastic waste reused to make new products. (Mainichi, 2021) To achieve sustainability and decarbonization of the economy, more methods of reusing plastic waste are needed to reduce plastic waste.

This upcycling project is considered a green initiative because it extends the functionality and useful life of disposable plastic umbrellas in Japan, where these umbrellas are just as convenient and cheap to buy as they are to be left behind. This initiative essentially prevents environmental plastic pollution by repurposing the plastic material of the disposable umbrella into Umbrella Bucket Hats. Furthermore, the effect that this upcycling effort has on preventing plastic environmental pollution is multiplied because several layers of plastic from multiple umbrellas are utilised to produce one hat, meaning that every one unit of this upcycled product saves the environment from more than one unit of plastic trash. This project is therefore not only green but SUPER green.

This news relates to the lecture in week 6 on ‘Sustainable Japan’, specifically on the topic of ‘Waste & Recycling in Minamata’. As we have studied, Minimata has had a tragic history of environmental pollution disaster by Chisso Corporation’s chemical factory in the 20th century, leading to severe methylmercury poisoning of the ecosystem and, by extension, the Minamata residents (Walker, 2011). The lingering impact of the disaster in everyday practices is manifested in the Waste & Recycling Programmes in Minamata today, where the communal effort to reuse and recycle materials extensively is orchestrated in hopes to impede the recurrence of the tragedy. Remarkably, the stringent Minamata waste management is accredited to Minamata becoming the first Eco-Capital of Japan in 2011 (Foreign Press Center Japan, 2013). A notable contribution to the sustainable movement in Minamata is the creative repurposing initiative by eco-craftswoman Yoshinaga Rimiko who extends the life of “unrecyclable” alcohol glass bottles by turning them into beautiful – and functional – drinking cups (from Minamata Recycling Tour lecture by Dr. McMorran). Similarly, PLASTICITY extends the functional life of disposable plastic umbrellas – almost indefinitely – into upcycled Umbrella Bucket Hats, turning a plastic “waste” that was awaiting disposal into a practical and sustainable fashion accessory.

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Mainichi, T. (2021, June 15). Editorial: Japan has a new anti-plastics law coming, but the Devil will be in the details. The Mainichi. Retrieved October 18, 2021, from https://mainichi.jp/english/articles/20210615/p2a/00m/0op/026000c.

Foreign Press Center Japan. Notice: Minamata Press Tour “Polluted City Turns to Eco-Capital of Japan” (June 26-27, 2013) | 公益財団法人フォーリン・プレスセンター(FPCJ). Accessed October 16, 2021. https://fpcj.jp/en/assistance-en/tours_notice-en/p=4556/.

Walker, Brett L. The Toxic Archipelago: A History of Industrial Disease in Japan. Seattle, WA: University of Washington Press, 2011.

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