The art of recycling

Daniel Lim

The basic premise of the three Rs – reduce, reuse and recycle – is deeply ingrained in the environmental movement to preserve nature and resources.

While the COVID-19 pandemic wreaked havoc on the world, one unexpected benefit was the spike in the first ‘R’ – reduce – as circumstances such as a restricted travel led to a temporary decrease in carbon dioxide emissions.

Though the decrease in carbon dioxide is comforting news amid the sea of chaos, efforts can still be made for the other two Rs.

One such effort with regards to the ‘R’ of recycling was recently made by Tobias bin Tahal. What first started as a way to spend some time freed up by the pandemic became an opportunity to raise awareness on waste management.

Tobias describes himself as a boutique jewellery designer who works with precious metals, sea shells and natural resources to create art pieces.

Born and raised in the Torres Strait Islands, part of the state of Queensland, Australia, he recalled how living on a small remote island trained him to be resourceful in making full use of natural resources available to him.

“I started out as a carpenter when I left school back in 1987 and I have been building ever since. When I met my wife, I started making jewellery as a stay-at-home dad to ensure that I could take care of my daughter,” he said.

Tobias bin Tahal with Betty Bottletop. PHOTO: DANIEL LIM

He started with carving shells into ornate pieces of jewellery, which he has done across countries he visited and stayed in. “Coming to Brunei, I only started carving (jewellery) again in my second year here. I started taking courses on making gold and silver jewellery to hone my skills.”

As the COVID-19 pandemic swept the nation and the world, Tobias noted that the shells he normally use to carve into jewellery started to run out. As he walked on the beach, he noticed an abundance of washed up trash along the shore, which sparked inspiration.

“I take a lot of morning walks on the beach, and I saw all the rubbish. I decided to build a little trailer (that is bicycle-driven), to help with transporting the rubbish.”

That was more than a month ago. Ever since then, he came up with the idea to create art with the rubbish he collected.

“This gave me an idea to create a turtle, which is why I wanted to give it to Azul Beach Café.

I know a lot of people come here and they can see it, so they can be more aware of how it rubbish a negative impact on the environment,” he said.

His initial concept for the sea turtle sculpture was to have it made with a piece of plastic bottle stuck in its mouth to symbolise it choking and how plastic bottles negatively impact sea life. Tobias named the sculpture ‘Betty Bottletop’.

He is on track to finish another turtle sculpture. “It’s a little smaller, and I’m taking my time to get the shape right because bottle tops come in different sizes and I have to sort through them. It is time consuming,” he said.

He has another idea to make a shark out of the same materials.

Tobias also creates other handicrafts such as coasters from ropes which he exhibited in events in such as the annual Panaga Highland Games.

On why he wanted to make the sculpture and donate it, he said he wants people to be aware about caring for the environment. It is easy to drop rubbish or forget about it with the ‘out of sight and out of mind’ mentality.

“The ocean is our life source, and if rubbish washes in, it kills animals out there. I hope that this sculpture will raise awareness that rubbish doesn’t just disappear. We can do our part in reducing the trash we create.”