-Devin Yeatter

Much of the time when I get stressed out with a project or a deadline nears, my natural inclination is to recede into my own space and bubble and interact with people as little as possible. I recognize in nature, this isn’t what occurs. Rather a group will band together in times of strife and their burdens will be eased substantially. So I hope that I’ll be able to take after nature in this regard more and more. A little outside the box, watching squirrels and their pure, manic energy can often exhaust me just looking at them. I realize though, that they devote every ounce of their energy to get their task done as quickly and efficiently as possible; that, namely, is generally acquiring nuts. So rather than procrastinating, it would be much more effective to maintain a full court press when a project or problem comes up until it is completed or solved. Problems, like rushing water, often come at you fast and one after another. Beavers understand that they need to make a dam to stem the rushing tide. If I were to draw from their playbook, and try to anticipate when problems may be coming, then prepare myself to take them on, my life would be much easier down the line.

The “optimize rather than maximize” principle stuck out to me. In regards to the GSIF project, it strikes me that the Plastikan Project is fully attempting to utilize this. The women’s cooperative will quite literally be optimizing by “recycling all materials”. As a team, we’ve all realized the immense value to these women, their community, and eventually the country and world as a whole as a result of their actions. On a micro level, the women will have supplementary income which will assist in their day to day lives and help to provide for their families. Meanwhile we believe that if this project is successful, there will be a great incentive for communities all around the Philippines to take up the idea and implement it for themselves as well, helping to more substantially fight the environmental problems facing the world today.

As mentioned above, Project Plastikan is working to ensure that plastics aren’t left around our planet for thousands of years. Rather, by recycling these products we’re showing there is no endgame. Instead, each product’s end, is leading to another’s beginning. Quite literally (as we’ll have to melt and burn the plastic) these products are functioning as phoenixes. Rising from the ashes of plastic bottles, can be jewelry, chairs, and many more practical products the world consistently needs. With Plastikan, we realize that even this one women’s cooperative taking on this project, isn’t truly the end of the project. Our hope of other communities taking up the mantle and project, also ensures that instead of cradle to grave, it becomes a matter of cradle to cradle.

I was talking with a Chinese friend a couple months ago and we were discussing the philosophies of citizens in our countries. This conversation was one of the more interesting and eye-opening I’ve ever had as we presented a thought question (that has certainly seen far too many real world examples). Would we rather live under a generally repressive regime as long as our families and selves were provided for or would we fight for rights and liberty? He, and most Chinese he claims, would much rather the former, as family is so important to them. Rather than worrying about themselves, the loyalty they hold for their family keeps them from fighting. Meanwhile, I fervently believe in the alternative, and believe that most Americans would agree. Our background fighting an English regime for independence has instilled in us a love and expectation for liberty no matter the cost. In my mind, it was hard to envision why anyone would side with a repressive regime, yet with his explanation I began to understand that point of view.

In high school, I was introduced to improv comedy from a friend. He also helped me embrace the concept of “yes, and”. Rather than assuming an idea was impossible or simply disagreeing with someone else, understanding their viewpoint, agreeing with it and attempting to build on it has changed my life profoundly.

Also in high school, I wasn’t sure exactly the path I wanted to take in regards to my career and life. I knew I wanted to make a difference, and that I wanted that to eventually lead to politics, but I didn’t know the best way to get started on doing that. Then I was talking with a friend who knew he was enlisting in the army after high school and while I knew that I had no interest in enlisting, that started turning the wheels of what a life would look like with a stint in the army. That concept, led me to a day shadowing an ROTC cadet at my local university and I realized how perfect a start that would be for my adult life. Since, I haven’t looked back.


The unique aspect of the Plastikan Project is how we are starting fresh. Our project doesn’t have a history like many of the other projects being conducted by the GSIF students. Instead we are building machines and mapping our ecosystem entirely from scratch. We believe we have an idea of the five major stakeholders as of now, but along with the sustainable development class, we will continue to develop and refine our product ecosystem.

The first group of stakeholders are the students and faculty working on the project from Lehigh. Speaking on behalf of the students, we all have a desire to create tangible, positive change in the world and would like to learn in the process. We all joined GSIFs to have the chance to do this and are entirely invested in the success of the project, as we see the potential direct impact it could have to improve people’s lives. Those people are the members of the women’s cooperative that the machines will be used by in addition to their families. They comprise the second group of stakeholders. Living in the area they do, the women don’t have many chances to generate income for themselves and their families, they’re hoping to change this via this project. The third group we will be working with are the students and faculty at our partnering university in the Philippines: UPD. These students and faculty have the same motivations as we do, but have the added inspiration that this project will be assisting people within their own country. The fourth and fifth groups of stakeholders are slightly more tentative at this junction. They are the suppliers of the materials to recycle, and retailers or wholesalers of plastics at the back end. As of now the suppliers may be companies that have excess plastic they need to dispose of, and perhaps their image would benefit from donating the plastics to a group like the women’s co-op. It’s a little to early to say in regards to them. Similarly, we aren’t positive what the women will be creating with the machines, nor who would be interested in purchasing and then selling these products. We’ve considered creating bricks of plastic material that could be sold to more developed recycling plants to create different products. Meanwhile we’ve also considered making more artisanal products like chairs or jewelry and selling them to retail outlets in the Philippines.

Our project’s credibility will hopefully be exponentially enhanced in the coming semester. As mentioned previously, our status as an entirely new project puts us in a unique position. No one has heard of us because we haven’t accomplished anything yet. We intend to develop the machines fully and demonstrate that we understand how they work and their capabilities. This will likely be accomplished via a workshop/hackathon-esque event we plan to put on in the month of April, where students can come tinker with our machines and we’ll help to illustrate how they work. Connecting with the UPD team more and exchanging ideas with them will naturally validate us as well as we will show that we are considering many different avenues and willing to both offer and listen to many different opinions and approaches. We hope to get into contact with different stakeholders in the Philippines as well. Once we source our plastics and find potential retailers/wholesalers, getting into contact with them and coming to agreements will show that we have a proper ecosystem in place with a supply chain from the very bottom to the top as well.

Cultural Issues

-Devin Yeatter


There are three significant questions our team is working to answer in regards to cultural issues that will likely be of vital importance to our project. The first is learning how gender roles are perceived in the Philippines. As we are working with a women’s cooperative we are anticipating some pushback from the women’s husbands as the women begin to help provide for the household financially as well. In many cultures, the idea of machismo reigns supreme and husbands allowing their wives to help provide for the family financially may be perceived as an attack on their masculinity and ability to single-handedly provide for their families. In addition, as the women will be outside of the household more, there may be a perceived difference in how much time they are spending mothering any children they may have in addition to how clean their houses may be. The second question we would like to answer is what kinds of products will have the most value to citizens of the Philippines. Perhaps a chair is more likely to make a significant profit than jewelry, at this stage of the project we simply aren’t sure. This is why we are working to establish more of a connection with our partnering university in the Philippines, to essentially gain perspectives that we as Americans aren’t privy to. The third question is what sort of perception do Filipinos have of recycled products in general. We’ve observed that Americans will often place a premium on recycled goods as they feel they are doing a service to the environment, however we currently aren’t aware of how Filipinos look upon recycled goods themselves. We are considering the possibility they may believe recycled goods to be of inferior quality and won’t be willing to purchase them, or at the least may not be willing to pay very much for them.

Within the US, although it is less prevalent among American citizens, there is still certainly a culture of machismo. The concept of a stay-at-home Dad (like I had for a time) is often looked down upon. A wife and mother providing for her family is looked at far differently than a husband and father doing the same. Even the idea that women always need protecting is an example of machismo that women and allied males are currently trying to put to bed. Even conducting market research on products in the US often proves to be a challenge that companies are willing to pay thousands or millions of dollars to consulting firms for. Understanding our own citizens’ psychologies and consumer tendencies proves to be enough of an issue that this is the case. Many schools and towns are happy to pay somewhat of a premium to create public benches out of recycled materials rather than those made purely of new ones. This demonstrates America as a whole’s willingness to do so.

Although machismo is present in Filipino culture, due to the large importance placed on the idea of family as a whole, we have high hopes that we will be able to utilize this to our advantage in convincing the families that women should be able to work and help provide financially to the good of the whole as well. The community we are helping is said to have high amounts of litter. Filipinos also place great significance on the community as a whole as well. This can be leveraged to perhaps create campaigns to reduce littering of plastic goods, and instead give their waste directly to the recycling center. The love of many Filipinos for unique art and architecture will help when it comes to selling the products the women will create. Because each mold of plastic can be filled with many different colors of plastic, no two products will look the same.