It is a question that has been plaguing the world for decades now, ‘what do we do with all this waste?’
Each enterprise choosing to tackle the question in the way that suits them best..
When Bank al Etihad came to question the excessive amounts of leftover and expired credit cards, made of a hard-to-recycle and even harder to decompose PVC material, the answer came in the form of Jordanian fashion designer Petra Orfali . With over a decade of experience in the local market, Petra was the bank’s perfect partner in understanding not only the consumer market, but also the skills that could be utilized in the local communities, culminating in Plastiqua. A line of tasteful and desirable accessories, made of up-cycled credit cards, that provide skills and a source of income to women in the underprivileged area of Jabal Al Natheef.
Plastiqua is a green initiative by Bank al Etihad that is powered by one of the bank’s main CSR pillars that centers around environmental responsibility and sustainable practice. 15% of waste produced in Jordan is composed of plastic in all its forms. The PVC used to produce credit cards is hardly ever considered in recycling efforts though, simply because it is very hard to do. In an effort to find a solution to the growing piles of credit card waste a collaboration was minted between Bank al Etihad and Petra Orfali, and Plastiqua was born.
Curious about this unique initiative; I sat down with Petra Orfali to better understand the project’s vision, direction and goals. Over the years, I have come to appreciate not only what is said in sit downs such as these, but perhaps as equally important; what is felt.. Petra Orfali is a torrent of excitement and curiosity, although she sits across from me (socially-distanced of course) she is not a solid mass, she is a fountain, a moving body of ideas and emotions. There is nothing static about her; she is an active, passionate energy brimming with potential. As she walks me through the Plastiqua journey, I am amazed not only by the playful and aesthetically pleasing products on offer but the thought process behind it.
As I browse the elegantly packaged earrings, necklaces and even handbags on offer at Plastiqua I need to continuously remind myself that these are in fact made of up-cycled credit cards. It is often interesting to count the number of steps required to go from the raw material (so to speak) to the finished goods. In my mind, the more the steps, the more intricate and dedicated the thought process. As she describes the technical details to me, of sanding, melting, shaping, cutting and of course painting the cards it is clearly a labour of love, and I find myself actually thinking of all the lazier possibilities that she could have considered. The most plausible and generic of course would have been the mosaic idea. Chop the cards up into tiny pieces, and then put them back together in some sort of design or image.. As Petra mentions the lameness of this possibility, her eyes glisten with personal achievement, she took the untrodden path, and it was totally worth it.
Months of quarantine actually came in handy, providing her with the time needed to come up with something truly unique. It took her more than three months to actually finalize the technique used to create the products. After she came to terms with the fact that the cards could not be melted down to any other form, the poisonous fumes instantly extinguishing that potential, Petra was left to figure what else to do with the stacks and stacks of plastic. Through weeks on end of trial and error, Petra was finally able to manipulate the PVC to a degree that it is almost unidentifiable in the finished product.
Often times; feel good products are bought for the cause.. People doing their part in supporting underprivileged communities. A long roster of defunct social enterprises will attest to the fact that goodwill alone is unable to sustain a business model or the women behind it. The proof of a successful product is in the repeat customer, who will only come back for a really good, well-priced item, something Petra Orfali knows only too well from her experience in the world of fashion design. It is this focus on sustainability that ultimately drives her.. A recipient of funding in the past to fuel projects, Petra is well aware of the fact that eventually the funds will run out, and without a sustainable model for these women, her job is incomplete. It is probably this attitude and ethos that allows her to spend just as much time on marketing and costing as she does on design, and you know what establishments such as Bank al Etihad like more than just design, numbers! Because as they say: numbers don’t lie. Petra’s success in this endeavor has paved the way for a fruitful relationship with the bank and subsequently a future full of potential and creativity for the Plastiqua line, and ultimately an empowering lifeline for the underprivileged women of the project. The line is elegantly on show at Sweifieh Village’s HotSpot, check it out, seeing is believing!