23 Aug, 2017 | Hannah Chukwu
Photo: Hannah Chukwu
Planting seeds of hope for Bolivia’s sustainable future
Walking into the Bohemia Papel workshop feels a little like walking into Wonderland. Every surface is covered in a miscellany of objects – dried orange peels lie amongst coca leaves and cards imprinted with the words Pʟᴀɴᴛ ᴍᴇ! are scattered around the room.
The quirky feel of the workshop carries into the unique products Cecilia Tapia creates: handcrafted recycled paper infused with raw renewable materials. Some of the paper is infused with seeds, which creates a perfect metaphor for the renewable ethos behind Bohemia. After Bohemia Papel’s seeded paper outlives its usefulness, the sheet can be planted into the earth and the cycle of life begins anew, as the seeds germinate and sprout.
Founded in 2011, Bohemia Papel is a manifestation of Tapia’s passion for handicrafts and her desire to reduce waste. This passion is the manifest driving force behind Bohemia Papel’s success. ‘My dream for the project is that the success of Bohemia Papel will work as a reference for the topic of recycling paper across Bolivia,’ Tapia says.
Bohemia Papel is not just sheets of paper though. Tapia’s products include cards, bookmarks and handcrafted journals, including a calendar for ‘Environment Lovers’ – marking out days such as International Women’s Day and World Environment Day. The journals also include instructions for how to replant the paper from which they are made.
Whilst the handmade aspect of Bohemia Papel products give them a characteristically rustic charm, Tapia’s dream for her company is to be able to upgrade to industrial-sized blenders and pressers, so that the products can be produced on a larger scale. Tapia competed in the Latin American Green Awards in Ecuador this year, highlighting Tapia as an innovative creator – and her ethos behind the project deserves recognition. When Tapia founded Bohemia Papel, she ran workshops for local women to teach them how to make renewable paper.
Cecilia Tapia is sowing seeds – figuratively and literally – for future projects to sprout up across the country.
Tapia is also reaching beyond the corporate production bubble to spread her message. She’s looking to work with universities, collecting used paper for reuse. ‘This collaboration is incredibly important to me,’ Tapia says, ‘but I also love that the project helps to generate sources of employment in my neighbourhood. For example, when I have had large jobs I have sought the help of young people in my community.’
But the toughest part about running a sustainability-driven small business in Bolivia, Tapia says, is the lack of help from the government. She laments the fact that Bolivia’s commitment to reducing waste is rather minuscule. ‘My environmentally oriented peers in Chile and Peru are receiving support from the authorities,’ Tapia says, ‘but here in Bolivia there is very little support. When you want to promote something like environmental sustainability, you have to do it alone. There are not many allies.’
Bohemia Papel is leading the charge for recycling and environmental sustainability in Bolivia, and Cecilia Tapia is sowing seeds – figuratively and literally – for future projects to sprout up across the country.