Fash­ion Re­cy­cling: How South­ern De­sign­ers Are Reusing and Mak­ing Money

Southern Innovator - - CONTENTS -

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

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