One Word: Plastics

A plague is sweeping the planet as we speak. It cannot be
stopped by medicine, nor quarantine, nor insecticides, and it holds
the frightening status of an airborne disease; where the wind
blows, it goes. This plague is plastic bags.

Lori Robinson of Santa Barbara travels twice yearly to eastern
Africa to conduct volunteer work for the Jane Goodall Institute.
For part of her stay, Robinson resides in the small town of
Tenguru, Tanzania, where residents use and throw away thousands of
plastic bags each day. The wind sweeps them into shrubbery and
treetops, and they can be seen across the land in all directions.
“They’re blowing in the wind,” said Robinson, “tangled in the
trees, in fences. They’re everywhere. It’s a really big

Robinson estimates that nearly every person in rural Tanzania
utilizes and discards into the wind one plastic bag per day.
Grazing goats and cows eat the bags, and frequently perish as a
result, a devastating loss to the family who rely on the animal for
their daily milk. Moreover, stagnant water that collects in the
folds of discarded bags is known to breed mosquitoes — and

But Robinson has hit upon the simple and perfect solution:
canvas bags. However, canvas bags scarcely exist in Tanzania, so
Robinson has taken on the task of importing and distributing them.
In September 2005 she brought over her first shipment and set up a
stand at the local marketplace. Everyone who came to Robinson with
at least 20 old plastic bags was rewarded with a durable canvas
bag. Local women responded enthusiastically, and Robinson’s
collection of 300 canvas bags (totes) vanished in 40 minutes.

Robinson’s latest bag-distributing mission to Tenguru took place
in February. This time Robinson distributed 1,100 canvas bags in
two one-hour sessions at the market. “These women are ridding their
entire community of plastic bags,” says Robinson. “The simplicity
of this project is what makes it so effective. Totes that would
otherwise end up in our garbage dumps are replacing plastic bags
that would otherwise end up on the roadsides of Africa.” Robinson
believes that the region of Tenguru could become a model of
progressive, sustainable living for rural Africa. She calculates
that just 5,000 more canvas bags will saturate Tenguru with the
earth-friendly products. However, Robinson needs help in shipping
the bags overseas before the project can advance on a large scale,
and she is asking for support from anyone who may be traveling to
eastern Africa. “Some plastic products are miracles, but plastic
bags are awful and they’re not even necessary,” said Robinson.

Those who don’t believe it need only look toward the rural
community of Tenguru, where the locals embrace an ideal of
21st-century progress, where canvas bags threaten to rule the earth
and send plastic bags the way of the dodo.

4·1·1 To help transport bags to Africa, email
Lori Robinson at
Extra canvas bags may be dropped off at the nearest branch of
Montecito Bank & Trust.


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