The humble plastic bag is quietly taking over. In the US alone, over 100 million of them are used every year, and yet less than 1% are recycled. The mile-wide island of drifting plastic in the Pacific Ocean is perhaps only the first sign of a future in which we will find ourselves up to the eyeballs in the stuff. The biggest problem is one of blunt finance: it costs more to recycle a bag than to make a new one. But where we see a problem, others see raw materials... and an opportunity.
Reform Studio in Egypt has found a novel way to reinvigorate the dying art of hand-loom weaving, while at the same time empowering local women and helping them to find a way out of poverty. Artisans take the plastic, then shred it and weave it into durable, colourful fabrics for houseware. The material, called Plastex by the company, is long-lasting and water-resistant--a problem which, when in its initial state is choking rivers or landfills, is turned into a positive advantage.
Plastex is cheap, made from nearly limitless and unwanted base materials and can be made using simple techniques that are extremely energy efficient. The techniques have been around for centuries, the equipment often for decades. There's no need to use industrial processes, and the end result uses the bright colours of the bags to create upholstery that's bold and vibrant. Check out their new Grammy's Collection (pictured) that updates a classic 60's chair design for the modern age.
Meanwhile back in the States, bagmaker Sheila Odyssey is using the same techniques to create her range of clutches and purses. The aesthetic here is much more glamourous, shot through with a bright thread of humour--each item states, in a shoutback to its humble origin, that "This Bag Is Not A Toy." But at heart her offerings are much the same as those of the Egyptian collectives: discarded plastics woven on hand-looms. Both Odyssey and Reform Studios have looked past the economic reasons not to do something about the problem of excessive carrier bags, and seen that the solution can be beautifully simple.