Repursing plastic bags to put bread on Hout Bay tables – Regine le Roux

We live an era where science and facts are being questioned but if there is one issue that we probably all agree on is that plastic pollution is a problem, and that we urgently need to do something about it. In Hout Bay, the Seal Rescue Centre has to deal with the heart-breaking consequences of marine plastic debris and it is in this coastal suburb of Cape Town that a local resident and entrepreneur, Regine le Roux has come up with an initiative to repurpose plastic bags and help with the local unemployment problem. With a group of local ladies, she started Re.Bag.Re.Use and they are taking bread bags and crocheting them into durable hand and beach bags. Le Roux told Biznews about her plans to expand the scheme to other areas of the country and the rest of the continent. – Linda van Tilburg

Lockdown boredom led to knitting and crocheting

It was actually born from the pandemic during lockdown when all of us had to go back and find our old hobbies. Mine being knitting and crocheting, but there’s only so many blankets that you can actually crochet from wool, and I get bored quite easily. So, I was looking for new challenges and new ways to crochet. And one morning when I went running, when the lockdown was slightly less severe, I saw a plastic bag and something in my memory somewhere reminded me of seeing ladies, housekeepers, and nannies years ago during their tea breaks and lunch breaks, crocheting the most beautiful mats and things out of plastic shopping bags. So, I thought, let me see if I can also get that right. The first few that I tested and played with were disastrous; I won’t lie. But being up for a challenge, I found a way of cutting the bags into strips and lo and behold, it worked and was very, very exciting to see how the plastic got transformed into another plastic bag. I’ve actually started off with shopping bags, and that’s one of the key ranges that we have at the moment.

Ladies from the harbour join in

These ladies just inspire me on a daily basis and I had just so many lessons I learnt from them. They’re just incredible. The first one is Setta Adams; she lives in the harbour and she hasn’t been employed for three years, and her cousin was actually one of the ladies that got me involved initially. And when I asked Maureen, who is the lady; who can perhaps cut this for us, she told me about Setta. She didn’t really know what she was being signed up for. So, she got these plastic bags to cut. She said to me the other day. “You know, I had such a dim view when Maureen asked me to cut the plastic but you know what, I thought let me just do it. And then when she got paid that first time after cutting the plastic and realising for the first time in three years, tonight she can actually go and buy bread for the family and not be dependent on a SASSA grant. It was just this moment of realising there’s more to it. And then also just seeing her self-confidence growing as she got more plastic to cut, getting out of her shell, and she’s now being full time employed as well. So, she’s not cutting for us at the moment, but it’s just wonderful to see the growth of Seta and how she’s grown.

The other story I’d love to share with you is of Jane Hoffman. She’s also a lady from the harbour, and she’s a grandmother of two, and she very proudly shared with me the other day that her granddaughter has just finished matric, grade 12, and she is so happy that she’s now going to buy some data for her, granddaughter, so that she and apply to nursing colleges. Often, we think it’s just an empty piece of plastic bread bag that you throw away, a piece of rubbish but repurposing it into another products, another bag, it’s helping these ladies to be able to buy essentials, to be able to put bread on the table and it’s not just a piece of waste. So ultimately, we’re also keeping it from the landfill, from our oceans. There’s just so many different aspects of this project that it is touching.

From Bread bags and aprons to durable bags

The community is incredible. The households are collecting all of their soft plastic for us and we have a centralised point at the Fiddlesticks Haberdashery, who’s very, very kindly collecting the bags for us. We’ve got a number of restaurants who have toasted sandwiches and they keep all of the empty bread bags, also six-pack wrappers; some of the restaurants keep that for us. It’s just been incredible. The hairdresser keeps the aprons for us and even in Woodstock, the Neighbourhood Old Age Home (NOAH), they have a feeding scheme and they keep all of their bread bags for us. So, they’re also one of the beneficiaries of sales of our bags. Whenever we sell a bag, a percentage goes to the lady that crochets it, who cuts it and to a local charity; NOAH is one of the recipients of the funds that come through from the sales.

30 empty bread bags and a full day’s work for a bag that can travel

South Africans have been incredibly supportive. I think what’s important is to keep in mind; it does take about eight hours, it’s a full day’s work to make one bag, and that doesn’t include cutting it and there’s about 30 empty bread bags that goes into one bag. So, there’s actually quite a lot of work that goes into it. We have also seen that the international guests, tourists love these bags. They’re great gifts. I’m very thrilled that some of these bags have made their way to Las Vegas and Hamburg in Germany, to Switzerland, so it’s slowly but surely really taking off. And we’re only eight months into this project. So, I’m very, very grateful for all the support that we’re seeing with this initiative.

Plans to expand to Pretoria and beyond

I think there’s so many opportunities. There’s so much talent that we have, specifically in Africa. So, the immediate next step; we are looking at Pretoria, we have a crocheter and a cutter in Pretoria and then definitely to see how we can expand this into the rest of Africa. We have the most amazing continent, we have the most amazing talent and it’s definitely one of those big, hairy, audacious goals of expanding it, but first I want to make sure that I get it right, that we get the pilot right, here in Hout Bay.


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