In the heart of Old Havana, not far from the most common routes visited daily by tourists in that area, is the headquarters of an original ecological venture.
Five years ago, Yunairy Estrada, fondly called “Yuyu” by her friends, decided to embark on the adventure of turning an idea into a sustainable project. She decided to call it Ciclo EcoPapel (EcoPaper Cycle) and today she has a workshop where her family works, a small store where her creations are commercialized and many dreams still to be fulfilled.
Yuyú told PanamericanWorld that the idea of creating an ecological endeavor came to her through Fundación Antonio Núñez Jiménez. At the time, she was making items for children’s birthday parties; but what that foundation proposed changed her life.
“When they celebrated their 20th anniversary, they asked me if I could create paper bags made with recycled paper. I liked the idea, I researched it and started to work on the paper”.
In the beginning, Yuyú was all alone working on the project, without any kind of funding. “The main problem was that I had almost no customers at first.
It was difficult for people to understand what I wanted to do”, she acknowledged. Then she began to think bigger and, two years ago, she decided to open her own workshop, located on Calle Lamparilla.
Now it is an ecological business, where she works alongside several members of her family, many of them retired, who have found at Ciclo EcoPapel o a new place where they can feel useful and generate more personal income.
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THE ART OF ECOLOGICAL ENTREPRENEURSHIP
Ciclo EcoPapel crafts handmade products with recycled paper. “We do not sell the paper. We are not a paper-making factory”, Yuyú emphasizes as she shows us her catalog, which includes bags, diaries, notepads, cards, folders, key rings and more.
Ciclo´s main clients have been non-governmental organizations and embassies based in Havana. They have also worked with companies, such as Havana Club Internacional.
The negotiation process is not complicated: customers contact Ciclo and then meet to specify requirements and desires, the types of products they want and they deliver the graphic design that will be visible on each product.
Then, the clients take the paper to Ciclo’s workshop. The new sheets will be created from old documents, newspapers, magazines and cardboard. Once there, the most interesting process begins.
This paper goes through several phases in order to eliminate any ink or dirt it may contain. At Ciclo, we use rainwater and avoid any chemical products.
Ciclo workers cut paper into small pieces and dip it into water for a period of time ranging from 24 to 48 hours. Later, that pulp or batter is whipped and laid out on a frame. A press extracts the water on each sheet and it is finally hung on the ceiling to dry.
The paper is thus ready, but the process is only half finished after all this. On this paper, Yuyu prints, at the workshop itself, the design that the client delivered, and the last step is to take the printed material and adapt it to the characteristics of each product (bags, diaries, etc.).
In addition to custom work, Ciclo EcoPapel markets its catalog in a small shop, located at the entrance of the workshop. On the shelves, where you can see the products and their price tags, we were struck by the presence of small containers, also made with recycled paper that contained plants.
To our surprise, Yuyú explained that these containers served as plastic bags, which are so common when placing plants in the ground. In this way, she assures, the environment is protected because the paper breaks down inside the soil, without contaminating it.
“The store is not only mine; there is also space for another project called Libertija, which uses art to create practical things with recycled materials”, said Yuyú.
CICLO ECOPAPEL’S OPEN DOORS POLICY
This ecological undertaking has been well received by its community in Old Havana. The workshop is the usual meetup for children from a nearby primary school. They often go there with their teacher, not only to learn about the importance of recycling as a way of taking care of nature, but to also participate in craft paper making demonstrations.
In the afternoons, EcoPapel Ciclo offers a space in their premises for boys and girls to play chess, under the supervision of a coach.
THE DREAMS OF A CUBAN ENTREPRENEUR
In Cuba, the culture of recycling is still embryonic. “In this country things are recycled out of necessity, but recycling is still not ever-present in minds,” Yuyú comments. Misunderstandings and indifferences have not stopped this 36-year-old woman who dreams of growing her ecological business.
“I want us to increase paper production, but I aspire to much more. We are interested in recycling plastic. We have seen that in Old Havana there are many bars that generate large volumes of plastic waste daily. We do not want that to end up in the garbage and go to waste”, she concluded.