One Person’s Trash, an Artisan’s Treasure

The Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic (LEX-NG) Fund aims to protect the last wild places in the ocean while facilitating conservation, research, education, and community development programs in the places we explore. This blog entry spotlights some of the exciting work our grantees are doing with support from the LEX-NG Fund.

How many of us take trash removal for granted?

In the U.S., probably most of us. We accumulate garbage during the week and on trash day we roll our cans out to the road or throw our bags down the garbage chute and poof! It’s gone. Off to some landfill or recycling plant where it’s out of sight, out of mind.

But what happens when you live on an island? And not just any island, but one that is 97% national park with no sanitary landfills. How do you deal with garbage then?

Not easily, that’s for sure. In the past, trash from the 30,000 residents of the Galapágos Islands was a harmful pollutant that ended up in makeshift landfills as well as the ocean. Now, waste is shipped off the islands to landfills and recycling centers more than 600 miles away in mainland Ecuador—a necessary and expensive undertaking.

Without the Artisan Fund’s Glass Adaptive Reuse project, many more glass and paper products would be shipped to recycling centers or landfills over 600 miles away in mainland Ecuador. Photo courtesy of Stacy Sindlinger, Lindblad Expeditions

The geographic isolation that makes trash removal so difficult (and the wildlife so unique) is also what makes importing goods pricey as well. And in a place where the use of natural resources is strictly regulated and few goods are produced, a lot needs to be imported.

Like supplies for artisans, for example.

Why is that a problem? Because for local artisans, producing handicrafts isn’t some cute pastime like that jewelry making phase your sister went through in high school—it’s their livelihood. About half the population in the Galapágos possesses one or more characteristics of poverty, so for many artisans, selling their hand-crafted wares is a crucial source of family income.

Two seemingly disparate problems—waste removal and a lack of available materials for artisans—but one clever solution, thanks to the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic (LEX-NG) Artisan Fund: give artisans in the Galapágos the tools to take bulky paper and glass products out of the waste stream and upcycle them into beautiful jewelry, etched glassware, and other objects of art and utility.

An artisan demonstrates equipment at an Adaptive Reuse Glass workshop. Photo courtesy of Stacy Sindlinger, Lindblad Expeditions.
An artisan demonstrates equipment at an Adaptive Reuse Glass workshop. Photo courtesy of Stacy Sindlinger, Lindblad Expeditions

To achieve this end, the LEX-NG Artisan Fund has established two fully­ equipped glass workshops on the most populated islands of San Cristobal and Santa Cruz as part of its Glass Adaptive Reuse Project. Now artisans on these islands have access to machinery that allows them to cut, shape, sandblast, drill, press, and etch recycled glass to create wares that can be sold to the public, improving the local artisan economy.

The Artisan Fund has also hosted multiple workshops for artisans and aspiring artisans—adults and teenagers alike—to learn how to use the equipment to further their individual crafts.

“The group’s enthusiasm and energy was electric,” says Stacy Sindlinger, Director of the LEX-NG Artisan Fund about a recent Adaptive Reuse Glass workshop held on San Cristobal Island. “By the third day, the artisans had settled into working on their projects and the results were extraordinary. The artists that had jewelry skills were hard at work creating all manner of jewelry, while others were working on cups, glasses, and creations that were truly inventive.”

Besides teaching artisans how to upcycle glass, the Artisan Fund has offered workshops in turning paper into “pearls”, i.e. beads, making jewelry using recycled materials, and how to run a craft-based business. With these skills, artisans are better positioned to make a living selling their art.

Artisans transform bulky paper waste into beautiful beads to use in making handcrafted jewelry, thanks to the Artisan Fund’s Paper to Pearls project. Photo courtesy of Stacy Sindlinger, Lindblad Expeditions
Artisans transform bulky paper waste into beautiful beads to use in making handcrafted jewelry, thanks to the Artisan Fund’s Paper to Pearls project. Photo courtesy of Stacy Sindlinger, Lindblad Expeditions

My business was born thanks to attending the Artisan Fund’s Paper to Pearls course in Puerto Ayora, Santa Cruz,” says Sara Chaves, an artisan who specializes in making necklaces, earrings, and key chains. “I love the result obtained by recycling paper and making ‘pearl’ necklaces in different sizes and colors.”

Thanks to the LEX-NG Artisan Fund’s efforts, artisans in the Galapágos are enjoying a surge of interest in their products. Upcycled paper and glass artwork is now sold in nearly 40% of the galleries and shops in Santa Cruz, and many hotels and restaurants on the islands have bought local glassware to use in their establishments. Lindblad Expeditions has even purchased $25,000 worth of local art to sell onboard their ships in the Galapágos, National Geographic Endeavour and National Geographic Islander, with 5% of the revenue from the sales going directly to the Artisan Fund to keep the positive cycle of change going.

In recognition of its work, the LEX-NG Artisan Fund was presented with an award earlier this year from the National Defense Board of Ecuador and the Provincial Craftsman Defense Board of Galápagos. What makes this so special? The nomination for the award came from the artisans of the Galapágos themselves—the ultimate thank you for the Artisan Fund’s efforts.

Rather than exploiting precious marine resources, artisans in the Galapágos celebrate the ocean through art instead. Photo courtesy of Stacy Sindlinger, Lindblad Expeditions

From etched tumblers depicting the diverse marine wildlife of the Galapágos to beautiful pieces of wearable jewelry, upcycled art is reducing bulky waste on the islands while providing artisans with a source of income. By making a living as an artisan, coastal residents are less likely to seek work in illegal fishing or other activities that exploit precious marine resources; they celebrate the ocean through their art instead. A win-win all around.

So the next time you’re in the Galapágos, pop into a local gallery and find yourself a treasure. Not only will you walk away with a unique handmade souvenir, but you’ll be contributing to the elegant cycle of recycling and creativity that sustains the community.


If you would like to learn more about the Artisan Fund, or other projects supported by the LEX-NG Fund worldwide, please contact the Fund by email. To contribute to the LEX-NG Fund, click here.

Human Journey


Meet the Author
Angela Thomas serves as the Communications Manager for the Lindblad Expeditions-National Geographic Fund where she produces content for blogs, newsletters, internal reports, web pages, and other projects. She holds degrees from Wellesley College and Case Western Reserve University. Angela's passion for travel has allowed her to witness firsthand the critical need for environmental conservation in order to save the planet’s most precious places and resources.