TeamUpcyclers: Transforming Girls’ Lives by Creatively Reusing Clothing Waste
May 30, 2023

By Ariana Piscoya, 2023 Future Blue Youth Council member

“The problem of improper waste disposal is eating me up like a cankerworm. I want to address this environmental challenge while positively impacting girls’ lives.” Grace Obiorah

According to the World Bank, in 2020, the world generated approximately 2.24 billion tonnes of solid waste, amounting to a footprint of 0.79 kilograms per person per day. Earth.Org estimates that 92 million tonnes of textile waste are produced every year. A recent study from De Montfort and Cranfield Universities found that 28,114 tonnes of waste are generated annually from menstrual products.

Growing up in Nigeria, a country that generates 32 million tonnes of solid waste per year, Grace witnessed the terrible issue of improper waste disposal from a very young age. This problem lingered for years without improvement—until November 2022 when, during a family dinner, her oldest sister talked about a friend who had taught a group of students how to make reusable sanitary pads.

“In a time of test, family is best.” As a very united family, everyone at Grace’s house got interested in the idea of making reusable sanitary pads from textile waste. They learned through research that most sanitary pads are made of over 90% plastic, and that each one is equivalent to 4 plastic bags.

With this project idea in mind, Grace and her two sisters traveled to Amawbia town to take part in the Trash to Cash Challenge, where they won first place out of 500 participants from 20 countries.

Victorious from their first international win and confident in the impact their project could have, they returned to their hometown of Enugwu Agidi to work with their brothers and mother.

When collecting the clothing waste, they only use cotton for the sanitary pads; the rest of the materials are used for art projects. In addition to selling the pads for a very low price, they transform young ladies’ lives in rural areas by teaching them about the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and how to produce their own sanitary pads. Their idea gradually became a full-time business. Each sibling started to apply for grants depending on the age limit of each application, with their mom as the official photographer.

When trying to decide on a name for the group, their first option was “Team Upcyclers.” However, they discovered the name had already been taken by another group, so they decided to merge the two to form “TeamUpcyclers” as a way of showing unity and love among them.

It was not easy to flourish with the project; they got rejected from many grants and competitions they applied to, but they didn’t give up. Their perseverance and resilience led TeamUpcylers to move on to the 2023 Hult Prize Semifinals. And after more hard work, they got selected as a grantee for Bow Seat’s Fellowship Grant Program, an initiative created and led by the Future Blue Youth Council (FBYC). Grace and her team will use their funding to reach 1,000 female students through environmental education, with support from four FBYC members who will collaborate with her to develop a comprehensive climate curriculum and establish a professional digital presence to reach a wider global audience.

TeamUpcylers is currently writing a book titled “The Role of Recycling in Decarbonizing the Textile Industry,” which they plan to publish by the end of this year.

This is the inspiring success story of a family of young environmentalists who decided to take action and start saving their community. As a TeamUpcyclers mentor, I’m more than excited to start working with this team, learn from each of the members, and see the incredible things we will achieve together.

“Individually, we are one drop. Together, we are an ocean.” —Ryunosuke Satoro

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TeamUpcyclers: Transforming Girls’ Lives by Creatively Reusing Clothing Waste

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