Plastic bags, bottle tops and creative reuse

Plastic bags in Ouaga

Plastic bags are everywhere in the capital Ouagadougou. Buying some fruit? Take a bag. A bottle of water? Here’s another. After a short period of use, they are tossed away, often ending up in the street, gutters, trees, or the stomach of an unassuming donkey! And in many poor neighborhoods there are no formal public services to collect trash, creating an environmental and hygiene disaster.

PagaBags was born from plastic bags. Indeed, the motivation behind our project was to attack the proliferation of plastic bags by finding an outlet to recycle them. The outlet we created was to consider plastic as a thread that would be woven with cotton into a unique, eco-friendly material.

We went about launching the project by establishing a collaboration among women: waste collectors, plastic cutters, weavers and sewers. 

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From waste to handbags

Today we work with 28 women whose job it is to separate the plastic. These women set aside plastic bags for PagaBags; we buy them by the kilo. The plastic bags are then brought to the weavers’ workshop. Six cutters separate out the good from the bad, clean the bag with soap in large basins, then once they are dry, cut them into strips. These become reels of plastic thread that can be used by the weavers. Then, six weavers put the plastic onto their traditional looms and weave it with cotton. 

Sadly, about one-third of the plastic bags we buy cannot be upcycled because they are too damaged to be woven.

Fortunately, like many other African nations, Burkina Faso has recently banned plastic bags.

Looking forward, when plastic bags finally become scarce, we will continue to work with our team of artisans in promoting traditional know-how by creating beautiful material made from 100% cotton!   

From plastic to pearls

The first time we unearthed Boussouma beads, they were bunched up in a basket at the check in counter at a hotel. Delighted, it was hard to believe that these beautiful beads were not of stone but plastic: Colorful, marbled, perfectly formed plastic.

The hotel put us in touch with the founding members of the French NGO Couleur Baobab, Françoise Chevallier and her husband Jacques, who connected PagaBags with an association of women farmers in Boussouma. Boussouma is a small farming village located in the countryside north of Ouagadougou. Like Ouaga, Boussouma has a plastic and waste problem.

Since 2014, PagaBags has worked with the women’s association, called Zemes Taaba, to make necklaces and bracelets from their remarkable plastic beads. This gives the women income during the off-season.

The technique involves prodding small chunks of pre-cut plastic onto a metal stick. The stick is then slowly rotated over a fire until the plastic softens. It does not take long but it does take skill and concentration.