From Boats To Bags: The Recycling Project Benefitting Refugees

  Nora Azzaoui and Vera G  ü  nther are the cofounders of Mimycri, a Berlin-based non-profit which recycles discarded dinghies into bags / Photo: Reuters.

Nora Azzaoui and Vera Günther are the cofounders of Mimycri, a Berlin-based non-profit which recycles discarded dinghies into bags / Photo: Reuters.

“It’s a lot of responsibility to work with such historic material,” said Mimycri co-founder Vera Günther. “Every time we unpack a new boat and open it up it’s something very emotional. It already carries a story.” The environmental economist was part of a group of volunteers who travelled to Greece to assist with the arrival of migrants and refugees in 2015, the biggest influx experienced in Europe since World War II. And seeing the mounting numbers of abandoned rubber boats and life vests littering the country’s shores, it was clear that the humanitarian crisis was also having an impact on the environment, thus prompting the idea behind Mimycri’s upcyling project.

Together with fellow Berliner Nora Azzaoui, Günther spent several months on the Greek island of Chios assisting the relief effort, where as well as witnessing the human toll they became acutely aware of the significant damage that was also being done to the local area. The pair collected donations for a washing machine so that discarded clothes could be made wearable again, but what about the dinghies? “Between arrivals we were cleaning the beaches and throwing away all this material,” said Günther. “Then we realized doing something that has an impact isn’t difficult if you just do it.”

  A Mimycri backpack made from recycled rubber / Photo: © UNHCR/Gordon Welters.

A Mimycri backpack made from recycled rubber / Photo: © UNHCR/Gordon Welters.

Back in Berlin, they gave a discarded dinghy to a fashion designer friend who transformed it into a sturdy rucksack, and thus Mimycri was born. Today, the not-for-profit connects directly with volunteers and refugees back on Chios, who are charged with collecting the discarded waste, and the materials are then sent on to Germany where a team of locals and refugees upcycle the damaged rubber boats into high quality bags and backpacks. Not only does this offer the refugees meaningful employment, but it also helps to reduce plastic waste in the process.

  Abid Ali boarded a dinghy in Turkey in 2015 after fleeing danger in Pakistan / Photo: © UNHCR/Gordon Welters.

Abid Ali boarded a dinghy in Turkey in 2015 after fleeing danger in Pakistan / Photo: © UNHCR/Gordon Welters.

Since the start of production, the Berlin-based company has sold almost 500 products. “I think the act of transforming it [the material] into something new is touching, and it’s empowering as well,” said Günther. “We want people to change their perspective about what it was before and what it can be now. We want them to think about its history and develop an entirely new story.”

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