Offering a hip alternative to the cherished plastic bag

16 Jun

Flex bag

BEIRUT: Grocery shoppers in Lebanon simply can’t get enough of the non-biodegradable plastic bag – they are used here in abundance, with enthusiasm and without scruples.

But all too often, these bags end up at the bottom of a mountain or bobbing along the coast. They can remain there for up to 500 years until finally picked away at by the elements.

Disturbed by Lebanon’s love affair with the toxic product, young professionals Stephanie Dadour and Waleed Jad established their own company, Waste Lb, and created a hip alternative: a reusable bag made from salvaged flex.

Flex is a composite plastic most often found in Lebanon in the form of billboards. Like the throw-away plastic bag, it is 100 percent non-biodegradable and non-recyclable. But being water-proof, study and tear-resistant, it is ideal material for a shopping bag.

Waste Lb kills two birds with one stone: reclaiming old flex that would otherwise be dumped into Lebanon’s overflowing landfills, and encouraging consumers to switch to reusable shopping bags. “We know we’re not here to change the world or to educate people, but we thought we could sensitize people to reduce their use of plastic bags by promoting a product that can be reused,” Dadour told The Daily Star on Monday.

The Lebanese use over 6 billion plastic bags annually, according to Waste Lb. “If tied together these bags would form a chain that is long enough to go around the world 37 times.”

Creatures like turtles, dolphins or birds often mistake plastic bags for a tasty meal and can choke to death trying to eat them or become entangled and asphyxiate. When dumped, flex poses a similar threat.

But despite being a pollutant, Lebanon’s output of flex is astonishing – according to Jad, there is “24/7 continuous production.” 

While he and Dadour readily admit their bags are not “saving the planet,” they hope they will at least help change the attitude of Lebanese consumers, who can easily plough through piles of plastic bags in a single shopping trip.

“It’s a question of lifestyle” and whether people in Lebanon are prepared to make a small change to their wanton carrier-bag habits in the interest of the environment, Dadour said.

Unlike other eco-friendly products that come with wallet-unfriendly price tags, Waste Lb’s signature shopping bag, the Kees Dukanne, will be sold for a fixed price of LL25,000. The fashion-conscious need not fret about bumping into someone else with the same bag – as the fabric is stitched from a reclaimed billboard, each flex bag’s design is truly unique. Other than the Kees Dukanne, Waste Lb’s bags currently come in three other styles – oversized grocery bags, clutch bags for women and beach bags. Jad and Dadour later hope to expand into flex furniture and luxury items.

The practice of reusing billboard material is by no means revolutionary, and indeed exists in most Western countries, Dadour said. But the launch of Waste Lb’s flex bag this month comes at a time of growing interest in ethical consumerism among Lebanon’s more educated classes. Even so, the duo also hopes to appeal to buyers who aren’t so finely tuned to the seriousness of the world’s environmental woes. “If people start to use this [bag], maybe they will go home and try to see what’s written on their packaging and think more ethically” about what products they buy in the future, said Dadour.

Waste Lb will officially launch at Beirut’s Souk al-Tayyeb market on Saturday June 27. The bags will thereafter be available at boutiques and major shopping malls in the capital.

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