Friday, August 22, 2008

Plastic bags and monkeys

Making mochillas out of recycled plastic bags has provided an viable industry for small communities in Colombia and Bolivia, significantly lessening the need for people to clear forest and poach wildlife. Proyecto Titi, an organization dedicated to preserving the titi monkey (also known as the cotton-topped tamarin), worked with the community to help set up the project.
Children collect plastic bags from homes around the area to use in making the mochillas. Many of these bags would have otherwise been discarded in the countryside. The bags are then cut into a long, thin strip, to be crocheted in mochillas.

The plastic bags are then crocheted into the mochilla--which make a very nice handbag or even for carrying groceries. Each mochillas consists of 120-140 plastic bags. They are marketed in the United States and Europe.

Each is quality tested with a heavy, solid wooden block to ensure it can carry heavy weights. They are available in a variety of styles and colors.
The mochilla industry has transformed the community. Only four years ago, it had high unemployment. Today, the community is benefiting from the industry. People have been able to put floors in their homes and make them more liveable. They celebrate a "Day of the Titi" each year, where a titi queen is crowned. This year's recipient (above) was crowned two weeks ago. The children also have a three month course on the titi monkey, and a school group performs dances and songs about the monkey.

It has become a full community effort: Kids and men collect the bags, and the women transform them into the beautiful mochillas. It has significantly reduced pressure to clear forest at El Ceibal outside of Cartagena, one of the best remaining tracts of tropical dry forest--and a stronghold for the titi monkey.

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