Statistics for single-use plastic bags are pretty difficult to pin down accurately but one suggestion is that every year we use the equivalent of 600 per person globally (https://www.theworldcounts.com/counters/waste_pollution_facts/plastic_bags_used_per_year).
Alternatives to single-use plastic bags began to appear in stores of retail chains in Namibia a few years ago, and a move to introduce a charge for such plastic bags previously given for free at the till was mooted by the Environmental Commissioner way back in 2015. Starting over the 2018 Christmas period, visitors to national parks found that government had placed a ban on bringing these past the entry gates (rather a blow if you had several kgs of raw meat packed into them in your car’s coolbox) and bit by bit shoppers found themselves being asked to pay a levy on each single-use bag they took away with them from the store. Meanwhile, some African countries were already implementing a full ban on the production, sale and use of such products (http://www.climateaction.org/news/kenya-passes-strict-plastic-bag-ban-after-a-10-year-legislative-marathon).
A look at the range of alternatives to these bags produces confusion: it can be very hard to tell what percentage of recycled material they contain and some are simply a different, thicker iteration of the original plastic bag, and therefore reusable only a few times. The jury remains out on the ‘green’ attributes of cotton bags https://www.theverge.com/2018/5/12/17337602/plastic-tote-bags-climate-change-litter-life-cycle-assessments-environment) Although not exhaustive, a survey I undertook of Windhoek supermarkets in early 2019 did not turn up any product designed as a substitute for single-use plastic bags that had been manufactured in Namibia, however. It seemed therefore obvious that there was a gap in the market for a ‘Proudly Namibian’ alternative if only the raw materials – waste that could be upcycled – could be sourced throughout the year.
Below left is the first tote bag that Julia Gomachas, one of the three project members, made with scraps of furnishing material, so that she could ascertain the sort of price she could charge for a sophisticated (lined) product such as this, as well as for a much more basic (but very sturdy) unlined shopping bag (below right) that could be used as a substitute for a single-use plastic bag. Although the designs/colours will always be limited by the donations the ‘Sew Good’ group has in stock, it’s obvious that creative people will not let such constraints effect their ability to make up items that are beautiful, as well as useful.
Once we had our first (very generous) donations of fabric swatch books and wallpaper samples from ‘Touch of Style’ interior design shop in Windhoek (https://www.facebook.com/touchofstyleinteriordecor/) – where members of staff also suggested some new product lines, such as covers for health passports – Julia and her two colleagues began production from their homes, with their very first sale made on 26th June.
Julia Gomachas is the ‘Sew Good’ project co-ordinator. She was born in Maltahöhe in the arid south of the country 50 years ago and came to work in Windhoek after school. She has three adult sons and has always sewn in her spare time. The designs on the products arise out of her creativity with the scraps of material she has at her disposal.