With an average lifetime use of only 20 minutes, plastic bags have become helpful day-to-day tools we discard without a second thought. But even the old saying ‘out of sight, out of mind’ does not apply to our rising discarded plastic bag problem.
We’re often confronted with reminders hanging from trees and piling up in alleys. These plastic bags are hardly ever recycled and can take hundreds of years to ‘decompose’. With all this in mind, German designer Stefanie Ritter founded Streetplastic and created a hand-operated mobile foundry that turns plastic bags into accessories that will last longer than just 20 minutes: customizable tote bags.
Streetplastic is a mobile foundry, which operates through the streets of the city. It makes new plastic bags out of old ones. The process takes place on the street, so the street becomes an improvised manufacturing line. -Stefanie Ritter
Ritter’s Streetplastic cart is an impressive experiment, but without someone to take the reigns, this is a project that ultimately won’t solve a thing. There’s no doubt Ritter’s ‘machine’ is a fun and inventive project, but much like plastic bags themselves, it’s part solution and part problem.
For hygienic reasons, the Streetplastic cart requires unused and fresh plastic bags to properly work. Obviously, this project is more of a thought experiment than solution and won’t be used for large scale recycling of the ever increasing number of used plastic bags we encounter every day. The complications with finding new ways of recycling our waste output can take the wind out of the sales of many ingenious inventions. We already saw the restrictions that kept upcycling paper plates from becoming a new way of getting rid of junk mail.
To see the effect our plastic bag consumption has on our world, one needs to look no further than the oceans. In 2010 alone, Over eight million tons of plastic from coastal countries ended up in the ocean. This number is far higher than the estimates deduced from the ocean’s floating ‘garbage islands’.
The size of the discrepancy is huge — 20 to 2,000 times more than the range of estimates of floating debris. That is pretty shocking, especially when you consider that the amount going into the ocean in a single year and what we’re counting in the oceans has been going in for 50 years. -Kara Lavender Law, oceanographer at the Sea Education Association
To put that number into perspective, the amount of plastic in the ocean would be equal to lining up five grocery bags of trash on every foot of coastline on the planet. By 2025, that number is expected to double.
You can find products made from recycled plastic if you know where to look
How can we combat wasteful plastic bag usage? The Greenovate Foundationis an NGO working towards increasing awareness of environmental responsibilities, especially in Asia where the amount of plastic waste is not to be underestimated. As a symbol of the possibilities of recycling plastic, they’ve created two different recycled plastic bags.
Their black MaGiC tote bag is made using PET fibers and is 100% created from recycled plastic. Their red Reuse tote bag is made from 50% recycled polyester and high-quality fibers. The durability and longevity of bags like this show that we can take the waste we’ve already put out and use them to prevent more in the future.