After my op-ed came out in the New York Times last week, I got an e-mail from a recent Harvard graduate telling me about a very cool company in Ghana called Trashy Bags, which collects and recycles discarded plastic water bags and uses them to make messenger bags, backpacks, purses, wallets and so on.
According to the Trashy Bags website, the plastic water sachets are a ubiquitous variety of of the growing problem of plastic waste in Ghana. Plastic waste there has risen 70 percent in the past ten years; Ghanaians are now tossing 270 tonnes of plastic packaging a day. Yet there’s scant garbage collection, few landfills and little recycling – only about 2 percent of plastic gets recycled. As a result much of it winds up as that ever-lasting type of litter that is so effective at blocking gutters and storm drains. This is a story that you hear over and over again in developing countries — and one of the prime motivations for bag bans in places such as Bangladesh and Mumbai.
In Ghana, a British entrepreneur named Stuart Gold saw opportunity in that trash and a chance to do some good. He founded Trashy Bags, which now produces some 250 products a week while its network of its collectors has gathered millions of water sachets that might otherwise be on the streets of Accra.
Trashy Bags — and other companies like it, since I know there are similar outfits in other places — offer a great set of solutions to the problem of plastic pollution. As the Trashy Bags website explains:
- Demonstrating that waste plastic can still be useful long after it has outlived its original purpose.
- Using an opportunity to educate people in Africa about the dangers of land pollution and encouraging them to dispose of their rubbish responsibly.
- Creating employment by paying for sachet collections, employing people to wash the sachets and then stitching them into bags. At our Accra workshop we employ over 60 full-time workers.
- Helping to keep our streets and residential areas cleaner, thereby making the environment more attractive and safer for us all.
- Reducing the need for new single-use plastic bags to be manufactured and given away at food and other retail outlets.