Book Review: One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of The Gambia

Last updated on December 23, 2022.

One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay book cover

There are inspirational and motivated women all over the world. Women who amaze us, withstand the negativity and overcome the obstacles she faces.

I discovered One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, by Miranda Paul, at my local library. Upon reading this book to my son, I was really impressed with this story. Check to see if your local library offers it!

After reading the book I wanted more information about Isatou Ceesay.

I felt that she is so inspirational that I should dedicate a whole post to her. She has been committed to upcycling plastic bags and reducing waste in The Gambia since the 1990s. The waste problem in The Gambia really bothered her. Plastic and trash were everywhere. The landscape was littered. People used plastic to make fires burn faster, but the toxins released in the fumes from burning plastic are unimaginable. She decided she would find a way to recycle or upcycle some of the plastic waste.

More than just recycling

But her story is not just about recycling and plastic. It’s also about empowering women and improving the standard of living! The book tells the story at a children’s level about how she had to work in secret in the beginning because it was illegal for women to work at the time, and people ridiculed her. But she began making recycled plastic bag purses. Isatou hired a few women to help and hired more as time went on, even establishing a women’s cooperative to craft and sell the items for income. The business kept growing and it helped the environment, the people, and the economy.

Isatou also helped co-found The Women’s Initiative Gambia whose mission is: “Women’s Initiative Gambia helps financially poor women in The Gambia to improve their skills and income so as to raise the standard of living of their families and their communities.” Today they have many projects beyond plastic bag recycling, including briquette making as a fuel source, gardening, tie-dye and batik, recycled paper bead making, food preservation, and many other projects.

Here’s a quick video highlighting Isatou Ceesay’s accomplishments:

“I think that when you abuse your environment, you abuse yourself.” -Isatou Ceesay

DIY Opportunity

And if you have too many plastic bags yourself and want to make a plastic bag crocheted purse? She’s got a how-to video! I’ll update this post if I try it. And if any of you try this, please message me or leave a comment below! I can’t wait to see what you’ve done!

“People thought I was too young and that women couldn’t be leaders. I took these things as challenges; they gave me more power. I didn’t call out the problems – I called out solutions.” -Isatou Ceesay

Well said. I think we should all have that attitude. Let’s be the change together!

Footnotes:

Bag It: The Movie

Last updated December 11, 2022.Bag It film cover art

Have you seen this documentary? Bag It is an excellent film, and I wholeheartedly recommend it! It’s a great introduction to not only the problem of plastic bags but of plastics in general. Please check out the trailer:

A must-see documentary

I cannot say enough good about this film. It really hits on all the topics, from the perspective of an everyday person like you or me. Before I saw this film myself a couple of years ago, I had only limited knowledge of plastics, recycling, and toxic products. This film was like my gateway to bigger individual topics – like plastic bag usage; the Great Pacific Garbage Patch; toxins in food from plastic packaging; and single-use disposable plastic…everything. I had thought about those things, but I hadn’t researched them or even read much about them. I love this film! And Jeb Berrier is pretty funny too.

The film also introduced me, through interviews in the film, to a variety of plastic experts, ocean and marine life experts, and organizations trying to make the world a better place. To name a few: Beth Terry of myplasticfreelife.com; Annie Leonard of the Story of Stuff Project; Dr. Sylvia Earle of Mission Blue; Algalita (founded by Captain Charles Moore); the Midway Atoll National Wildlife Refuge; Oceana; the Environmental Working Group; authors Elizabeth Royte and Daniel Imhoff; and so many more that I’m forgetting to include. The filmmakers’ requests for interviews with the American Chemistry Council and others in the plastics industry were denied or received no response. Unfortunately, that has been fairly typical with films that investigate and educate the public on the plastic problem.

Plastic bags that have somehow made it into my home. I'm saving these for trash clean ups when I go hiking. Photo by me.
Plastic bags that have somehow made it into my home. I’m saving these for trash clean-ups when I go hiking. Photo by me.

Take action with Bag It The Movie

I was completely inspired by this movie! As I mentioned above, this film is one that led me to other important films, authors, individuals, and organizations that are all making a difference and trying to educate people. I consider Bag It to have been a core part of our household’s path to great changes.

I looked up the film’s website in anticipation of writing this article, and I was even more inspired! Most of their site is dedicated to using the film as a tool to educate schools, communities, and whole towns. They offer the ability for any person or organization to host a screening for a fee and have a free downloadable pdf Screening Tool Kit, which has step-by-step instructions and resources for screening Bag It. They also have a free downloadable pdf to initiate a Bag It Town campaign, meaning a plastic bag ban.

In my article about a weekend trip to Hilton Head Island, where I discovered that that town is implementing a plastic bag ban this month, I mentioned that I might try to propose one where I live! Between both, I’m SO moved and even more encouraged. If I do propose one in my town, I definitely know where to start now. With the tools provided by Bag It!

Thank you for reading! Stay inspired and be the change!

Plastic Bag laws in U.S. map from https://www.plasticbaglaws.org/
Plastic Bag laws in the U.S. from plasticbaglaws.org.

Footnote:

Black Friday and Why You Don’t Have to Participate

Last updated on December 11, 2022.

black friday scrabble letters, Photo by Wokandapix on Pixabay
Photo by Wokandapix on Pixabay

What are the best Black Friday deals?

Sorry, that’s not what this website is about. But I invite you to read on and rethink this crazy annual shopping ritual.

First, what is Black Friday? It’s the day after Thanksgiving, regarded as the first day of the traditional Christmas shopping season. Retailers offer specially reduced prices on all kinds of items. I’ve linked an article about its history of it in the footnotes.1 But now sales extend beyond Black Friday and into Cyber Monday. The 2022 sales were record-breaking, despite the recession. The sales on Black Friday were $9.12 billion, and $11.3 billion on Cyber Monday. That’s so much money!

“America is back…We are once again spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need to give to people we don’t like.” -Stephen Colbert, joking that this was proof that the economy had recovered.

Shopping mall and escalator, Photo by Dieter de Vroomen on Unsplash
Photo by Dieter de Vroomen on Unsplash.

What has Black Friday turned into?

A chaotic mess of stampeding people who act selfishly and just plain mad. I personally have never participated in the madness because I don’t like crowds enough to save a few dollars. It’s just not for me. And I felt that way before the videos of trampling were captured. Here’s a news report featuring the madness I speak of:

The following video from 2010 is one of the worst I found, where people were trampled and injured.

And if you want more, there’s a link to an entire article dedicated to the nastiness that occurred on Black Fridays in the footnotes.2 Don’t forget that during the 2008 financial crisis, a Walmart employee was trampled to death on Black Friday.

The Materialism of it All

This year, please rethink this whole extravaganza. Why are we doing this to ourselves? Why do we participate in the madness? To save some money? To get another diamond for your spouse? The “hottest” toys for your kids? The newest washer and dryer? It’s mass-marketed materialism at its best. I mean, worst. And it’s just STUFF.

You don’t have to be minimalist to reject this entire mess.

We all have the desire to see our children squeal with delight when they unwrap their toys or see our spouse tear up over a thoughtful gift. And most of us do need to save money. So don’t feel guilty about having participated. Just think through what you plan to buy. Having a plan will save you from impulsive purchases, stress, and maybe even chaos.

If you’re striving for plastic-free, zero waste, or minimalism (or all 3!!!), then you’ve really got to think through the whole holiday insanity of gift-giving anyway. Does your wife really need a bigger diamond wedding ring? Or does she cherish the one you gave her when you proposed? Does your child really need the newest plastic toys wrapped in plastic cellophane that then gets wrapped in plastic-coated wrapping paper with plastic tape? Will your washer and dryer last a couple more years?

If you really just want to save money, how about just shopping less? Think about the impact you’ll have not only on the environment but also on your own pocketbook. Here’s a video from The Story of Stuff Project about Black Friday:

Think outside the box this year.

How about gifting experiences? Think museums, aquariums, hotel packages, airfare, theater tickets, movie tickets, or zip-lining tickets. How about gifting someone a day trip to the spa or a massage package? How about a photography package for your family? Does your son or daughter really want to go to Six Flags next summer? Now’s a good time to buy those tickets.

There are lots of other physical gifts you can give too.

What about a nice plant for your friend who has a garden? Or a cousin who loves houseplants? Does your Mom just love scented bar soaps? You can buy naked soaps (meaning no packaging) in many places these days, including in the Southeastern U.S. Does your brother love Jelly Belly jellybeans? Consumables are always good gifts. People used to give bread as a housewarming gift, why can’t we do that for Christmas? You can even give the gift of beer or wine – I don’t think anyone will want to return those things the day after Christmas.

There are always non-profit gifts, donating to a good cause in someone’s name.

Is there an animal lover in your life? Donate money to their local animal shelter, or to an organization that provides animal therapy to people. Does your Dad really want to help victims of natural disasters? Donate to the appropriate non-profit in his name. Does your neighbor love trees? Plant one in their honor through the Arbor Foundation. Does a friend really want to help people in developing countries? Donate to a cause in their name. (Of course, make sure you are donating to a legitimate organization, it usually just takes a little research).

If you’ve got a friend who is into environmentalism or wants to go plastic-free / zero waste / minimalist, how about a book on one of those topics? I’ve got a list that you can start with. I also have a list of children’s books on topics related to environmentalism, wildlife, the ocean, etc. There are so many more out there too; those lists just feature the ones I’ve personally read.

Person's hands, using a credit card machine, Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash
Photo by rawpixel on Unsplash.

What to do if you do get impulsive

You can always return unwanted items. But there are other options if that’s not possible.

Use unwanted items for that ridiculous Secret Santa routine your office insists on participating in every year. Bought extra children’s clothing or an extra children’s coat? Donate it to a local charity. In Chattanooga, the Forgotten Child Fund’s Coats for Kids annual drive is around the first week of December. Did you buy too many toys for the grandkids? How about donating them to Toys for Tots? Churches, thrift stores, homeless shelters, schools, even some daycare centers are always needing items.

Bought too much wine that you intended on gifting? Bring it to a friend’s house when they’ve invited you over for dinner. Enjoy. Especially if it has a natural cork instead of a plastic one.

Let’s have a peaceful and safe holiday season. Remember, the stuff isn’t what’s important. The people in our lives are. Let’s give them the best gift of all this year: our love and company.

Happy Thanksgiving, and as always, thanks for reading.

People clinking wine glasses over a Thanksgiving meal, turkey and candles with Christmas tree in background.
Photo by krakenimages on Unsplash.

Footnotes:

What’s the Big Deal about Plastic Straws?

Last updated on December 11, 2022.

straws colorful, Photo by Bilderjet on Pixabay
Photo by Bilderjet on Pixabay

There is a coalition of aquariums across the United States that are striving to reduce the use of plastic straws. The coalition is called the Aquarium Conservation Partnership (ACP) and is a collaboration of 22 public aquariums in 17 states, including the Tennessee Aquarium. They are “committed to advancing conservation of the world’s ocean, lakes, and rivers through consumer engagement, business leadership and policy changes.”

Aquariums are awesome and full of wonder and thousands of children go through them daily. So they are poised to be leaders in positive change, and this is a great example of that! One of the things they’re doing is asking restaurants and others in the hospitality industry to reduce the use of straws by only giving them out upon request, instead of automatically. They’re also asking individuals to sign a pledge to stop using plastic straws.

My son in awe at the Tennessee Aquarium when he was just 2 and a half. Photo by me.
My son at the Tennessee Aquarium when he was just 2 and a half. Photo by me.

What’s wrong with plastic straws?

First, the sheer amount of them! Just like with all single-use disposable plastic products, it’s the over-consumption of them. Think 500 million plastic straws per day. That’s more than one straw per person per day in the United States. Our consumption has gone way overboard and has created a waste stream that is too large for us to keep up with! Second, they are not recyclable at all.

Don’t feel guilty about having used plastic straws. Just please refuse plastic straws – START TODAY. Politely refuse those plastic straws – if everyone refuses just one straw per day, we’ll more than cut our usage in half!

Colored plastic straws sorted by color. Image by Marjon Besteman-Horn from Pixabay
Image by Marjon Besteman-Horn from Pixabay

I threw my disposables into the trash/recycling receptacle like I’m supposed to, how are they ending up in the rivers and ocean?

One of the critical issues with all the media about single-use disposable plastics is that the biggest question is often not answered: How does the plastic end up in the ocean in the first place?

Most people assume that once they’ve placed their disposables into a receptacle, those disposables go to the proper facility. What people don’t know is that many items don’t make it to the recycling facility or landfill. Since that’s out of our control, it seems impossible to do anything about it. But it’s not impossible by any means. The best way to guarantee that your single-use disposable plastics don’t end up in the ocean is…

To just not use them! Refuse them. Find an alternative. Then you do have control. We have the power to be the change.

So back to the question – how are plastics ending up in the rivers and ocean?

There are so many causes! Spillage from recycling that has been transported across the ocean for years to Asia; plastic products shipped across the ocean to the U.S. have spilled from ships; the fishing industry regularly dumps their trash into the ocean; trash and litter get blown or washed into storm drains and rivers that then feed into the ocean; illegal dumping; beach trash; river pollution; microbeads washing down drains; and debris from natural disasters and floods. Plastic bags are picked up by the wind and blown into waterways that flow into the ocean.

Starbucks is one company that is striving to end use of plastic straws by 2020. Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash
Starbucks is one company that is striving to end the use of plastic straws by 2020. Photo by Nadine Shaabana on Unsplash.

Ok, so what steps can I take?

First, let’s support the Aquarium Conservation Partnership. You can do this by signing the pledge (linked under Additional Resources below).

Second, refuse. Just say no thank you. To all single-use disposable plastics. Because recycling is not the answer. Only about 9% of our plastics get recycled. That means 91% is not recycled!

Third, if you must have something commonly produced as a single-use disposable plastic, like a straw, please buy a reusable one. Paper disposables and supposedly biodegradable straws are a better option, but it’s still going to be thrown away after one use. Try a stainless steel straw, glass straw, or bamboo straw.

Fourth, tell others! Tell your friends, your co-workers, your favorite restaurant, the local coffee shop, and your local school. So many to tell!

Fifth, participate in trash clean-up efforts. Join the Litterati. Maybe you’ll keep some of the trash you pick up from entering the ocean.

Single use disposable plastic straw found buried in the sand, Hilton Head Island, October 2018. Photo by me.
Single-use disposable plastic straw found buried in the sand, Hilton Head Island, October 2018. Photo by me.

Last, stop supporting businesses that just won’t get on board. If consumers are asking businesses they patronize to stop using certain items, such as single-use disposable plastics, the consumer also has the power to not patronize that business. If consumers refuse to spend money at a business because that business does not do or provide what consumers want, then that business will be forced to change if they want to maintain profitability.

Final Thoughts

Collectively, have the power to create change just by modeling the best behavior. Refuse that straw. Be polite, of course. But just say no. You might influence someone else to refuse straws too. If everyone starts refusing straws, businesses won’t have the need to order as many. Then the plastic straw manufacturers will have to produce less. And then less will end up in landfills, in nature, and in the oceans. Carry a reusable stainless steel straw with you. Be the change! And as always, thanks for reading.

Forest Gump meme on straws, I couldn't stop giggling at this, so I'm reposting it here.

Additional Resource:

First Step, Skipping the Plastic Straw Pledge.

Footnote: