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LEBANON: Trashy Bag Gets Trendy

Mona Alami

BEIRUT, Jan 13 2011 (IPS) - Wafa Saab, a high-powered executive at the leading Lebanese-manufactured paint company Tinol, is an environmentally friendly fashionista. On her arm hangs a pink and blue gym bag. It’s made of garbage.

A bag made from trash. Credit: Maya Mazloum, Trashy Bags

A bag made from trash. Credit: Maya Mazloum, Trashy Bags

“It’s called a Trashy Bag, because it’s made – like the name suggests – from trash collected in Ghana,” she says, pointing to her bright pop art accessory.

The Trashy Smart Bag is the most popular model of the eco-friendly products manufactured by the Trashy Bags company, which was launched in 2007 by entrepreneur Stuart Gold. The bags are as cool as they are practical, some with the capacity to carry as much as 20kg. Each is made from 70 drinking water sachets.

The idea behind the product stemmed from the overflow of trash in the Ghanaian capital, Accra. Plastic bags, used for drinking water, are discarded by scores of urban dwellers on city streets. Gold noticed the piles of litter and took an interest in the waste problem. An entrepreneur through and through, he considered how to transform an environmental hazard into a creative business opportunity.

The trash is collected around Accra by approximately 60 employees of Trashy Bags, who process, hand wash, disinfect and sun dry the sachets before they are flattened and stitched into large sheets that make up the fabric of the products.

“At Trashy Bags, we encourage people to bring us empty sachets, for which we pay about 20 cents a kilogram,” says Gold. “We also collect plastic ice cream, fruit juice and yogurt packs.” The bags sell in the market for about eight to 50 dollars.

As the proverb goes, one person’s junk is another’s treasure. Since its launch, Trashy Bags says it has recycled approximately 20 million plastic sachets, collecting nearly 200,000 per month. The trash is used for 23 product lines, consisting of laptop cases, messenger bags, tote bags, vanity cases, backpacks, sports bags, purses, hats, wallets, water bottle holders, and shopping bags.

In addition to Lebanon, the bags are available in the U.S., the U.K., Germany, Japan, Holland, and Denmark. Gold notes that while Trashy Bags are most popular in Holland, it is the Japanese market that boasts the highest turnover.

“The typical profile of our clients is mostly people interested in the environment and Africa,” says Gold.

Maya Mazloum, exclusive distributor of Trashy Bags in Lebanon, adds that, in the Middle East, the bags tend to appeal to a very specific consumer.

“(The buyers) are mostly people who are well-travelled and cultured, and who take a keen interest in environmental issues,” she explains.

“It is essential to create awareness about the negative human impact on the environment,” she adds. “I really believe that Trashy Bags contributes to that endeavour.”

In recent years, the problem of plastic waste has become increasingly prevalent around the globe.

Wael Hmaydan, director of the non-profit organisation IndyAct, explains, “In Lebanon, the waste problem is reaching a crisis situation, where we may run out of space to dispose of our garbage.”

In recent weeks, a landfill located in the Nehmeh region of Lebanon has sparked outrage among residents of surrounding villages such as Abey, who fear the rise of deadly diseases that are allegedly linked to the emission of gases from the waste dump.

“It is definitely a topic that is high on the political agenda, and will become even more pressing very soon,” says Hmaydan. “Huge amounts of waste are produced daily.”

Hmaydan believes that the only way to solve the waste problem is through appropriate legislation and a ‘Zero Waste’ solution that has been adopted by international cities such as Buenos Aires and San Francisco. ‘Zero Waste’ focuses on the management and flow of material in human society before it becomes waste.

“Initiatives such as Trashy Bags are good to duplicate in the Middle East, but alone they will not solve the problem,” says Hmaydan. “The solution is to change the way we use natural material through legislation.”

Mazloum, however, says that an eco-friendly approach is being adopted by more and more companies around the world. She believes that this trend can positively influence the problem of environmental waste.

“It is essential for us to try to support such positive initiatives,” she concludes.

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