Rachelle Lacanlale is proof that you’re never too young or late to make a lasting impact on the environment. At 25, she founded JuanBag, a social enterprise whose aim is to reduce the vast amount of single-use plastic packaging by upcycling them into reusable bags.
It was organizing consultant Marie Kondo and the Netflix documentary The Minimalists that first piqued Rachelle’s interest in environment care in 2019. Then she began attending seminars and workshops that led her to her niche in the design thinking space.
“[I see] problems as opportunities to think of innovative solutions and provide jobs,” Rachelle tells My Pope Philippines. “That’s what’s keeping me moving in this journey.” (Read: 3 Ways to Teach Your Kids How to Eat ‘Zero Waste’)
So far, Rachelle’s upcycled bags have been yielding promising results. JuanBag has been recognized as one of the top three finalists in Living Laudato Si’s Sustainability Innovation Pitch, and was one of the top 10 finalists of the recent nationwide virtual hackathon Plastic 3R Hacks PH.
My Pope Philippines asks Rachelle about her thoughts on plastic, her passion project, and if eliminating plastic from landfills is a doable goal.
How many people make up JuanBag?
We are seven on the team. We have someone responsible for marketing (Giselle Lapid), product development (Glenn Andres and Mark Angeles), community development (Let Estipona and Donna Calugay), and app development (JB Benedick). (Read: Muntinlupa Residents Work Towards Zero-Waste Community)
There’s a negative connotation attached to plastic. In your opinion, is plastic bad?
Yes and no. Yes, because plastic is very cheap to make and manufacturers have produced so many things they made us believe we need (e.g., oranges wrapped in plastics). No, because plastic is very reliable and has been used in saving lives (e.g., medical instruments).
Is biodegradable plastic the answer to our plastic trash woes?
Biodegradable plastics such as cassava and seaweed bags for packaging are great alternatives, but because they cannot compete with the low-cost production of fossil-fueled plastics, they are not widely used.
I believe that there is no one-size-fits-all solution to our problem with plastic. At JuanBag, we are inspired by the research published by the UN Programme on Single-Use Plastic (SUP) Bags and their Alternatives:
“Reducing environmental impacts of bags is not just about choosing, banning, recommending or prescribing specific materials or bags, but also about changing consumer behavior… The shopping bag that has the least impact on the environment is the bag the consumer already has at home.”
Which communities do you work with?
We connected with Invisible Sisters who are employing nanays who do crocheting. Nanay Susan was the one who made our first prototype bag. She cut the plastics into strips, then delicately intertwined it with each plastic. As you can see, the crochet bag is so detailed and no adhesive is used here. It took Nanay Susan 2 ½ days to make one bag.
Is eliminating plastic from landfills the goal? If not, what is?
The goal is system change. At JuanBag, we not only aim to reduce the production of single-use plastic. Rather, we hope to inspire change in other organizations on policy and business model levels. (Read: 5 Ways to Achieve Zero Waste in Your Wedding)
We also want to create a culture shift in our society where there is accountability and transparency on how our packaging (or products) are made, who are the people behind it, and what are its effects on the environment.