I am in the process of researching Community projects around the world that are reusing plastic bags. It is my intention to start a community project soon here in Melbourne and while searching for inspiration I have come across some truly amazing creativity. I want to share my thought and my findings in this post.
There are many community projects sprawling around the world mainly in developing countries where there is no formal (government) recollection or recycling systems for plastics. The amounts of litter and rubbish in the streets of these countries is so vast and causes many problems, specially to livestock who can die from intestinal blockages, that it has prompted the community to take action. These projects have positive impacts on the environment while at the same time generate income for the individuals involved that translate into significant development for the whole community. I was delighted to find so many projects in Africa, where the necessity for survival has made them turned to this abundant and free material.
On the other hand in most of the developed world the projects are mostly oriented towards creating awareness on the problems of plastic pollution through art or making items that will be donated to the poorest in society such as the homeless. I suppose this is due to the fact that the levels of litter aren’t as dramatic as in developing countries so people don’t see the disastrous effects to the natural environment. Most of the population forgets about plastic bags once they are dumped in the rubbish, but what they do not “get” is that since there is very little recycling of plastic bags this action is a complete waste of natural resources that could other wise be reused.
I deeply value the power of Art to create awareness, especially Street Art. The above picture is from a Slovenian artist who’s work I love, Miha Artnak. I would like to see more community projects looking at how to re-use this valuable resource. I think we need to learn more from the projects that are successfully recycling plastic bags through a sustainable business that provides meaningful work for the disadvantage in the society such as the elders, high risk teenagers, single mothers, etc.
Here are the projects that I came across in my search. Hopefully there are plenty more…
Trashy Bags is a project that clears trash from the streets of Accra Ghana by employing 60 people who turn the trash into useful and attractive bags for sale locally and for export! Their products are made from reclaimed plastic drinking water and ice-cream sachets. Only about 2% of Ghana’s plastics are recycled. Take a look at this amazing video Trashy Bags.
This project is based in Lamu an island off the coast of Kenya. The founders of this project introduced to the community a simple technology “The Rope Making Machine” and now community members collect discarded plastic bags from their beaches and use it to make functional rope. With these ropes they produce brightly colored baskets, bags, placemats, and other crafts that are sold in Lamu’s tourist industry.
This is an amazing community project in Lusaka, Zambia providing an alternative lifestyle to the widows, orphans, young single mothers, young men, and grandmothers. The women work together, knitting beautiful handbags made with plastic bags that are later sold to generate income for their families. These elders also serve as mentor to younger teenage girls who otherwise would have very little opportunities. They are from extremely poor families, often without education. By the age of 20 many of these girls have children, no husbands and sometimes AIDS. This project is expanding every day making a world of a difference in their community please visit their site and see how you can donate! Watch this video on two of the widows of Chikumbuso and how it has change their lives:Weaving a New Beginning
The Mandinaba Woman Recycling Group:
A 14-member association in the small West African village of Mandinaba located in the Western Region of Gambia. See their video.
Started by an Indian couple Shalabh and Anita Ahuja, this NGO employs 300 people in Delhi’s surroundings, from the rag-pickers who are paid for collecting the plastic bags to the skilled laborers who sew the handbags. They are made by fusing plastic bags, with such quality, and the designs are so beautiful you would never imagine they were made from recycled plastic bags. I bought one of their coin purses at Oxfam shop here in Australia and I love all of it! The Ahujas’ project has become such a successful enterprise they export exports high quality Up-Cycled products all over the world. Download their catalog you will be amazed with the variety and quality of the products!
Their Slogan” trash transformed life changed” is a beautiful way to express the amazing labor XSProject Foundation does by developing innovative product designs as well as community-specific recycling and environmental awareness programs. Their programs help raise the quality of life for Jakarta’s trash pickers who live in extreme poverty as well as to teach people life skills at NGOs.
The Eco Purse Project has taught over 200 women of all ages in Thiotte, Haiti, how to Up-Cycle their local waste plastic and create sustainable jobs for themselves. The group called KOFAT sells products in their local markets as well as online. Visit their site.
Create Plenty is a non for-profit organization in Portland, Oregon who run the International Plastic Quilt Project. They create awareness-through-art campaigns by teaching students K-12 the value of “reduce” and “reuse” and inspiring them to seek changes in their local communities. Create Plenty’s International Plastic Quilt Project is a traveling community art project that holds over three hundred squares made from single-use plastic contributed by students, artists and many others. In the 2010-2011 eleven schools and over 400 students participated by creating over 150 “quilt squares”.
Christen Andrews form the US is dedicated to recycling by crocheting single use plastic bags into durable, reusable, functional items. She recently traveled around India specifically Mumbai, Gujarat, Rajasthan and Delhi sharing the craft of plastic bag crochet with various NGOs, community groups, and individuals. She held 13 formal workshops, several more informal ones, and she estimates that 600-700 people learned the basics of plastic bag crochet. She also collected enough crochet hooks to give one to each person she taught.
The idea of this project came to 89-year-old Wilma Groh Groh a resident of San Diego CA. She struggles with arthritis in her hands and near-blindness but these conditions have not stopped her from starting her project and helping those in need. The Wil-Mat Project has made dozens of mats made entirely out of plastic bags for the homeless! The 12 members make mats the size of a yoga mat. Each one uses about 500 bags worth of plastic Bags. As demand has grown for the plastic mat, the group has expanded their creations to include purses, tote bags, coasters, ornaments, flowers, and much more all made out of plastic bags!
This project was started by residents of a retirement and assisted living communities in Chicago USA. In this program volunteers turn plastic grocery bags into plastic yarn that is crocheted into sleeping mats for the homeless. The project has taken on a life of its own with about 40 Chicago-area groups participating including retirement communities and senior day centers, schools, churches and Scouts. At The Bethany Terrace in Morton Grove residents of all levels, from those with general medical concerns to those in dementia care or short-term rehabilitation participate. So far more than 40 mats have been made by all cooperating groups using about 29,000 bags.
Their Plarn project is an ongoing multi-phase nation wide (US) project exploring consumerism, environmentalism and art education. They created an installation that resembles a McDonald’s style ball pit play area containing over 60,000 plastic shopping bags made into yarn and wound into balls by the artists and students across the nation These artists work with high school students and their art teachers. Watch their inspiring video Video: Plarn Project Documentary
Hope you are as inspired as I am after seeing the many creative community projects happening around the planet, we need to have thousands more creating awareness and reusing all those plastics bags! So take your inspiration and jump into action!