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Trashy Process (Text and images by Tomas Prochazka)
Materials used in Trashy Bags
The basic materials used in Trashy Bags are plastic sachets. Being cheaper and more convenient than plastic or glass bottles, the sachets have become greatly popular in Western Africa. On average, Ghanaians drink 1-2 sachets of water every day. Further, milk, fruit juices and ice creams are sold in similar but opaque and thicker packaging. The material of the sachets is high-density polyethylene (HDPE), which is often referred to as type 2 plastic and it is a non-biodegradable material. It has become greatly popular in the packaging industry over the past several decades due to its favourable strength and thermal properties as well as its relatively easy recyclability into other types plastic.
However, the conditions of West Africa, levels of education and lack of awareness of environmental issues lead to careless disposal of the sachets into the environment. There is no large-scale nationwide project related neither to collection of plastic nor to creating awareness of recycling. Over 250 tons of plastic packaging waste is produced in Ghana daily leading to (often very extreme) pollution of the streets, beaches or sewages. This not only hinders the views of the environment but more importantly negatively affects both fauna and flora of Ghana, or adds a significant share to the causes of seasonal flooding.
Recently, the material from discarded billboards was put in use to serve as a base for producing bags and accessories. This material would have been until now burned once not in use. Trashy Bags use them to create products that are each unique and one of their kind.
Other used materials include fabric and foam, all purchased in Ghana or other countries in Western Africa.
Pure water sachets ready for sale.
Discarded water sachets being collected
Used pure water sachets sorted and washed; ready for drying in the sun.
Used billboards being washed and photographed
Trashy Bags Employee Alima demonstrates how to drink from a pure water sachet
One of the Trashy Laptop Sleeves - a final product made from upcycled pure water sachets
Makola Market in Accra where all Trashy Bags accessories are purchased.
Buying accessories in Makola.
One of the Trashy Bags sachet collectors. Sachets being weighed.
Washed sachets being dried in the sun.
Various individuals collect the sachets off the streets of Accra. For a few of them, the collection and selling of the sachets to Trashy Bags is the only source of income, for others it brings vital extra income. One large bag of collected sachets may weigh over 20kg. Trashy Bags buy the water sachets for 0,5GH¢ per kilogram with about 600-800 sachets to one kilo.
Sachets for ice cream or milk (Fan Ice and Fan Milk), are used in significantly lower quantities. Since they are more difficult to collect, they are bought from the collectors not by weight but by the number of pieces. 1,000 pieces of Fan Ice sachets are bought for 6GH¢. The collectors earn up to 40-50GH¢ a week which is a significant amount of money since average monthly pay in Ghana is between 100GH¢ and 200GH¢.
Sachets being washed
Some of the coloured ice-cream and yogurt sachets after washing.
Sachets being trimmed and opened prior to washing.
Before the sachets are bought, they are always checked to see that the quality is sufficient (that they are not too old, torn apart etc.). The old and unusable sachets are directed to and sold to a recycling company. Occasionally, the stock levels of particular types of sachets decrease to levels when the staff needs to contact some of their regular sachet suppliers to bring in new ones. Approximately 180,000 sachets are collected and processed every month. Once collected, the sachets await washing, sorting and further processing.
Before the sachets can be sewn together and form the final products, they must be sorted out, cut open, thoroughly washed, dried and straightened. All these processes are performed just outside of the workshop, around the TrashyBags building. Firstly, the torn or otherwise damaged sachets are put aside. The rest of the sachets are straightened and have one of their sides cut open to make washing from both outside and inside possible.
Then, the sachets are manually washed, one by one and dried on the sun. Drying can be of a particular issue during the rainy season and is occasionally done in advance to create excess stock.
Rather then a traditional mass production, the production process in Trashy Bags in many ways resembles make-to-order or just-in-time production systems.
Trashy Bags currently produces over 30 completely different products (shopping bags, laptop sleeves, shower curtains, pencil cases etc.) that form a total of over 350 different variations of products (each product may come in different sizes and colours). New or modified products are constantly being added to the production line and now include bags and accessories that are partially made of other materials than sachets.
There is a designated Trashy Bags design team that is in charge of developing and initiating new designs and products. New ideas for future Trashy Bags however come from various other sources too and include interns, customers, and workshop workers themselves. The workers are stimulated to be as creative as possible, and whether it is in the form of a fashion show or other competitions, they have full support in developing their own innovative ideas. At the end, it always comes to the design team to develop, adjust and modify the final shapes and looks of new products. It takes dozens of prototypes to develop a perfectly looking and functioning product. Templates and detailed step-by-step production process are developed afterwards. Many of the workers know the processes of manufacturing all the 350 variations of products by heart.
All bags are produced based on orders received from the management team and they are filed based on the needs of either the showroom (i.e. the Trashy Bags store) or from external customers. The team of workers in the showroom is in charge of receiving, preparing, assorting and prioritising the orders. There are two standardized order forms on which the required products to be produced are communicated to the production supervisor – one for the showroom orders and one for external customers.
Batches of about 20-40 bags or accessories per model are usually ordered for the showroom. External customers often have orders of up several hundreds of pieces per model. Occasionally, there are custom orders for individual bags or accessories of special colours or sizes (and their combinations). For large or urgent orders, high priorities are often assigned, which puts production of all other orders into abeyance.
Design meeting in progress attended by members of the Design Team and the MD.
There are no pre-defined reorder levels. The management tracks the approximate quantities of products on stock and sends a new order into production when it perceives the levels as low. There are no specified lead times and all the orders are driven by estimations and assumptions of the management. Production of 100 Trashy Bags smart bags, which are moderately complex products, takes 1-2 weeks.
The Trashy Bags Workshop
The production process is organized and managed by the production supervisor. The supervisor is in charge of allocating and redistributing work based on the received orders. The supervisor assigns work to individual workers, ensures that sufficient amount of correctly sized sachets are available and ultimately that all orders are completed on time. The supervisor also fills in and submits the daily production sheet to the management.
The basic materials used for creating Trashy Bags are sachets, or more specifically sheets of sewn sachets. The sheets are made in particular sizes depending on the final product, e.g. shopping bags require a sheet of 3x5 sachets for each of its longer sides as a base while shower curtains need significantly larger arrays.
Parts are made up of sachets stitched together into sheets
Stitched sheet cut using template
Once the sachet sheets are prepared, templates are used to draw the shapes for future products and the basic outlines are cut out with scissors.
Sheets prepared in this way are then handed to the workers who sew the sheets together according to a pre-defined procedure. Zippers, handles and pockets are added at the end of this process.
Trashy Ad Bags
Products from the discarded billboards, called Trashy Ad Bags, are made in a process very much resembling regular fabric bags. The key and most important part of the process is the cutting of the billboard material. Since Trashy Bags aim to make every bag as unique and attractive as possible, particular parts of the billboards, such as faces of local superstars have to be cut out correctly and in the right spot – and since only some bags will display the most attractive parts of billboards, they are sold at a premium. Most of the products from the billboard material now have a batik or wax-print fabric lining and an interlayer of foam.
At the very last stage, all products checked for flaws and defects. The quality control team corrects the amendable flaws. Rejects are put aside and recycled. Products with minor errors are clearly marked and sold with discounts in the Trashy Bags showroom.
Trashy Bags products are mainly sold through its showroom located in the same building as the workshop - mainly to expatriates, diplomats and tourists from abroad. Trashy Bags also frequently accept custom orders for products of specific sizes and colours. Online shop was recently added to the TrashyBags website. There are several retailers that sell Trashy Bags products, mainly stores focused on promoting economically and environmentally sustainable products from developing countries such as Global Mamas (www.globalmamas.org). The company occasionally presents itself at official events or on public places. Internationally, it has received a significant amount of attention from respected media, such as CNN or BBC. In 2010, Trashy Bags products were selected as one of the official gifts for the celebrities at MTV Awards ceremony in Madrid.
Cutting billboards to be incorporated into Trashy Ad Bags
Above: Fanmilk billboard before being taken down and donated to Trashy Bags for Trashy Ad Bags.
Some of the finished Trashy Ad Bags in the showroom.
Left: finishing a Trashy Ad Bag sports bag