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Turning trash into fashion

Environmentally-conscious firm in Ghana recycles plastic bags into stylish totes.

There are 60 employees, excluding the dozens of people who are paid small fees for collecting the bags. If the Smart Bag plan succeeds, Gold says he’ll expand production by enlisting people outside Accra to collect, clean and sew the bags in their villages.

“We can’t do it cheaply enough in Accra. Our overhead is too high,” said Gold, who declined to discuss sales figures. “It’s hard to get to the point where we’re covering our costs. We’re not even breaking even.”

Educating the public about the dangers of plastic waste is another goal. Trashy Bags worked with the French Embassy in Accra two years ago to persuade shoppers at six supermarkets to use less plastic. More recently, they’ve asked the supermarkets to charge a small fee for each plastic bag. Under the plan, the fees would go into a nongovernmental fund allocating grants for environmental projects. They’re awaiting an answer from the city’s biggest supermarket.

Production manager Elvis Aboluah said his fellow Ghanaians are still learning that plastic waste is harmful to the environment.

“We need to educate people to let them understand that, look, the plastic that you have thrown away 50 or 60 years ago is hidden somewhere and causing destruction,” he said. “It’s a major, major problem. Plastic doesn’t biodegrade like leaves and other things.”

African governments have struggled with the plastic waste problem — more focused on plastic bags than sachets. Eritrea, Rwanda and Tanzania have banned plastic bags while South Africa, Uganda and Kenya have set restrictions on their production and use.

Last year, Ghana's Vice President John Dramani Mahama said at an environmental conference that the administration would support a ban on plastic bags if the problem were not solved. As for sachets, Ghana plans to impose a 20 percent tax on sales of water in plastic bottles and sachets, to raise money for cleanup efforts.

Lovely, the American, has visited the showroom many times and now brings friends. In the past she has bought children’s backpacks as well as computer bags for friends.

“That was just for fun,” she said. “I don’t know that you’d walk into Price Waterhouse with one ... but you should.”