Trash turned to treasure

Cristen (in red) takes a workshop

Cristen Andrews has a unique solution to the world’s plastic bag problem, and she’s been travelling around the world – and through Mumbai — sharing her idea with people. This is her story:

My name is Cristen Andrews, I’m from Austin, Texas, and I promote recycling by crocheting single-use plastic bags into fashionable, durable, reusable items. While I think plastic bags should ultimately be eradicated, I crochet with them because it’s a good method of recycling these bags that would otherwise end up in the streets, landfills, or the bellies of animals.

I have been crocheting with plastic bags for a few years now – making things like backpacks, shopping bags, hats, floor mats, water bottle holders, and drink cosies. While I have sold a handful of things online and at various craft fairs, it’s mainly just a hobby. My primary interest is sharing this concept with others. And over the past few years, I have taught occasional demos and workshops to inspire others to recycle plastic bags in creative ways.

Last year, I embarked on a year-long trip around the world. While the trip wasn’t about crochet teaching, I did quite a bit of it during my travels – teaching various impromptu workshops to people in places like Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, Iceland, and Australia. I wasn’t in any of these countries long enough to do this on a larger scale, but there has been a lot of interest in my idea and I’ve always envisioned turning my concept into a self-sustaining project – one that has a direct impact on improving the lives of underprivileged women and their families.

During a previous trip to India, I noticed a tremendous plastic waste problem. I also noticed the large volume of ragpickers and slum dwellers living off the small income they can generate by recycling the country’s trash. They generally avoid the thin plastic bags because they are lightweight and therefore have a low resale value. So I decided that if I could teach them to perform basic crochet stitches and create simple bag designs, they would become skilled artisans capable of transforming waste materials into fashionable products. I’d then help them market their products to an upscale audience so that they can earn fair wages for their labour.

Thanks to Hostelling International who granted me a small travel scholarship, a crowd-sourced funding site for artistic endeavours called Kickstarter, and all the amazing people who donated crochet hooks, the opportunity to return to India happened sooner than I thought. And Miguel, my partner, and I spent this summer travelling through Mumbai, Gujarat, Rajasthan, and Delhi to try to kick this plan into action.

During our travels, we connected with various NGOs, community groups, and individuals dedicated to similar goals. And we managed to teach 13 formal workshops in addition to several more informal ones – showing about 600-700 people the basics of plastic bag crochet. All our workshops were unique and each was tailored to the specific audience. Sometimes we taught at schools interested in incorporating sustainable living activities into their educational programs. Other times we taught women excited about learning a new handicraft that involves waste materials and doesn’t require the use of expensive machines.

We weren’t sure what to expect when we embarked on this trip, but fortunately the response has been great. And now that we found enthusiastic people who can directly benefit from this project idea, we’re inspired to take the next steps forward. This project is very much in its baby stages, but we’re currently in the process of developing a product line (Gamesh Bags), creating a web site (GameshBags.com), and exploring marketing opportunities. It’ll likely take some time for us to streamline production and work through all the kinks, but we’re confident that it can be a success.

For project updates, visit my blog: www.BagsBeGone.com  

For a complete listing of workshops held in India, check the Events
page: http://bagsbegone.com/events-workshops

For enquiries about future product availability, please contact me: cristencrochet@gmail.com

– Cristen Andrews

3 Responses to “Trash turned to treasure”

  1. G V says:

    IT IS TERRIFIC THAT SOMEONE WITH MONEY TO TRAVEL AROUND THE WORLD HAS CHOSEN SUCH AN ‘EPA’ HOBBY, “GLORIOUSSS” , AND CONGRATULATIONS TO CRISTEN ANDREWS!!!
    :-):-):-) ♥♥♥ !!! !!!!!!!

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