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No such place as away

January 31, 2010

I know. The plastic bag debate is so 2005.

But wait. It is estimated that we still use and throw away 500 billion plastic bags every year. That’s almost 1 million per minute. But of course “there is no such place as away. Away is a mythical location where waste and trash can be disposed of without consequence.” (Michelle Archer, USA Today)

“Every time we use a new plastic bag they go and get more petroleum from the Middle East and bring it over in tankers,” said Stephanie Barger, executive director of Earth Resource Foundation. “We are extracting and destroying the Earth to use a plastic bag for 10 minutes.”

In China, plastic bags blowing around the streets are called “white pollution.”  In South Africa they have become so prevalent  that they are mockingly referred to as the “national flower”. Carried from land fills by the wind, discarded plastic bags are often seen hanging in bushes, floating in lakes and rivers, spoiling landscapes and choking animals.

It is pretty depressing. And the thing is, I wasn’t going to write about plastic bags at all, I was just looking for woven baskets when all this kind of just washed over and enveloped me the way only image searches on the internet can. The reason:

Windblown plastic bags are so prevalent in Africa, that a cottage industry has sprung up harvesting bags (in truth, this has been going on for some years now) – according to the BBC one group harvests 30,000 per month – using them to weave useful items like hats and bags.

Here is a beautiful plastic bag/sisal basket from a children’s support centre caring for orphans in Kenya. The resourcefulness of human beings never ceases to amaze me.

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