Upcycle Philippines” is a name given to the beloved advocacy project I founded that spearheaded the movement on environment conservation through the system of upcycling by fostering awareness of the circular economy. 

How did it all begin?

Image by Carla Burke from Pixabay 

It started when I cleaned my house and decluttered stuff. I was 5 months into my pregnancy, and what better way to welcome my newborn child than to have a clean and clutter-free home? 

I had a lot of stuff, due to my shopping habits when I was single and through the three years I worked in Singapore. Coming back to the Philippines after my teaching stint, with three fully-packed pieces of luggage and two boxes shipped via air cargo containing all of my personal items, plus, what I already had at home, it was a considerable amount!

I realized that I had become a shopaholic. 

The decluttering process involved sorting, selling, donating, and throwing away items I no longer wanted. 

Image credit: Ada Mella-Lasam

I realized that sending stuff to the landfill was rather wasteful, so I searched the Internet for other ways to get rid of so many things. I came across terms such as repurpose, reuse, resurrect, and upcycle. The next thing I knew, I was transforming old t-shirts into t-shirt yarns and then crocheting them to make room decor, transforming old jeans into bookmarks and decor as well, using make-up as my painting medium, and turning soapboxes and scraps of paper into junk journals. 

I channeled my pregnancy woes and postpartum exhaustion to upcycling as a creative outlet.

I put up a social media page called Amore Crafts (now Upcycle Philippines) to virtually display my finished arts. Amore is my daughter’s name, and I dedicated the page to my baby.

Eventually, I came up with a social media group called Upcycle This, Philippines, to connect with people who engage in upcycle as a hobby. It was noticed by media platforms, youth organizations like Greenducation Ph, local government agencies in the Philippines, and various organizations, and I was tapped to be a resource speaker for workshops and seminars.

Image credit: Ada Mella-Lasam

Little did I know that I was making an impact on environmental conservation by helping others repurpose things they otherwise would throw away. Upcycle has benefits for the environment, yet, from a creative outlet, I transformed it into advocacy! I read more about the concept, and based on my research, upcycling is not only a creative hobby, it has a legitimate modern history. It is the title of a book written by William McDonough and Michael Braungart, and UpCycling by Gunter Pauli.

Band-aid solution?

I developed an interest in learning more about it especially when I would get comments like, “upcycle is a band-aid solution to our waste problem because we are only delaying sending our trash to the landfill, and thus it becomes inevitable trash, which will end up in the landfill eventually.”

I read more about upcycling, which I shared with audiences because local environmental resources in the Philippines are scarce. I learned that upcycling is a part of process of cradle-to-cradle that values material health and material reutilization. Hopefully, residents in the Philippines understand the concept of upcycling better because of these new resources.

Practice what I preached

In the process of advocating for upcycling as a means of environmental conservation, I had to practice what I was preaching. I found myself becoming more intentional with my lifestyle. I shifted to sustainable consumption, minimized the use of plastics, and connected with fellow environmental advocates. I also taught my daughter to care for nature, and exposed her to various nature-based activities. 

In 2021, Upcycle Philippines was on hiatus because I moved to the US and there were a lot of adjustments and work-related transitions going on, however I still accepted resource-speaker invites. 

Advocacy highlight

I think the highlight of my advocacy was being assigned to teach practical arts class for children with special needs where we transformed discarded household items into decor and then sold them in a bazaar. We were able to raise enough funds to buy a few art supplies, however, the class was abruptly discontinued due to the pandemic. Nonetheless, the memory of our happy times tinkering with scraps of paper, paints, buttons, and pins lives on. 

Image credit: Ada Mella-Lasam

To engage the young during the pandemic, I came up with GREENEReads, an online read-along session of books with environment-related themes. I had been part of a story readers pool of a children’s publishing house back home, and I utilized this resource to help children of all ages become aware of environmental issues and solutions through literature. 

I’m grateful for the opportunities given to me by various institutions and media platforms to share my advocacy. The problems related to the environment can feel insurmountable, and the time and effort that other people share with me to listen to what I, as an advocate do, means a lot.

Victories amid exhaustion

Image credit: Ada Mella-Lasam

While there were victories, I had a fair share of pinpricks. Mommy-wise, I didn’t have another pair of hands to leave my child with, hence, she tagged along to most of my speaking engagements. On top of that, I had to manage our household and work as a teacher. There were bouts of exhaustion and it would have been easy for me to quit, after all, the advocacy work is not even financially rewarding, but in the back of my mind, I knew I had to carry on. I guess one good thing that happened during the pandemic was everything migrated online, hence speaking engagements were held online, and we didn’t need to travel. 

Advocacy-wise, frankly speaking, I felt a lot of pressure. Shifting to an intentional lifestyle was easy for me because I found my tribe right away, so I received the support that I needed. But the advocacy work involving educating others was frustrating.

I felt like I was waging a battle with an unseen enemy.

I couldn’t understand that despite the efforts I and my fellow eco-warriors were offering to save the environment, nothing seemed to work. Eco-anxiety was real, and again, there were times I wanted to quit. It was when I was told to step back a bit and look at things through a different lens that I decided to rethink my purpose.

In other words, I realized that I should trust the process and let things both beautiful and not-so-beautiful unfold.

Work on what needs to improve, my friend told me, and don’t carry the weight of the world on my shoulders.

I wish it was that easy, but when I looked at my daughter, who is and forever will be my inspiration, I guess my friend was right. My friend encouraged me to do things with love, and I realized that I should take care of things that matter to me, myself being the utmost priority, because after all, I couldn’t pour from an empty cup. I am still a work in progress because, at times, I do fail, and at times I still doubt if I’m on the right path.

Despite everything, five, maybe ten years from now, I hope that Upcycle Philippines still carries on advocacy work to foster environmental conservation through the system of upcycling. I wish to continually carry out its mission – educating people about the environment, supporting local social enterprises, and continuing with the willingness to make my immediate environment a better place to live. 

Adavieve Mella-Lasam

Ada wears many hats - she is a mom, a wife, a special needs teacher, a nature-lover, and an aspiring baker. She is fascinated with wizards and fairies. She is a Climate Reality Leader who manages Upcycle Philippines, an initiative that fosters awareness on upcycling as a system for environment conservation.