Students turn crisp packets into blankets for Bolivan community

Enterprising students from the University of Sheffield have transformed the lives of Bolivian villagers after spending the last few weeks creating blankets made of recycled crisp packets, to prevent the rising number of hypothermia cases.

Aimee Clark, aged 22, a fourth year Mechanical Engineering student, Jon Gregg, aged 22, a third year Mechanical Engineering student and Amy Scrimgeour, aged 21, a second year Economics student, spent the last six weeks setting up a business in Bolivia as part of a joint collaboration between the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Sheffield Students In Free Enterprise (SIFE).

Blankets for Bolivia was the brainchild of a Sheffield SIFE student who travelled to Bolivia and experienced some of the challenges that communities face, such as the bitter cold winter nights. The aim of the project was to help women in La Paz and El Alto to become more self-sufficient in the face of environmental and economic challenges, by utilising local resources and skills for a general recycling scheme, which would provide a more substantial and consistent source of income to the community.

After developing a simple prototype using a bag sealing machine in the UK, the team sourced similar manufacturing equipment locally in Bolivia and got to work to establish the business, using funding from a generous alumni donation through the Department of Mechanical Engineering.

The project engaged all of the community at various different stages. Firstly, a crisp packet collection was set up to obtain the raw material for the blankets through the community recycling cooperative and a simple crisp packet collection at schools. The students also established a contract with local crisp packet manufacturer Estrella, who provided the raw materials for the blankets, ensuring that it was no longer a harmful and wasted resource.

A business was then set up to manufacture and sell the foil blankets, with training provided to the local women before the blankets were sold to community members, Non Government Organisations and schools.

In addition, community members were made part of a health campaign to educate them on the symptoms of hypothermia, when and how to seek help and ways to protect themselves from the cold.

The blankets were made by sealing recycled crisp packets together into sheets using the heat sealer. Crisp packets were chosen as the ideal material due to the fact their foil layer reflects and retains up to 97 per cent of body heat, while their plastic layer provides extra insulation and is waterproof, making the crisp packet blanket more effective than normal emergency blankets. Student Jon Gregg investigated the materials under the SURE scheme in the Department of Mechanical Engineering in preparation for the project and lecturer Matt Marshall was pivatol in shaping the entire project. The project also involved input from Faye Waple, a third year Creative Art Practice student from Sheffield Hallam University, who initially made and designed the prototype crisp packet coats and hats that were taken to Bolivia.

The blankets are simple and quick to make; the Bolivian women learnt how to make them in minutes and are currently working to a target of 50 blankets a week, all of which will save hundreds of lives.

Student Aimee Clark said: "Blankets for Bolivia was a really impactful and hard hitting project for us. When we were in Bolivia we really saw the need for the blankets and for the women involved to have their own means of income. We developed a strong relationship with one woman in particular, Maria, who is the manager of the project, and who will always stay close to our hearts. Hopefully this business will be an inspiration to other women in Bolivia who want to improve their quality of life and that of the people around them in their community."

Notes for Editors: To find out more about the project or make a donation, visit the link below.

SIFE is dedicated to nurturing the entrepreneurial skills of university students in a way that is both effective in developing their future careers and meaningful to the community. The students, guided by university and business advisers, form a student-led SIFE team to develop sustainable projects which create economic opportunity for others. Their projects aim to increase knowledge of entrepreneurship, market economics, personal success skills, financial literacy and business ethics. The remit of SIFE is to implement social, environmental and financial change through business and entrepreneurship. To find out more about Sheffield SIFE, please visit the link below.

For further information please contact: Shemina Davis, Media Relations Officer, on 0114 2225339 or email shemina.davis@sheffield.ac.uk