How many times have you seen someone do something you disapproved of and thought, ‘I need to do something about that’? Well, Lucia Poliovkova is attempting to do just that.
Armed with bags of rubbish, a network of willing friends and a passion for design, she is trying to promote the re-use of everyday material that normally ends up in the bin.
“It started at my job where I saw how much people were wasting and not thinking about eco-alternatives”, Lucia says. She was working as a sales assistant at Marks & Spencer in Luton Airport at the time she began the project.
“Most of the people take a plastic bag everyday, maybe for one yoghurt or sandwich, which they eat in a couple of minutes and then throw away. At first it really irritated me but later I realised that people probably don’t have enough information about environmental issues, pollution and eco-friendly alternatives. So I decided to do something about it.”
Lucia began her Love your Planet: Recycle project in 2012, one year after finishing her Bachelor Degree in Interior Architecture. The initiative aims to promote environmentally friendly living by educating and encouraging people to reduce, re-use, recycle and upcycle - sometimes referred to as craftcycle. Craftcycling is the process of turning materials such as packaging, plastic bags and plastic bottles into new objects such as jewellery, handbags, home décor and kitchen products.
She held a small exhibition last year in August on recycling using £300 she got from the 02 Think Big Initiative, a scheme open to people aged 13-25 who want to help improve their communities. The event was a success and she was given a further £2,500 by 02 to stage a series of art installations, presentations and film evenings on the themes of recycling, environmental topics and healthy living.
Lucia says, “I started this project to show people that there are ways they can re-use stuff and that it’s important to recycle and reduce waste. I felt that there was not enough information about this topic because the documentary films about it are not usually broadcast on TV that much.
“On TV they just tell you to buy more products and spend more money. They use clever marketing and advertising campaigns to make people buy stuff they don’t really need, such as new phones every year just because it has a better camera or some extra apps. However, I do not see the point of buying a new phone when your current phone which you bought a year ago still works perfectly.
“These days we live in a capitalistic and consumerist age where we produce more than we need and it is increasing the amount of waste and pollution on our planet. We use bad chemicals in agriculture which destroy the soil, we put harmful chemicals in our food and cosmetics, and we use chemical medicines instead of eating organic, healthy fruit and vegetables or using natural medicine and natural cleaning products. This behaviour has negative consequences on our lives and the lives of other animals on the earth.
“If we would live more in harmony with nature there would be fewer illnesses and people would be more healthy and happy.
“The second project I did was a series of presentations and exhibitions to show people how to live more sustainably and get them more involved in caring for the environment. I decided to add the healthy lifestyle topic to the event’s theme as I think these two topics are interconnected.”
Lucia says she used her project to promote ‘eco-friendly alternatives’
Born and raised in Slovakia, Lucia is the eldest of two sisters. She has been in the UK since starting her Interior Architecture degree at the University of Bedfordshire in 2006. Prior to that she had only made two trips here, one of which was in 2005 when she went to Southend-on-Sea with friends to work for the summer. Aged 18 at the time, Lucia was about to enter the final year of her college studies.
She says, “When I came to England I only had £30 so that was quite interesting. My father was angry with me because I got bad grades in maths and he was good at maths so he didn’t give me any money; only my mum gave me money.
“We got jobs through an agency and they would deduct the money for accommodation and travel expenses from the wages. So the first week’s wages were £20, second week was £30 and third week was £100. I arrived for first time in the UK with only £30 so I spent the wages sooner than I got them and it was very hard.
"It was just a seasonal job for four weeks at the Argos warehouse checking if the catalogues they were printing were ok and when everything was done it finished. Most of the money for accommodation and travel were deducted from the wages so at the end of the job I had earned very little money.
“I needed to move to another place and pay for rent and a deposit so I was forced to borrow the money as I didn’t have enough. This left me with a big dilemma - whether to go home with no money or to stay and look for another job to earn some more money.
“It was hard because I couldn’t go home with no money. I came to England to earn money and it was a challenge because for two weeks I was handing in CVs and filling in application forms. I then got an illegal job (at a well-known fast food chain) and I was sacked from it but on the same day I was sacked I had an interview for another job.
“What happened was that they were treating the workers badly. They were paying less than £3 per hour even to English workers - not just the foreigners. We couldn’t eat the food, had no discounts, and everyone worked like 40 or 50 hours and they were all young. Sometimes people were tired and once they told off one girl and I stood up for her. I had an argument with the managers so I had to go.”
After finishing work Lucia returned to Slovakia to finish her studies. She then came to the UK to work for another month in July 2006 before going back home and finally returning to begin university in September 2006.
What drew her back to the UK?
Lucia says, “The thing I like about England is that the people are more open-minded because they have lots of nationalities here. They respect other nationalities as well because in some countries it’s not common to treat foreigners as you would your own people.
“I also liked England and the idea that I am going to a foreign country because even when I was at high school I was away from home. I studied in a town which was 150km from my home town so I stayed there in a rented flat. I sort of had a university life at college and I just wanted to try something else, therefore the idea of studying in a foreign country was very interesting to me.”
Lucia had to juggle her university studies with working part-time - sometimes full-time - for a couple of months as the lack of financial support from her parents meant she was responsible for her upkeep. It was not always manageable and she found herself going in and out of debt.
She says, “It was hard but I think it was worth it because it made me stronger. I didn’t get anything for free and I really had to fight my way through it.”
Lucia and her team held an exhibition at the Hat Factory earlier this year
Did she ever get homesick?
“I went home two or three times a year. I always either had a part-time job or was doing seasonal work so if I didn’t have a job for a month I would go back for three weeks or for longer.
“Or I would go for a month in summer and then look for another job. I don’t get homesick now but when I came I had to get used to it, I was here on my own so I needed to find my way through - I had no money. Those days I missed my family but now I am used to the lifestyle. My parents like to travel so they come to visit me. My younger sister (Julia) also came to visit me and she worked as well while she was here.”
After graduating from the University of Bedfordshire in 2011 Lucia joined M&S. A year later she made her first foray into recycling evangelism by staging an exhibition at the Hat Factory where members of the public were invited to a night of learning and playing with rubbish.
She says, “For the first project we were collecting plastic bottles, wrappers and packaging. We made things out of cans and plastic bags. I recycled the plastic bags by taking the yarn from them to do crocheting and knitting. There are also some recycled clothes we made into handbags. You can re-use everything you have, you just need to use your creativity.”
In April this year she used the money from the 02 Think Big grant to erect two large art displays in the Mall and at the University of Bedfordshire highlighting the benefits of recycling. She also held some presentations and film evenings at the Hat Factory and the University of Bedfordshire about environmental issues and having a healthy lifestyle.
“If we keep consuming, the waste will just grow and there will be rubbish everywhere”, she says. “We should reduce the amount of unhealthy food and cosmetics with harmful chemicals, which cause many serious illnesses.”
“The idea of the project is to provide people with information about environmental topics as well as practical tips on eco-friendly and healthy lifestyles. It’s for them to think about what they need to do in order to make better and healthier choices for themselves, their families and the environment.”
She adds, “People have power to influence what is going on but if people do not care nothing will change. If more people start having a healthier and sustainable lifestyle such as supporting organic farmers, using natural cosmetics and cleaning products and recycling and reusing shopping bags, it will make a huge difference.
"We all are the creators of our lives and everyone can choose the way they live and I assume we would like to choose a happy, healthy life for us and our families. It’s entirely up to us to go for it and achieve it.”
You can follow Lucia on Twitter @LuciaPoliovkova
Update: Lucia is now trying to turn the upcycling aspects of her project into a sustainable business. She hopes to find a future in eco and sustainable design and she said she believes her ‘environmentally friendly business ideas’ will be a success.