Laís Passoni
Sustainability 23.04.2021 4 Min.
Think tank for waste.

Actually, her job was to provide employees at the BMW Group factory site in Araquari, Brazil, with new uniforms. However, Laís Passoni was also interested in the uniforms that were no longer required. The 32-year-old discovered, that these were correctly disposed of and burned. “Each year in Araquari alone, this was around 6,000 uniforms, of which some are only worn for one to two months due to staff turnovers,” Laís points out.

She wanted to change this and entered the project for the BMW Group’s accelerator programme “Innovation for Impact”. With Grace Marques, Mayara Zetola and Lívia Angelo – an environment and waste engineer, a CSR specialist and a logistics manager – she was soon joined by three colleagues. Together, they founded the think tank “Upcycle Element” and designed stylish everyday products as bags, vanity bags and laptop cases out of discarded uniforms.

However, the story doesn’t end with the uniforms. Whether wire harness pouches, seatbelts or leather scraps, in the BMW Group production halls the team found all sorts of other materials that were well-suited for further processing. “We examined all of the waste carefully and catalogued it,” says Grace. To realise production they gained the support of Funcionárias, a small local company, which – similarly to “Upcycle Element” – strives to achieve the sustainable recycling of industrial waste, specifically employing women who wish to earn a little extra with handwork. 

23 women now work for the think tank, washing and separating materials and stitching them together into new products. In this way, during the first two months alone, they processed 175 kilograms of uniforms and other materials and produced 1,000 products to the value of over 4,000 Euros. The women manufacture according to demand. When an order is placed, Funcionárias contacts the BMW Group waste service providers. They check whether there is sufficient material to produce, for example,100 bags, i.e. seatbelts for the shoulder straps, wire harnesses for the body of the bag, leather for fine detail and T-shirts with the BMW Group logo.

Laís Passoni
Laís Passoni

“Our colleagues were quite astonished when they held our bags and backpacks in their hands for the first time, and immediately presented them on Instagram. That was the perfect multiplier for us,” says Mayara. The upcycle products previously given to employees by the plant management can now also be purchased. Laís and her colleagues provide information on the Internet about the constantly changing range, as “the products are different each time, depending on which materials we have at our disposal,” Lívía remarks.

With their initiative, the team also won a trip to Munich to the “One Young World Summit” 2021, during which more than 1,800 committed young executives exchange ideas for advocating a better society and a sustainable environment.

This year, the “One Young World Summit” will take place in Munich from 22 - 25 July, with the BMW Group as main sponsor.