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Green Economy in Practice: Recycling Plastics into Reusable Bags

1 Nov 2011


Green Economy in Practice: Recycling Plastics into Reusable Bags
The extensive use of plastic bags is harming the environment, with detrimental effects that last for decades. In response some communities have banned their use, and created reusable bags and art out of used plastics. A travelling exhibit, In The Bag: The Art and Politics of the Reusable Bag Movement, showcases bags and art produced by communities throughout the world and by individual artists.

UNRISD sponsored the exhibit, curated by Liz Milwe and Peter Wormser, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva to coincide our conference on Green Economy and Sustainable Development: Bringing Back the Social Dimension.

UNRISD Director Sarah Cook, speaking at the opening, said, “We…recognize that solutions to these problems cannot be only technical and technological, or flowing from global negotiations and conventions. They involve actions by all of us, as global citizens and as consumers: they will require transformation of production and consumption patterns, and changes in our individual behaviours and lifestyles”.

In The Bag traces the beginnings of the reusable bag movement and presents the growth of creative alternatives to plastic. Presenting a selection of colourful reusable bags made from billboards, juice boxes, rice bags and discarded plastic, the exhibition aims to introduce grassroots recycling movements sprouting up in small resourceful communities in Bangladesh, Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Kenya and the Philippines, among others.

It is estimated that the world uses more than one trillion plastic bags a year—300 bags for every adult on the planet; over one million bags per minute. On average we use each plastic bag for approximately 12 minutes before disposing of it. Plastic bags can then last for decades in the environment: as with all forms of plastic, they do not biodegrade. They photo-degrade, breaking down into smaller and smaller toxic bits contaminating soil, waterways, oceans and entering the food web when ingested by animals.

Communities in a growing number of countries across the world are taking action to ban plastic bags. This movement shows the power of individuals to make positive social and environmental change in their communities.

For more information on the exhibit, go to www.inthebag.com. The show at the Palais des Nations closed on 28 October.

UNRISD is grateful to the government of Norway for its generous support of the conference, Green Economy and Sustainable Development: Bringing Back the Social Dimension, and to our core funders without whose support none of our work would be possible. We also thank UNOG Director-General Mr. Kassym-Jomart Tokayev for his patronage of the event, and the UNOG Cultural Activities Committee for their kind collaboration.