Trash and trash disposal are an international issue, and while Western countries tend to understand proper recycling, often times making ‘going green’ a lifestyle trend, this is not the case in many other parts of the world.

Ghana, Africa is one example of poor recycling awareness. Locals dispose of garbage along the roads, cluttering gutters. The plastic water sachets, used in place of plastic bottles, are a prime cause of litter, as most people use and throw away at least two a day.

Stuart Gold was already living in Ghana when his attention was drawn to the pressing issue of litter throughout the streets of Accra. After meeting with a local who expressed an interest in creating change, he launched Trashy Bags in 2008.

Photo Courtesy of Trashy Bags

Turning Trash To Style

Trashy Bags creates new products out of trash, without changing the form of the products or melting it down, as many other companies do. They employee Ghanaian locals who collect water sachets from the street — paying a fair local price — and then turn them into stylish products like laptop cases, purses, gym bags and wallets.

Water sachets, along with the ice cream and milk sachets, are made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE), a type 2 plastic and a non-biodegradable material. It’s favorable as it can easily be recycled into other plastics and is very versatile in use; however, the lack of education on recycling in Ghana leads to an extreme littering problem.

Trashy Bags pays locals to collect the water sachets from the street, approximately 180,000 each month. Sachets are then washed and sun-dried before being created individually by some of the 42 locals Trashy Bags employs. Despite having over 50 products in 350 varieties, many of the Trashy Bags employees have the pattern for each product memorized.

Photo Courtesy of Trashy Bags

Though originally water sachets were the primary material used in creating the products, they’ve slowly transitioned to mainly using old billboard ads, using water sachets to line the insides. They also collect reclaimed fabric from the local markets for from flare.

Local Impact

Trashy Bags creates a significant impact on the lives of those that they employ, as many of them have been working with Trashy Bags for several years.

Additionally, they’ve created awareness throughout the community by displaying a visible product. People are now seeing that things they thought could only be used for one purpose can now be used to create something new.

Photo courtesy of Trashy Bags

Proper Recycling Education

Trashy Bags worked with several embassies in Ghana to create the Smart Ghana Initiative, a recycling awareness program. They hired and trained locals to create 5,000 of their trashy smart bags, which were then displayed in local supermarkets and sold for a very low local price. Inside each bag was a pamphlet on proper recycling techniques, with the idea being to encourage locals to reuse their bag instead of the plastic bags that would generally only be used once and thrown away.

Get Involved

It’s unlikely that trash will ever cease to be an issue in most countries; however, there are a few ways to help. When traveling, always make sure to dispose of your trash properly. It may be easier to throw your trash on the street but set an example for the locals by discarding trash in appropriate ways. There are also a number of nonprofits hosting programs and initiatives to help the global trash problem, like:

  • Keep America Beautiful: Work with a large number of nonprofits and community organizations toward keeping the environment clean, with lots of variety in the projects promoted.
  • The National Recycling Coalition: Passionate about recycling and composting with an emphasis on education, with lots of educational conferences, events and webinars held.
  • Donate used items to nonprofits instead of trashing them.
  • Ample Harvest: Help people reduce food waste by donating excess food and garden produce.
  • Ocean Conservancy: Work toward trash free seas.

And of course, support organizations and businesses that encourage recycling, like Trashy Bags. You’ll help the local community and the environment at the same time.

By Sky Fisher

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Sky Fisher

Sky Fisher is a small-town country girl with a passion for travel. She has a love affair with Central America and currently calls Costa Rica home. Follow her adventures at Sky vs World.

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