Upcycling is a concept, or rather a process, of converting any waste or material into a valuable object. The phenomenon is growing, especially in Africa where some SMEs are already integrating the concept of circular economy into their mode of production, by transforming plastic bags. Focus on a few of them.
The proliferation of plastic bags on the streets of African cities has become unbearable. But now some countries are mobilizing to stop what has become a scourge. They were sensitive to environmental issues and understood that plastic bag management is a major environmental issue. But also in economic terms.
In Ghana, for example, these bags have often been used to transport a small amount of water or to drink it only. Cheap, they were then discarded after use. The initiative of a Ghanaian artist Tei Huagie who worked from garbage, encourages an English architect and entrepreneur to take up the idea.
In 2007, Stuart Gold decided to clear the city of all these bags. From this waste, he makes handbags, coin gates, raincoats and other fashion accessories. This is how the NGO Trashy Bags was born.
To increase its efficiency, the organization also urges citizens to bring back bags for £2 per 1,000 bags. Washed, dried and then cut by some sixty tailors, these bags take on a new form and start a new life. Trashy Bags distributes its products in Japan, Germany and Denmark.
Another country, another project… In Bobo-Dioulasso – the second largest city in Burkina Faso – Haoua Ilboudo was annoyed to see animals die. They were ingesting the black plastic bags that were carelessly dumped in the wild. And this phenomenon was responsible for nearly a third of animal deaths in Burkina Faso, according to the country’s Ministry of Animal Resources.
She decided to act with the help of the GAFREH (Women’s Action Group for Economic Recovery of Houet), an association that aims to help women to self-manage and become actors in their lives. Haoua Ilboudo then began with 4 women and started making objects from these bags: fabrics, backpacks, pouches for tablets and computers, necklaces or key rings. These items are then sold in small shops belonging to the association in Bobo-Dioulasso and Ouagadougou.
Tourists are the main customers with well-off Burkinabes. Indeed, expect to pay around 7,500 CFA francs (around £8.50) for a traditional bag, which can seem quite expensive. But its price is justified: they are products of the circular economy and therefore sustainable and ecological.
Moreover, several European retailers are regular customers and place orders via the online shop. Even Yves Saint Laurent has launched a collection of handbags created from the association’s recycled fabric. Indeed, in 2011 the Haute Couture company joined the women of GAFREH and launched in limited edition the “Muse Two Artisanal” bag made of recycled material.
Accompanied today by a hundred women, the project brings together Burkinabes aged 16 to about 70 years. They are mainly involved in the recycling process. Other similar initiatives should be noted, as upcycling is emulating. And not just in plastic bags!
Mahatsara, for example, is a brand that combines ethics, fair trade, and African know-how. With recycled plastic, they make chandeliers, from papier-mâché, photophores. But from phone wires, they create woven baskets or jewelry. They also transform felted wool into poufs. The declination is not infinite but almost…
These different projects, both in terms of the places and the techniques used, have in common the undeniable desire to create from waste, while preserving the environment. And that’s the basic idea of upcycling.