Why Plastic Is A Wealth, Not A Waste

Ethical eyewear brand PALA Eyewear has been working with CARE 4 Basket to create its recycled, handwoven sunglasses cases since it launched three years ago. Now a new film shares the story of CARE 4 Basket’s founder Jib Hagen, who launched the NGO to help solve the plastic pollution problem in his home country of Ghana, while also providing year-round work for local weaving communities.  Here, PALA founder John Pritchard shares the story of the partnership.

In Ghana, 70% of all diseases are caused by unsafe water and poor sanitation with 6 million people being unable to access to clean drinking water. As a result, water sachets have become a necessity in providing a clean and treated source of water across Ghana. Unfortunately, the used plastic sachets often end up extensively littered throughout towns and villages.

In 2015, Jib Hagan’s wife Alba sadly passed away and Jib found himself at a loss as to which direction his life would take next. His two young daughters encouraged him to find a way to channel his loss and he decided to set up a charity (CARE 4 Basket) to highlight the environmental issues affecting rural communities in Ghana and the impact of global warming on their livelihoods.

“It never appeared to me that one day in my life I would be passionate about plastic,” says Jib, who was born in Ghana and moved to the UK in 1978, where he has lived ever since.  “Water sachets in Ghana have been the biggest issue, in the sea, waters, everywhere.” 

After seeing that people were dumping the plastic sachets and setting fire to them, Jib decided to collect the discarded plastic packets and saw an opportunity to use them to make baskets. “Africa has always been involved in weaving for a very very very long time. Bolga is the roots of basket weaving. The whole idea is to keep the skill going, using the same traditional method to do it,” he explains in a new short film created in partnership with CARE 4 Basket, PALA Eyewear and Heist, which tells his story.  

It was not long before Jib met PALA Eyewear founder John Pritchard, and formed a partnership through which CARE 4 Basket makes PALA’s unique handwoven, recycled glasses cases. 

“Through education, people are now beginning to realise that plastic is causing more problems, so people have now started to save the plastic rather than throw it away,” says Jib in the film.  “I learned from the weavers themselves that plastic is a wealth, not a waste.” 

We spoke to John about how ethical eyewear brand PALA came to work with CARE 4 Basket for its cases:

How do you work with CARE 4 Basket for your handwoven glasses cases?

“Through CARE 4 Basket, PALA works with four weaving communities to create our cases. These are Zaare Akudenbisi, Zaare Amoabisi, Sumbrungu AAtumpuri, Vea Tanseko. These are largely female communities (around 90%) of between 20-40 weavers. We supply the weavers with the recycled plastic in sheets and any ancillary equipment to weave with – these include scissors and wooden templates to check on their case sizing. This is to ensure that they do not spend any of their wage on paying for materials.

“They cut these sheets into strips and then roll these strips into strands (often using the bottom side of a flip-flop to do this). They then use these strands to create the case, each case consisting of approximately 60 strands. Normally they all weave together during the day and it becomes an eminently social experience, but they are also welcome to take their work home with them and complete in their own time. We pay them more than the fair wage for each completed case as our aim is to help them empower themselves out of poverty.”

How long have you been working together?

“We have been working with the communities for almost three years, which is when PALA launched. We wanted the cases to be a feature of our product right from the start. It took a while to land on the right design to create, and ultimately we ended up with the arguably the most simplest of the designs, but it ensures that it is the easiest form for the weavers to create, and of course teach others to create as we grow.”

What first drew you to CARE 4 Basket as a partner?

“Right from the start I wanted PALA to have as many of the touchpoints of the brand to connect back to Africa. I saw the case as an important part of that. Often the item that you are simply given as the ‘functional extra’ with your purchase of a pair of glasses, I wanted the case to become a statement and have a story all of its own. I met Jib Hagan, the founder of CARE 4 Basket, through a mutual contact and was immediately inspired by his passion for recycling and how he was innovating and helping to solve an issue by getting the communities to work with waste plastic… and that’s where the conversation began.”

How is the work you’re doing with CARE 4 Basket helping to empower women?

“By using recycled plastic, we are giving the communities we work with the potential to world all year round and not be subject to using the decreasingly available straw (which has shifted further south in the country due to climate change) meaning there is more opportunity for consistent work. We also pay them above the fair wage with our aim being to help empower the weavers out of poverty rather than just simply sustain them whilst remaining in their current predicament. We have a strong, ongoing dialogue with the communities and as we grow and they grow with us the opportunities will only be amplified.”

PALA eyewear has recently launched a new campagin to raise funding to expand its range of frames made from more sustainable materials, and to fund a brand new outreach project in Ethiopia that will provide vital training and eye care to patients in disadvantaged areas. Read more about the campaign here: pala-eyewear

Read more about ethical eyewear brand PALA Eyewear and discover why it is one of our earliest recipients of the Eco-Age brandmark.