The Upcycling Solution

This post is part of a collaboration between Climate Tracker and Young Reporters for the Environment. This article is the winner of the 2019 competition for 11-14 years old. Authors of the article: Izabela Beganová, Valentína šatánková, Ella Maukdin, Ema Vosejpková and Lea Kocúrová. Photos: Ľubica Noščáková. Country: Slovakia.

Since plastic shopping bags are not free at the cashier, most people have gotten used to carrying their own. However, the ultra thin plastic bags for fruits and vegetables are still free and heavily used. A consumer will bring home more than 500 of them a year. The solution may be bags made of old curtains or similar fabrics.

Miletičova Market in Bratislava is a popular place to buy vegetables and fruits. During the weekend, depending on the season, it is visited by between 300 to 1,000 shoppers. The Market has been open since the 1970s. Approximately 150 permanent vendors currently sell their goods in its booths: 55 vendors of fruits and vegetables, 55 of various other foods, snacks or food and drinks, and the rest is clothing, electrical goods, hardware and flowers. In addition, there are an additional 5 to 50 seasonal vendors of fruit and vegetables, as well as about 25 growers and vendors of seedlings and saplings.

Watching life in the market, you can see that more than two-thirds of the shoppers use eco bags or alternatives: traditional baskets made of pedig or willows, newer canvas versions with aluminum handles, or cotton and polyester bags. The rest uses mixed-material or plastic bags. The survey confirmed that more than 80% of shoppers do not use plastic bags, which were much more common before people had to pay for them.

“It´s about personal responsibility,” says environmental consultant Petra Ježeková from environmental association Živica. “I always wear a backpack, so I can put my purchase in it, unless it is dirty. I try to have a few reusable bags in it (I am not always successful, but I am improving.) I have a pair of ultra thin plastic ones, two from old curtains and occasionally a bag I paid for. I definitely recommend having a durable bag or net bag, and a pair of little sack in your handbag – ideally linen, or ones upcycled from an old curtain.”

Where to Put Fruits and Vegetables

A small marketplace survey shows that even the majority of those who carry their own eco-bags or baskets have their vegetables put in coloured plastic bags. These are sacks marked with the HDPE 2 label, which vendors still give to people for free, just like the thin plastic bags. When asked why they take plastic disposable sacks from retailers, shoppers give two basic reasons:

  1. It´s free, and when I put the vegetables in my bag, they don´t dirty my bag (basket), they stay organized and easy to handle at home.
  2. Fruit and vegetables do not dry out and remain fresh.

With a normal consumption of 5-7 such bags per purchase and the high traffic in this market, despite the fact that shoppers usually carry baskets or cotton, paper or PES bags with them, approximately 1500-5000 such bags are distributed in the market during a single Saturday, depending on the season. Annually that means up to 250000 plastic bags just for Saturday purchases.

Upcycling Old Curtains

The Narnia Church Primary School team of reporters sought to reduce the consumption of these bags by people, even though they are free.

They found the answer with Dana Kleinert, a fashion designer, activist, and ambassador of Bratislava Old Town. At the time of her candidacy for mayor, she launched a social responsibility campaign called Old Town Curtains.

“I collected old curtains from people, and our deaf seamstress sewed them in a sheltered workshop into sachets that we distributed in the market. This effort included discussions about waste, and people became aware of their personal responsibility and started using our bags. As a result, disposable bag use was significantly reduced.”

After talking to Mrs. Kleinert, the Narnia girls decided to try out this project. They started collecting old curtains and bedding and sewing them into eco sacks. They are making good progress and you can meet up with them at the Good Market in Jakub´s Square, where they will talk to people about their eco-sacks and give them out for voluntary contributions.

“We hope that people will add them to their eco-bags and stop taking disposable bags from vendors. That’s our goal. Because each one can be used for years to prevent the use of hundreds of disposable bags. And that’s worth it,” say the girls.

 Authors of the article: Izabela Beganová, Valentína šatánková, Ella Maukdin, Ema Vosejpková and Lea Kocúrová. Photos: Ľubica Noščáková. Country: Slovakia.