Robin Opperman and Jackie Sewpersad show off some of the latest works produced at the Umcebo Trust design studio, which includes a cooldrink can jellyfish light display and manta rays made of plastic, wire and binbags. Picture: Zanele Zulu African News Agency (ANA)
Durban - The one thing about Robin Opperman’s garden is that it’s always in colourful bloom.

Come rain or shine, you can be guaranteed a cheerful welcome when you arrive at the Umcebo Trust studio, Opperman’s creative operation centre, where he turns waste materials into sought-after pieces of art.

You may have guessed that his garden is made of unwanted plastics that he, together with fine artist Jackie Sewpersad, turn into beautiful flowers.

Opperman sees beauty in what others consider rubbish and, apart from turning the trash into cash, he is actively inspiring a new generation of designers and artists, offering experiential learning at his studio to students. He also inspires a sense of community with his projects, raising awareness about recycling and advocating a creative waste economy - all from his humble studio in Glenwood.

“You know, when I started I was the only one doing this - and now it’s caught on. People are seeing the value of being conscious of their impact on the world around them, and seeking avenues to make changes. We are also learning each day about the best ways to do things to limit our impact on the environment, but we are eager to share what we do know with others,” he said.

As we chat, one of Umcebo’s long-time friends, Sally Stretch, arrives with about a dozen ice cream containers. Sally said she hates waste and loves seeing what Robin turns the items into.

“We love turning the unwanted items into pieces of fine art that have been made so beautifully that you wouldn’t, at first glance, think it was made of trash. It’s then an opening for us to tell people what we do,” said Opperman.

Umcebo designed a tapestry for the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy, and won the 2014 World Design Capital Project for their recycled plastic chandeliers. They also run several recycling workshops at local schools.

This year Opperman says they are aiming higher and want to take their production processes up a notch.

“We want to partner with engineering faculties to get students to work on PhD or Masters degrees by developing a low-tech machine that can use up the waste we have left over from the creative projects. This would make a huge difference to the waste cycle,” he said.

What he really wishes for though, is a creative waste economy plan to be put in place.

“If you search online for ReTuna Återbruksgalleria, it’s a mall that sells only recycled items in Sweden. Imagine if we had a huge warehouse in Durban that was a space for an art gallery, a shop, a studio and a place where people can learn how to make money off waste. Imagine what could be created, and the amount of waste that would be creatively reused,” he said.

Follow Opperman and Umcebo Trust’s work on Facebook, and pop by for a chat when in Glenwood.

Independent On Saturday