After 20 years working for the Government bank, Benedicta Nabingi retired to Kinawataka village. She and fellow retirees could see that their community needed to pull itself into a sustainable group caring for orphans and themselves. Self-taught in weaving and the design and finishing of plastic mats and bags, Benedicta is the power behind Strawbags.
Kinawataka Women’s Initiative is based in a village that has become a suburb of Kampala, in Uganda. As well as thin plastic bags blocking the drains - that are so necessary in fertile Uganda with two rainy seasons – the women found plastic drinking straws that had been used for locally made juices in a bag as well as commercial soft drinks and beer. These straws are gathered, sorted and sterilised in a big drum before being rinsed and sun dried.
The next stage is to flatten the straws – this is a skilled task as the correct pressure must be applied in order to squeeze out all of the air, generate enough heat to create a crisp edge to the sides of the straw but not stretch its length. The younger members of the Kinawataka group are out-of-school children and orphans in the care of the Women’s Initiative. Their earnings from the manufacture of the bags contribute to their school materials so that they can attend a few classes in the next term.
The next task is the skill that Benedicta Nabingi, the founder, has developed and refined and now taught to other women in the group. The straws are woven, as you would with grasses and natural straw, to form a long strip in the shape of a thick belt. These strips are the basis for the original plastic straw mats – used for kids to play on and in several of the local mosque. By joining several strips and sewing corners to attach flat panels together, Benedicta started making purse handbags, shopping bags and now with zips, the parents’ bag and sports holdall.
The different stages: strip making, joining to make mats or panels, stitching to form bags and the finishing each provide a direct income to the member of the group that provided that time and labour.
And the result is a range of bags which provide an income to the community members that make them; remove plastic waste from the environment and enable it to be re-used; it reduces the use of disposable plastic bags which would be torn and discarded or burnt; it protects the water-course for drainage and the new drinking water; the bags actually work.
We use them to carry large bags of flour or stacks of pineapples. They are strong enough to carry bottles and jars without breaking, resist water and wet swimming kits and can be washed after the muddy soccer boots
Read about the UNEP Call for world-wide ban on thin flm plastic bags.