Ridding Arugam Bay of Evil Plastic

Rice & Carry Bags is recycling sacks used to transport rice and other grains in to stylish totes and pouches

By Avanti Samarasekera.

Published on May 22, 2015 with No Comments

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A plastic bag takes more than 500 years to degrade. The Central Environmental Authority says more than 35 million polythene bags and lunch sheets are disposed daily in Sri Lanka. A family typically discards seven plastic shopping bags and lunch sheets daily.

Having lived in Sri Lanka for over four years and witnessing the island’s beautiful beaches polluted by garbage, polythene bags in particular, Henry and Susanne Berg wanted to make a difference. They figured the best way to ensure polythene bags don’t end up in the garbage is to not use them at all. They set up Rice & Carry Bags with a vision to reduce the amount of plastic in Arugam Bay area on the east coast where they live.

Rice & Carry Bags produces rugged, reusable bags that can be used to carry home the shopping. The bags are produced out of recycled polythene sacks used in transporting and storing rice and other grains. Rice & Carry Bags gives new life to these bags in the form of unique handmade totes and pouches.

The stars behind these bags are the local women in the east coast who make them.

Currently the bags are mainly designed and created at a house in Komari, south of Arugam Bay. The founders have also opened a workshop in the area, but the women work at leisure and when time permits. “We have four women working in our operations house five days a week, and three women working from home as and when they get a break from their farming activities,” Henry explains. Many of the women already have sewing machines at home brought to the area by NGOs following the 2004 tsunami. Sewing and fishing are the primary economic activities in the east coast.

rcThe women in Pottuvil were reluctant at first to  work with “trash”, but warmed up to the idea once foreigners and expats to the area showed an interest in their creations. Rice & Carry Bags have ventured beyond their Arugam Bay base and its wares are now available at the Good Market. The women are currently working on a new collection, partnering with one of Sri Lanka’s largest social enterprises, Selyn – a handloom company that works with Sri Lanka’s traditional weaving community to make cotton handmade products. Selyn handloom materials are used for the interior lining. The venture’s profit is reinvested in the company. However, a major portion goes back to the women making these bags. For many, it’s their only regular income. The founders also invest in the infrastructure of the business – constructing the operations house, building new shelves in the shop and buying better sewing machines.

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