Once news is read and reread, articles filed and crossword filled, there seem to be no more uses of newspapers. However, they continue to be used as warm blanket around even warmer food and serviettes in eateries. Newspapers have a value for their content but also for being just what they are, paper.
Creating art out of newspapers seems to belong to the modern artist who creates symbolic somethings out of everyday nothings. Newspapers can be considered an everyday nothing which Sagara Ranga Liyanage uses to create beautiful bowls, tablemats, coasters, pencil holders and even pencils.
His creations didn’t start with the flattened paper rolls glued together to make various items. Instead they started with greeting cards. Ranga recalls how, along with his sister, he made greeting cards out of wastepaper. They walked from shop to shop, selling them. The cards were made in a small room at their house.
“We made a batch and sold them. With that money, we made more cards. That’s how the business grew and we haven’t made any investments in this business,” Ranga explained.
Once Ranga started working with the EDB, he had the opportunity to visit Thailand in 2008. There he saw the various products made out of recycled material and decided to experiment and make his own designs. A year later, he was able to put to the market the first item he made.
Regarding the EDB, Ranga said, “There is a government system in place. However, we don’t make use of it.”
Ranga has been abroad for training programs and has attended many trade fairs. There he saw the international level when it comes to handcrafts and realized Sri Lankan products aren’t perfect. “Most products have some flaw or the other. We either don’t paint the base of the product or we keep making the same old lamps,” Ranga said. This made him strive harder to create unique products.
Right after the end of the armed conflict, Ranga operated a community-based business in Ampara. However, with relocation and the establishment of garment factories in the area, Ranga decided to bring his business to Kandy, its current location.
Earth Bound Creations
What started as a very small business grew and today, at 36, Ranga heads Earth Bound Creations (EBC) and is able to limit his distribution to Odel and Barefoot while most of his creations are exported. “We provide items to Odel and Barefoot and this is as far as we go with the local market. Around 80 percent of our products are exported and we focus more on that market,” Ranga said.
Ranga meets foreign clients at trade fairs, expos and through the internet. Some even buy products at Odel, for instance, and contact him about purchasing more products.
He explained that he doesn’t wish to widen the local market because he makes enough sales through Barefoot and Odel and also because the uniqueness of the products will be lost if they are available in many stores.EBC also provides products to hotels based on their orders.
Ranga shared how he started making bags for Nature’s Secrets.“No one was using the waxy paper left over from labels. So I was given them to see if they can be used for something. We now make bags for Nature’s Secrets out of the leftover paper,” Ranga said, showing the yellow paper used on stickers and the finished product that is a sturdy bag used by the company.
The raw material used is 100 percent newspaper, Ranga said, adding that newspaper can even be used to make furniture. He said this while showing a coffee table and stool set made out of newspaper. Flipping the stool, Ranga explained it can even be used as a basket.
When asked how he finds all the newspapers, Ranga said that he collects them from the printing press, reading rooms and also collects them from people. “I buy newspapers for Rs 20 per kg instead of the usual Rs 8 and this way, people give me old newspapers,” he added.
The newspapers can’t be older than five years and the quality of the newspaper has a serious effect on the quality of the product. “English and Sinhala newspapers tend to use a better quality paper and we find it difficult to work with the paper used in most Tamil papers,” Ranga explained.
“Earlier I used to buy recycled paper, but now I make my own paper. There was a paper recycling factory which had been shut down. I bought it and now use it to make recycled paper,” Ranga said.
The amount of paper required to make a product is similar to the weight of the product. Thus a 500g bowl will use 500g newspaper. While EBC requires one ton of newspapers per month, there is storage capacity for only 1,000kg. Thus Ranga is required to make constant trips to acquire more newspapers.
Besides newspaper, dye, glue and lacquer are also used in the products and the lead used in the pencils is of the highest quality and are imported.
Ranga explained the whole process at EBC saying that first a design would be put together. Then employees, who are divided into groups, are given training and shown how to make the product. They then try making the item three or four times. If satisfied with the quality of the final product, Ranga gives them the green light to make more of the item.
The products are labeled and packed individually at EBC and then distributed to the relevant companies.
Earth Bound Creations has many products and a wide range in different shapes, sizes and colors. The product range includes bowls, cards, books, papers, pencils, tablemats, coasters, boxes and bags.
Showing a crate made out of newspaper, Ranga explained that its sturdier than a crate made of plastic or cane and that while it can’t be submerged in water, no harm is done if water spills on it. Ranga also continues to design new items and even makes Christmas decorations using newspapers.
To make the products sturdy, a wooden or metal frame is used. It is Ranga’s father who makes the metal frames, he said. Ranga is also a photographer and uses his photographs in postcards that are also made out of recycled paper.
“Those who work at Earth Bound Creations are people from the area and closeby villages,” Ranga said. Housewives, widows and elderly people often work at EBC as it is convenient for them.
The employees, who are mostly female, collect the rolled and dyed newspapers from the building that is an office, packing and storage unit, and make their products at home. This is convenient to them as they can work while also tending to household chores. Three month training is given to each employee and they are showed how to make specific items. Thus the pencils will be made one employee while another would make lampshades.
“This is a community-based company and 90 percent of the product is made outside,” Ranga said. The products are also mostly handmade. There are 180 people employed by EBC and Ranga said this is cheaper than having a factory where the products are made. The 180 employees are given work depending on the orders EBC receives and unless there is a special order, they are not required to work a specific number of hours or days a month.
“Last year we had only 80 people working for EBC but this year we have 180,” Ranga said, adding that there are many people who have applied for jobs at EBC.
The average number of pencils made by one person a day is 500 and according to Shiromi, she can make 10 baskets a day, while Muditha said she can make a coaster holder in 20 minutes and makes 25 to 30 a day. “There is however, no daily quota,” Ranga said.
Anuruddika, who has been working for EBC for seven months, makes pencils and also handles packaging. “I got this job through another employee. It’s convenient because I live closeby and don’t have transport costs. We are also paid well,” she said, adding that, “This is a big strength to us, especially for those who want to work on their own.”
“We all receive a three-month training, even those who work from home,” Anuruddika added.
“I make around 10 baskets a day. After I finish my housework, I start working and I usually start at around 7am. This job is very convenient because I get to do the housework, take care of my children and still work. The money comes in handy for the expenses made for my children,” she said.
An employee of EBC for over three years, Muditha makes coaster holders and tablemats.
“By 9 am my children are in school and I have taken care of household chores. So I work from 9 am to 1 pm when my children come back after school. I also make items while my children study,” she said.