The Sunday Leader

Rice & Carry: Creative Recycling

By Sadhana Senanayake

With the amount of overconsumption and waste that the growing human population has created, people are becoming more aware and motivated to do something to help the environment in order to create a sustainable, eco friendly future. But to do so requires a little bit of innovation and creative thinking. For instance, how do you take a waste material and turn it into something beautiful and practical? This is what Henry and his wife Susan have done with Rice & Carry, a range of bags made from polythene and jute bags used for storing rice and legumes.

They came up with the idea whilst they were working for a hotel in Arugam Bay, and were puzzled by the amount of flimsy plastic bags that are handed out for the smallest purchases. The vast majority of these bags are used once and then end up on a landfill or thrown out on the road. So they had a local family make little bags from old newspaper, put a “no plastic” stamp on them, made a little poster and approached a few of the small shops and asked they wanted to sell these instead of handing out free plastic bags. The idea never really took off so various reasons, but it got them thinking, “We then started thinking about other materials that get discarded and one day it was lying in front of us in the hotel’s store room- an empty rice bag.” Says Henry, “Durable, water resistant with great motifs, it seemed the perfect material. From then on everything went in tiny steps until the little manufacturing company that is Rice & Carry today.”

One thing that sets Rice & Carry apart is that each bag is a unique piece and is hand made by local women from the East Coast. Their hope is to secure fair incomes for local women and their families, while creating a higher awareness towards reusing resources and creative recycling. “All the women who work for us were not trained as tailors but they all have some experience, as NGOs donated plenty of sewing machines in the area.” Says Henry, “At first, most of the women were quite skeptical to tailor bags out of “waste”, but the positive feedback we got encouraged them and now most of the women bring their own Rice & Carry bag to work!”

They started with a group of women from Pottuvil, who all work from home and who have been with them for almost 4 years. Another group of women work from their small “factory” house in Komari, where they make the hessian/goni type of bags and prepare the parcels for the Pottuvil artisans.” It is important for us that our employees are able to combine family and work,” says Henry, “so we offer workplaces in our factory house and also give them the choice to work from home so that they can balance family, their farming, as well as manufacturing Rice & Carry bags. As farming and tourism mainly provide seasonal jobs, we are happy to be able to sustain all work places throughout the whole year.”

The response to the bags has been great, especially in Europe where up -cycled goods are very popular and the so called “conscious consumers” are ever increasing. “We feel that many people are tired of anonymous consumption.” Says Henry, “They want to make sure that they contribute to something good through their purchase, and since we partnered with Selyn our fabrics are made in Sri Lanka and even fair trade certified. We don’t want people to buy our products because they feel sorry, we want to sell stylish, good quality products. We think our prices are not only justified because we pay decent wages and operate in this rural area but also because of the quality of our products.”

When asked about the local communities on the East Coast and whether they have learned more about recycling and up-cycling, Henry says that there’s a long way to go, “It’s probably because recycling/up-cycling and social enterprises are valued higher in richer societies, where some sort of overconsumption has happened and people want to make a difference. In the rural areas, where we operate, that process hasn’t happened yet, so most people around us crave for ‘new’ and ‘anonymous’ products. On the other hand, there is a great understanding for the scarcity of goods and the importance of not wasting anything. It’s just not fashionable yet over here(on the East coast)  but in Colombo, for example, lots of people appreciate our products and approach.”

Henry says that the plan for Rice & Carry at the moment is to grow slowly but steadily. They are already selling their products domestically thanks to Barefoot, the Good Market and Selyn. “Soon we will be launching riceandcarry.com and hopefully establish a steady export routine to Europe.” Says Henry, Our first shipment is prepared to go, so cross your fingers and follow our venture on Facebook and Instagram!”

 

Check out their Facebook: www.facebook.com/Riceandcarrybags

Or Instagram: @riceandcarry

 

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