Fashion Recycling: How Southern Designers Are Reusing and Making Money
Uganda banned plastic bags in 2007, outlawing their import, manufacture and use and joining a growing list of African countries seeking to sweep cities of this menace. Uganda’s ban followed similar moves in Kenya and in the United Republic of Tanzania, where even plastic drinks containers were banished. Rwanda, also a member of the East African Community, has gone further: in 2005, the country banned any product made of very thin plastic (below 100 microns). The thinner plastic found in plastic bags (under 30 microns) is particularly troublesome because it is easily blown around by the wind. The proliferation of plastic bags and plastic containers across the developing world has not only become an eyesore, but it is also an environmental catastrophe that is poisoning the land.
In Uganda’s capital, Kampala, discarded plastic has combined with toxic waste management practices to make the problem worse. While Kampala has 30 companies dealing in solid waste management, the process is mired in corruption. Poor areas of the city receive no service because it is more profitable for the companies to target wealthy areas for the user fees that they collect to remove rubbish.
Scavengers in the municipal dump of Kampala earn 50 Ugandan pence a day collecting plastic bags. Most plastic bags do not make it to the dump, ending up blown around the city by the wind, washed into drains and water courses. Worse, the rich soil around Uganda’s towns and villages is now covered in plastic bags. A new layer of polythene and contaminated soil has formed in many areas, with an impenetrable crust that stops rain from soaking through. It leaves water stagnating in pools gurgling with methane gas bubbles.
For entrepreneurs, tackling the mountains of plastic waste an opportunity–asis providing a replacement once they are banned. A boon time is emerging for the market in recycled and reusable materials and biodegradable alternatives.
Anita Ahuja, president of the NGO Conserve in India, has set up a business making fashionable handbags, wallets and shopping bags from recycled plastic bags in New Delhi. Begun in 2003, the project collects plastic bags on the streets and keeps 60 women employed. The recycling process does not require additional dyes or inks and is non-toxic. The bags are sold in London, United Kingdom, and will soon be sold in Italy by the Benetton clothing chain.
“We braided them and tried weaving them, but the plastic would come loose. Then we hit upon the idea of pressing them to make sheets,” Ahuja said.
But this issue can be more complex than it first seems. After South Africa banned plastic bags of less than 30 microns in 2003, many poor entrepreneurs have complained that it hit hard their making of hats, handbags, purses and scrubbing brushes from them.
After the bags are banned, environmentalists say the best option is to use reusable bags made of materials that do not harm the environment during production and do not need to be discarded after use.
Alternatives to plastic bags include traditional African baskets or kiondos as they are known in Kenya. Made from sisal and sometimes with leather or wooden handles, the handmade bags support many local women. – (July 2007)
Trashy Bags (trashybags.org) in Ghana makes fash
ionable carryalls and handbags from plastic bags.
• theindiashop.co.uk • conserveindia.org • propoortourism-kenya.org/african_bags.htm • eac.int
A selection of designs by NEEMIC in China. • neemic.com • neemic.asia/organic