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Fair Trade Rethinks Earth’s Baggage

Another in a series about fair trade and the environment in celebration of Earth Day.

fair trade handbags, purses made from recycled plastic bags

Low-caste Indian women collect used plastic bags for purses.

Did you know that:

• About 1 million plastic bags are used every minute.
• A single plastic bag can take up to 1,000 years to degrade.
• More than 3.5 million tons of plastic bags, sacks and wraps were discarded in 2008.
• Plastic bags are the second-most common type of ocean refuse, after cigarette butts (2008)
• Plastic bags remain toxic even after they break down.
• Every square mile of ocean has about 46,000 pieces of plastic floating in it.*

Did you also know that fair trade artisans create a variety of bags from discarded materials such as plastic bags, water pouches, cement bags, and more?  And that they’re actually quite chic?

Toiletries bag made from re-purposed water pouches by fair trade workers in Ghana.

Agua-Eco Toiletries Bag

Almost 300 tons of plastic waste is produced daily in Ghana, most from non-biodegradable, single-use water pouches.  Workers at the Trashy Bags Recycling and Sewing workshop collect and sterilize these pouches and turn them into this very practical and unique Aqua-Eco Toiletries Bag (right).

Triangle-shaped shoulder bag hand sewn by trafficking victims from upcycled cement bags.

Triangle Shoulder Bag

Cambodian women, many rescued from human trafficking, upcycle used rice, cement, and feed bags into a variety of bags like the Triangle Shoulder Bag shown on the left.  Bright and colorful, these bags carry the added benefit of being waterproof, easy to clean, and long-lasting.  The benefits to the women who make them are long-lasting as well.  Fair wages, safe and pleasant workplaces, business and skills training, and access to medical care are vital to their ability to provide for themselves and their families.

Large, turquoise fair trade tote hand sewn from re-purposed netting material used in the fishing industry.

Basket Weave Tote

Designed in Italy and hand sewn in Cambodia, the Basket Weave Tote bag is made from re-purposed netting material used in the fishing industry.  The women who make them are provided free on-site day care and elementary school for their children.

fair trade handbag made from palm fiber

Yara Palm Fiber Handbag

Eco-friendly fair trade bags are not limited to recycled materials. The palm tree known as the “Tree of Life” is the renewable raw material for another very chic bag, the Yara Handbag.  It’s completely handmade in a labor-intensive process from buriti palm fibers, which are responsibly harvested in the proper season so the trees aren’t damaged or destroyed.

fair trade handbag, wood handbags

Musette hand-carved acacia wood bag

Another source of handbag material with low environmental impact is acacia wood.  Yes, wood!  Filipina women hand carve to-die-for bags from this quickly renewable tree grown throughout Asia. A number of small, women-run co-operatives in the Philippines make the bags. The work provides ongoing employment, giving the women a road out of staggering poverty.

Whether it be maximizing the use of sustainable raw materials or creating a treasure trove of stylish accessories from trash that litters the earth, fair trade promotes protection of the planet and its resources.

*Source: http://www.reuseit.com/

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