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Continuing from the last piece where I briefly touched on the Smart Ghana Initiative…

Across the world a staggering 500 billion single use plastic bags are manufactured each year. In Ghana, and across the world, a large majority of these bags are burned releasing harmful pollutants including dioxins and ultrafine articles into the air. Dioxins and ultrafine articles have been linked to cancer, birth defects and reproductive disorders and so it is imperative that this is stopped.

In 2010, Trashy Bags joined the French Embassy and set up the Smart Ghana Initiative to address the issue of plastic waste in Ghana. Central to the Initiative is the Trashy Smart Bag. Leading with the words Reduce, Recycle and Reuse, we designed a reusable, durable, recycled shopping bag as an alternative to single use plastic bags.

stuart and Elvis

One of the most common plastics to be found on the streets of Ghana are drinking water sachets. Already recycling 130,000 of these a month, we used the water sachets as the main inspiration for the Smart Bag. Each individual bag is made out of roughly seventy old water sachets and can hold up to 18 kilos.

smart bag

With funding from the British High Commission, French Embassy and Australian High Commission, links were set up across major supermarkets in Accra to stock the Trashy Smart Bag. The funding enabled us to offer the bags free of charge to supermarkets and retailers further encouraging their involvement. In order for the Smart Bag to have significant impact, it was sold for a nominal fee of 2 GHC, making it affordable but giving the bag a value to encourage shoppers not to throw it away but to reuse it. A display box and stand was also created to give maximum stand out and to inform the shopper why they should buy a Smart Bag over the free single use plastic bag.

lady with a bag the pit 2

Another aspect of the initiative was to offer work to unemployed youth in communities around Accra as well as educate them of the importance of recycling. Each bag required a team, referred to as ‘Smart Teams’, to clean the sachets, stitch them together and turn them into stylish, long lasting bags. With a month’s thorough training from us, the teams were set to go and produced around 40 bags a day. Our total number of bags produced was 5000.

The Smart Ghana Initiative continues today and our bags can be found in all of Max Mart’s stores across Accra. Due to budget constraints, we could only produce 5000 bags for the Initiative and so our Smart Teams have completed their work. Over 30 youth were able to take full time employment for 4 months for this project. We also used over 350,000 water sachets and looking back over the 5 years since the project started, there has been a significant reduction in water sachets littering the streets.

Once officially launched, a survey and questionnaire on consumer opinions about the Initiative and recycling awareness was carried out. The bags received a great response and 70% said they would pay up to 5 GHC; but no higher as the average shopper would not be able to afford the bag. Many were also amazed at the fact that the bags were made from used water sachets.
 

questionaire

With regards to focusing on the waste issue in Ghana we received a variety of responses. 80% did agree that there is a waste problem and it needs to be dealt with; however a worrying 18% did not feel plastic waste is an issue in Ghana. We also wanted to find out who people felt was responsible for litter in the streets and a huge majority felt this lay with the Government. A large majority also felt it was the general public’s responsibility. Sadly many also did not have much knowledge of the issue or where the plastic comes from and so it was clear from the surveys that more education needs to be offered to people about the importance of recycling and the issue here. Once people have this understanding, we can encourage each other to take care of our environment. Support is needed form all aspects of society to help clean up Ghana.

Overall shoppers felt our Smart Bags were a smart solution to the problem.

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We are all gradually becoming more aware of the importance of recycling our waste and George, Mustafa and Florence certainly do their bit! Since working for Trashy Bags, all three say they have changed their attitude towards waste.
 
George, the Sales Manager based at the Trashy Bags’ Osu store, regularly goes round his local area and picks up any recyclable material from his neighbours. As there are no specific recycling bins around Accra, George has to make the journey himself to the recycling factory to deposit his collection. This adds costs and something that George cannot always afford.
 

 
Mustafa, the Accounts Manager at Trashy Bags comments on how his attitude towards getting a lunch takeaway has changed. He now prefers to eat at the food stalls (chop bars as they are called in Ghana) as opposed to ordering a takeaway and eating at his desk, “I do not like the plastic bags and containers that you get when ordering takeaway. It’s such a waste and so for years now I have always tried to avoid this by choosing to eat at the chop bars.” Mustafa also tries to recycle at home by reusing things if possible and keeps his empty water sachets to bring to Trashy Bags.
 
Florence, an Administrative Assistant at Trashy Bags, has also changed her habits and refuses to throw anything away. Before, she says, she wouldn’t even think twice about throwing away her water sachets, often leaving them on the bus or flinging them into the gutters. But since being involved with Trashy Bags, she finds it frustrating to see any discarded rubbish and will always take her litter home. Florence’s main reason for her habit change is realising what you can do with rubbish and being able to recreate something new: “I’m amazed by what I see when we receive new stock from our workshop. Each of our bags are all individually designed and I can’t believe that once, the bag was a plastic billboard!”
 
Since Trashy Bags opened its doors 6 years ago, there has been a huge improvement in the amount of littering. George explains that before, you would see in particular water sachets, lining every gutter and walkway but now Accra is much cleaner in comparison. Trashy Bags have helped this improvement through many of its initiatives including the Smart Ghana Initiative, which was set up to reduce plastic waste and encourage people to use reusable bags when shopping. The Initiative required people to go out on the streets to collect old water sachets and in return earn money for what they had collected. The sachets would then be transformed into new, durable and reusable shopping bags! Not only did this create new jobs for people but a need for picking up litter.
 

smart shopping bag

The Smart bags are all made from water sachets and can hold up to 18kg!

 
It’s certainly noticeable going round the Trashy Bags workshop and store that most of the employees look to recycle litter now. In particular many collect their empty water sachets and bring them in, knowing that they can be used at the workshop. The need for water sachets has lessened since the Smart Ghana Initiative started, as Trashy Bags now look to use other recyclable materials; however it has made its employees like George, Mustafa and Florence think about where their rubbish goes.

 

Kirsten McWilliams

In recent years the idea of creating fashion and objects from recyclable materials has become a major trend in some countries and so more and more we are seeing new innovative ways of reusing our plastic bottles, old clothes, tin cans and takeaway boxes.

Through fashion we are seeing the world differently and seeing the potential of the things lying around in our homes that may soon be on their way out. Old jumpers are revolutionised into new skirts, gloves and pillowcases. Ladders are turning into towel racks, glass bottles into vases and crates are transforming into tables. Truly anything goes.

jumper to skirt 2jumper to skirt

People are becoming more creative and without even realising, helping to reduce waste pollution and deforestation.

Since 2009, Trashy Bags, has been producing beautifully designed recycled accessories. Material off cuts, old plastic billboards and water sachets are reinvented into handbags, computer cases, pencil cases, purses… the list is endless! It is showing the people of Ghana how an old, tatty and rather past it’s best, piece of material can have a new life and become a fine-looking new fashion item.

grace

Other companies too have sparked an interest in using recyclable material to make a living and raise awareness. Global Mamas, an organisation started in 2003 by six Ghanaian women, create products such as jewellery made from old glass beads and have teamed up with Trashy bags to develop an exclusive ‘Trashy’ bag range. Artists have also joined the movement such as internationally renowned El Anatsui who rose to fame for converting found materials into sculptures and paintings. And artist, Tei Huagie, from Accra also takes inspiration from old billboards and plastic and transforms them into magnificent art pieces.

Slowly we are seeing how recycling is giving life to many entrepreneurs and artists in Ghana.

huffington post El ahatsui

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El Anatsui, 2007. This piece is made from copper and aluminium.
Photo: Joe Levack

But you don’t need an expensive sewing machine or professional paintbrushes or to be an artist to start creating. With just a few simple tools and a little imagination we can be inventive in our own homes. After a week’s collection we can already start to craft new, useful objects. Even something as simple as cutting a milk carton in half, we can create storage pots for stationary. Or miniature gardens can simply be put together by cutting a hole in a plastic bottle and threading string through either end to hang the garden from.

So, let your creative juices flow and give recycling a try. Soon you’ll see how everything can be reused and brought to life as new pieces of art, fashion and house hold items.

plastic bottle garden

A hanging garden made from plastic bottles

 

milk cartons

Pens stored in old milk cartons

boredpanda.com

By Kirsten McWilliams

Day three and I feel much more at ease and more comfortable talking to the Trashy Bag staff. I feel like I am beginning to blend into the environment, arriving at the same time each day; a routine is developing. I am always acknowledged, but not in a way that makes me feel I am under suspicious scrutiny. Looking into the workroom I still feel overwhelmed, there are so many people that I can talk to, how do I choose? Since a few of the girls I spoke to worked with sewing machines today I am looking around to see if any of the girls are doing something different. That is how I met Nicolina.

Sitting on the left side of the room, Nicolina didn’t have a sewing machine, which immediately caught my attention. She was sitting partially hidden behind a pile of bags with even more bags surrounding her feet. We talk.  She explains that she is the quality controller.  Checking the bags for quality before they are sent to the showroom. Since Nicolina is the only Quality Controller she has a lot of work to do. She invites me to sit closer to her while we talk, an offer I am happy to accept. Nicolina is from Greater Accra and has worked for Trashy Bags for 4 years. Nicolina also shares my interest in fashion and she tells me she has studied fashion design in textiles and clothing at Akosombo. This is exciting and I tell her about the university course I am about to begin.  Wow, we have a common interest and she excitedly shows me that she too enjoys fashion, and even has her own stamp for creating fabric designs. Nicolina shows me a stamp I see it is somebody’s name, but many different patterns are possible. In my head I’m wondering how it is that though we come from such diverse backgrounds, cultures and lifestyles here we are able to talk about fashion and clothes as if no such differences exist.

Now, Nicolina continues her story of her journey to Trashy Bags. After Akosombo, she worked for an NGO called ECOWING, where she learned computer skills and how to be a secretary. Even more amazing, she learnt sign language there and helped to rehabilitate both deaf and dumb people. Nicolina demonstrates this by signing the alphabet to me, and I do my best to remember a few signs myself. She explains that at ECOWING, deaf and mute people learn skills such as basket weaving and how to use a calabash, so that they are better prepared for their future.

Whilst working at ECOWING, she heard about Trashy Bags and that they had jobs.  She applied to become a secretary but to her disappointment, there was no secretary job available but instead they were looking for a quality controller and she was happy to take that position.

Nicolina’s life, to me, seems full of achievements. Whilst talking about the future of Trashy Bags, she tells me she hopes the company will stay for a long time. Nicolina confides she has a few ideas about helping the company, she thinks that more volunteers should be introduced to Trashy Bags. Nicolina believes that volunteers were a great help at ECOWING, as more people were exposed to the company and their goals. She tells me that she met many overseas people at ECOWING, from Belgium and Switzerland, and now has friends from all over the world. She believes volunteers are the key to helping Trashy Bags to grow.

Now Nicolina says she has some questions for me, I smile and agree that I will answer them for her. She wants know if I have any interests, besides fashion, and I tell her that I love to sing. This excites Nicolina and she invites me to come and sing at her church. I don’t want to offend her by saying no, but I am much too shy and I don’t know any church music either. Once I tell Nicolina this, she commands that I must go away and learn some church songs. Then, as I’m thinking what to say, she has changed the subject. She begins to tell me that her dream is to help other people achieve their dreams, and she believes that everybody should have a vision. So often people have dreams that are selfish, based on self-interest, whereas Nicolina I find is demonstrating true selflessness. Before I leave, she wants me to promise that I will try to help others achieve their dreams as well, and I assure her that I will. She does not seem too convinced by my answer so to reassure her I tell that I pinky promise. Realising from her expression that she has no idea what this means, I decide to teach her. We cross pinky fingers to secure the promise, and she seems much more comfortable that I will do what she’s asked.

It is time for me to leave now, another day at Trashy Bags complete!

Becky Craig 24th Aug 2013

As I entered the workroom, I could feel eyes on me from every direction. I had been worried that I would make people uncomfortable by asking questions, but walking into the workroom it was me who felt intimidated. In my head I’m wondering the best way to initiate a conversation, and no one seems too interested in speaking to me. I turn around feeling really nervous and start heading back towards the door when I see one woman is smiling at me. Her smile is friendly and I decide I can talk to her, although I am still not sure how to start. The woman’s name is Janet, and she introduces me to Lucy who is working next to her. They are chatting together whilst busily working with their sewing machines.

            Janet tells me she has only been at Trashy Bags for two years, but Lucy says she has been here for five.  Janet seems more eager to talk to me, so I direct my questions at her. She is from Kotobabi, and she learned about Trashy Bags from her father who was working as a security guard nearby, and helped her to find a job there. She also tells me that she is very grateful to Stuart for all of his help. When I ask her what she is grateful for, she explains that Trashy Bags has given her so many opportunities and that she is “aiming higher”, although I don’t know what she means at first. She explains to me that working here has taught a new trade, she learned to cut and sew and now feels more independent. She tells me that she can make things herself, and fix her own clothes. To demonstrate, she mimes tearing her sleeve, and she says “no more seamstress!” with a big smile.

            Lucy nods her head in agreement to this statement, and tells me she also enjoyed learning to sew. Lucy is from Madina, a region of Accra but far away from here, her and Janet guess that it is about 15km away. Talking about their hometowns, the topic moves to family, and Janet tells me she has 6 siblings, 1 brother and 5 sisters. Suddenly she points to another woman a few metres away, and excitedly informs me that this is her sister. She tells me I should go and ask her questions too. Remembering that she has 4 other sisters, I ask her if any of them also work here. At first, Janet looks confused, then her and Lucy exchange words in another language and the two of them chuckle together. Now it is my turn to look confused, and I wait for Janet or Lucy to explain. Janet clarifies by telling me that she is her “work sister”, not her actual sibling. It’s a little embarrassing for me, but I remember there is a language barrier here. I secretly wonder how many other communication errors I will make today.

            Before I move on, Janet tells me I should ask her if she is married, to which Lucy reacts with a remark in Twi, which sounds irritated but still a little amused. Janet ignores her and tells me she is not yet married but she soon will be, and that she also hopes to have children someday. They wave me off in the direction of Janet’s “sister”, and I leave them smiling and discussing love and marriage. As I make my way towards the next group of woman, I’m smiling to myself because I know I’m going to enjoy my time here.

Becky Craig – 21st Aug 2013

Since it’s my first day at Trashy Bags, I am very nervous and not sure what to expect. When I first arrive, I am downstairs in the workroom, and I feel very intimidated. I realise that here I am different, worthy of stares and maybe even a few whispered comments. Although I was greeted with words of welcome and a few smiles, I still felt as though I were being examined. I quickly made my way up to the showroom, knowing less people would be up there. Luckily, in the showroom is only Joyce, who works in the shop. She welcomes me and then I remember there was a cosmetic bag I wanted to buy somewhere on display, I look for it but I’m disappointed to find that its gone. However, Joyce knows the bag I mean and she finds it for me. Feeling slightly more confident, I decide to stay and talk to Joyce for a while.

Joyce is very friendly and although she is busy, she makes time to talk to me. I have a lot of questions because it is my first time here, but I’m concerned that there is definitely a language barrier. We are from two very different cultures and I am worried we will not have too much to talk about, but luckily I am surprised to find I can relate to a lot of what Joyce has to say. We start talking about her work here at Trashy Bags, and she tells me she has not always worked in the showroom. She started by cutting and washing materials when she began working here 4 years ago. She explains that it took 1-2 months to learn how to sew, before she could start sewing the sachets together. Even after she learned to sew, she says she was never a “finisher”, and didn’t finalize the bags.

Since we are in the showroom, surrounded by displays of all the different types of bags, it seems natural that we would talk about them. Joyce remembers the way the bags looked originally; made from proper trash, water sachets and Fanyogo packets. She tells me she believes the new bags with the new designs are much more fashionable, and will attract new customers. I ask Joyce if her family have ever seen the Trashy Bags, but her smile tells me they have not. She explains that her family live in the Eastern region, about 3 hours by car. She says she sees her parents only once a year, when she visits during Christmas. I can identify with her living far from her home, and I tell her that although I live with my parents, I see my grandparents only twice year, as they live in England.

Since her home is so far away, Joyce tells me she is staying in La Paz, which is not far from Trashy Bags. I am pleased to realise that I have heard of La Paz, and Joyce finds it very funny that I even know the song called “La Paz Toyota”.

Joyce informs me that she heard about Trashy Bags from a friend, and she had never been to this part of Accra before. When she came to see Trashy Bags, she came with only one friend, but she tells me that she was not afraid of being on her own in a new place. I am completely taken aback, as this is so different from my own lifestyle. I think about leaving to go to university and imagine having to go on my own to a new city and a new home; it doesn’t make any sense to me. I decide it must be a cultural thing, and that Joyce is very independent, something I will have to learn.

Joyce tells me a little more about her family, including that she has many siblings, although some are half brothers and sisters. She explains that in Ghana, it is common to have up to 10 brothers and sisters in one family. This seems so many to me, coming from a society where most families have only 2 or 3 children. We are interrupted momentarily while Joyce speaks to Kingsley in another language, I guess it could be Twi and Joyce confirms that I am right when I ask her. she says she can speak Twi and English, although there are other widely spoken languages such as Gha and Ewe.

As our conversation comes to an end, Joyce tells me she hopes Trashy Bags will stay in business for a long time, as she enjoys the work and finds the concept of the bags very interesting. I take one last look around the showroom before deciding I feel brave enough to go back downstairs. As I walk back down the steps, I realise my experience at Trashy Bags has officially begun.

Becky Craig 20th Aug 2012

I thought I would post this really interesting email that I received from John Broad who, like me, went to Sutton Valence School in Kent;  albeit a good 30 years before I did.  He left Sutton Valence in 1940 due to threatened invasion and travel difficulties and was later called up and plunged into a more interesting and dramatic era than my generation can remember.  At Sutton Valence he witnessed the crater of a bomb that fell very near the school and when he finally left school he joined the British Army and was landed in Normandy on D-Day 1944 where he received minor wounds before returning four days later to England.  As you will read below he spent time in Ghana in the British Army in 1947.  Over to John…

Fellow soldier on left standing with Company Sergeant Major in Ghana 1947

08/02/2012 – Hi,

Reading of your wonderful work in Ghana I am full of admiration that someone is helping the curse of plastic trash. The world is a frightening place when one sees to pictures of the vast accumulation of plastic brought together by wind and currents and floating mid Pacific. At least we are all becoming more aware of the problem and we have our hessian carry bags and reuse the tesco plastic bags at each shopping trip, doing our little bit to help.

However the thought of Ghana brought to mind a wonderful 18 month spell 1945/46 serving with the RWAFF, Gold Coast Regiment. Posted to Accra my face didn’t fit in with the stuffy highly formal colonial regimental life and I was soon on a trooper to Egypt where I joined 18th.Infantry Garrison Company providing around the clock guards for ordnance depots, fuel stores and so on around Alexandria. It was there that I met Bentley (42) when we played cricket on opposing teams and he was the only Old Suttonian that I have (knowingly) met.

Late in ‘47 the company returned to Takoradi and then to Kumasi by train. It was from there that myself and another officer set out with three or four 3 tonners full of excited demobbed soldiers to deliver them to their home villages in the Northern Territories. Arriving at each village the scene was always of such joy that I really don’t think that they ever expected to see their son at home with them again. If we had accepted the hospitality offered we should still be there I think.

I attach a photo or two, perhaps of vague interest, I am sure the White Volta ferry has long, long disappeared. The matting roofed bungalow is of the Officer’s Mess at Wa.

All best wishes, weren’t we lucky to attend such a great school. Sorry to have bored you with my memories but such is old age!!
John Broad

White Volta Ferry - Ghana 1948

Officers' Mess - Ghana 1946

11/0/2012 – Hi Stuart,

It must have been Christmas 2010 when the OS card was Bentley’s House (or that what it was called in my day) and I dropped them a line about my time there. This was eventually published to my surprise in the latest Suttonian on p92 and on p93 was your news from Ghana; as you are in the UK perhaps your copy may be in Ghana. Glad you liked the pics, you may be sorry as here are a few more plus a tale or two. On disembarking at Takoradi for demob some cases of chicken pox were diagnosed and we were all sent to an isolation camp on a hilltop safely out of the way, under a line of ever moving buckets taking bauxite to a waiting ship,. However that caused considerable unrest with talk of mutiny so we were rapidly sent on our way except for those actually sick. I heard of no further cases luckily.

I have labelled the next as Mapong Escarpment 25 miles N of Kumasi; the last is one of a series of unsuccessful photos trying to show the scarring of tribal markings.

Marpong Escarpment - Ghana 1948

You can certainly use the photos for any purpose that you wish, very poor quality taken on a kodak 620 folding camera with a tiny lens producing snaps about 2x3 inches all of course in black and white.

One final tale which is about one of our private soldiers who shot dead a thief in the depot he was guarding. The Court of Inquiry fully exonerated him but after a while he was taken into a Military Hospital as he was having serious nightmares believing that the relatives of the dead man had placed a ju-ju spell upon him. In due course one of his tribe (another private soldier) said that he himself had a more powerful ju-ju which given a little ceremony would overcome the problem. All was arranged at the hospital and in front of a fascinated audience of Drs and nurses it began with drumming, chanting and dancing culminating in the beheading of a chicken with a swift stroke of machete and the drinking of the blood as it poured out. At this point three of the nurses fainted although they must have been pretty hardened to gory sights. Regretfully it was to no avail and the poor chap was sent home for discharge.
Many thanks for the offer of a trashy bag which would be a nice reminder of your work.