Greek Designers Are Recycling Traffickers’ Trash Into Backpacks for Refugees

Boats and life jackets discarded on Lesbos can carry the weight the rest of the way into Europe too.
Refugees arrive on the shores of the Greek island of Lesbos after crossing the Aegean Sea from Turkey on an inflatable dinghy Oct. 2, 2015. (Photo: Thomas Campean/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)
Mar 13, 2016· 1 MIN READ
Alex Reed is an editorial intern at TakePart and a senior at the University of Southern California.

Even in the depths of winter, nearly 1,000 refugees have been arriving on the shores of Lesbos, Greece, every day. Since it became the preferred route into Europe last spring, the shores of the island have become littered with tattered dinghies and life vests. Much of the debris ends up back in the sea or buried in the sand, but now a group of Greek designers is collecting the scraps to provide newly arrived refugees with an essential resource for their journey to Western Europe: backpacks.

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The waterproof NoBorders Backpack is the brainchild of Athens-based design collective Embassy for the Displaced and bag manufacturer Three Legs and a Model. The body of the bag is made of rubber from some of the discarded rafts in which more than 500,000 refugees have crossed to Lesbos since the beginning of 2015, while the straps—including shoulder cushions and clips—come from life vests.

According to the designers, a typical dinghy provides enough material to produce up to 20 backpacks, which are big enough to fit several sets of winter clothes, blankets, and a sleeping bag.

To provide as many backpacks to refugees as possible, Embassy for the Displaced also launched an Indiegogo crowdfunding page, asking for donations to help it set up a production line in Lesbos. The first 10,000 pounds (about $14,150) raised will go toward buying sewing machines as well as materials that cannot be pulled from the debris, such as elastic chord and thread.

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As of right now, the cost of producing one bag is £10, though the designers hope to bring the cost down to about £2 after purchasing the necessary equipment and transporting it to Lesbos.

The remaining £2,000 of the fund-raising goal will go toward launching a research center, where designers can continue looking for “design-for-survival solutions” to the ongoing global refugee crisis, according to Stefanos Levidis, who created the Indiegogo page.

“If governments do not wish to assist these people in their quest for safety, then citizens, be it lifeguards, volunteers, or designers, should at least try,” Levidis wrote on the page.