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

There are inspirational and motivated people all over the world. People who amaze us and withstand the negativity. It is even more inspiring when a woman overcomes the obstacles she faces.

I discovered Isatou Ceesay through my local library. I had requested several children’s books about plastic, and I found One Plastic Bag: Isatou Ceesay and the Recycling Women of the Gambia, by Miranda Paul. Upon reading this book to my son, I was really impressed with this story. Check to see if your local library offers it!

One Plastic Bag book cover

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. Some used plastic to make fires burn faster, but the toxins released in the fumes when burning plastic is 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 people laughed. I read that it was illegal for women to work at the time, and that’s why she worked in secret. In any case, 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 items for income. The business kept growing and it helped the landscape, the people, and the economy.

Isatou also helped co-found The Gambian Women’s Initiative (GWI) whose mission is: “GWI seeks to help financially poor women in the Gambia increase their income, thereby improving the standard of living for their families and their communities. Projects coordinated and rural women’s groups will give women a voice in their own development, as they are trained in income-generating, investment and decision-making skills.” They also teach financial planning.

Here’s a quick video highlighting her accomplishments:

And if you’d like to watch a full interview with her, or read more about her, featured her here, entitled “Isatou Ceesay, Queen of Plastic Recycling in The Gambia.” But as you now know, she’s so much more than just a recycler or an upcycler. She’s a visionary and she’s being the change.

DIY Opportunity

And if you have too many plastic bags yourself and want to make 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!

The author quoted Isatou on the back of the book: “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.” Well said. I think we should all have that attitude. Let’s be the change together!


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