From trash to treasure

Easy to throw in the trash, one woman is using plastic bags and giving it new life, all to keep the country a little more cleaner and to help someone in need.

17 March 2019 | People

It’s really a community project that I hope will grow to other towns too. Conny Pimenta, entrepreneur

Windhoek • Yolanda Nel

One day, while playing around on YouTube, a tutorial popped up explaining how to make rugs from plastic bags. Thanks to this video, one Windhoek woman is changing the lives of many.

Conny Pimenta says she wanted to see if she could crochet, but realized soon enough this is not the hobby for her. But then she came across a tutorial for weaving bags and mats, and she was hooked. “It took me about two weeks to finish my first mat, but I found it to be highly addictive,” she says.

Once complete, Conny says she decided to find a homeless person to give it to. “On my way to the river where I know homeless reside, I came across an older man at the service station who looked forlorn. I approached him, telling him I have a present for him. I unrolled it to show him that he can use it as a mat and when I looked up at him again, he had tears in his eyes and asked if it was really for him and if it was really free. And that was it, I didn’t need any more motivation.”

Community involvement

Conny began this project in May last year, asking everyone she knew for their plastic bags. “My neighbours came to my rescue but I soon realised that I was going need a lot more bags so I posted my request on Facebook,” she says.

The response was incredible. From friends and acquaintances to strangers rang her doorbell delivering plastic bags.

“There was even a company that brought me a bakkie load full of bags. My storeroom was filled to the roof. It was a really heart-warming experience to see how many people wanted to be part of this project,” Conny says.

Once the public saw the end result, and seeing that Conny is not about to stop any time soon, they keep collecting. “It’s really a community project that I hope will grow to other towns too.”

She stopped counting how many mats she has made so far but says it should be in the region of 25. “Each mat uses about 500 bags and now it only takes me three days to make a 2m x 1m mat.” Conservatively speaking, she has used about 12 500 plastic bags.

Except for the mats, she also makes pillows and plays around with other uses for the bags.

St Paul’s College became involved last year.

In a Facebook post, Conny wrote that every Tuesday afternoon a group of young ladies and gentlemen met to either weave the mats or cut the thousands of bags into loops for the weaving process. At the end of the term, all the finished ground sheets along with a pillow, stuffed with the off cuts from the bags, were handed over to Red Cross Namibia (RCN). Amongst others, the RCN team looks after shack fire victims but due to financial constraints, can currently only give two blankets per household who’ve lost everything.

“What better way to help out a family than to give them at least a ground sheet each to sleep on until they are back on their feet,” she wrote.

Initially she gave mats to homeless people that she came across and some went to security guards. “At the end of last year I gave what I had to the Red Cross to donate to shack fire victims,” she said.

This year she will give the mats to the Cancer Association who will distribute them to rural cancer patients who often don’t even have a blanket. “These mats are surprisingly soft and very easy to clean, so they’re ideal for this purpose.”

Helping the environment

Except for helping those in need, this project is helping the environment by making sure thousands of plastic bags do not end up in landfills. “We went on a Skeleton Coast tour in December 2017 and ended at Sesfontein. The incredible amount of dirt and rubbish that greeted us after we’d just been in pristine surroundings, was something that upset me for months afterwards,” she explains.

“When I saw the tutorial, I realised that Namibians need to and can learn to reuse items for their own benefit. By now I’ve taught four ladies privately how to make these mats and sell them to farmworkers or even shack owners who use them against the walls of the shacks for insulation in winter,” she says.

According to Conny, most Namibians must have seen the frightening videos going around on social media regarding the tremendous pollution of our oceans and rivers. “But I am concerned that Namibians have not been properly educated around the need for recycling and the long-term effect it has on all of us, no matter where we live,” she says.

“So far, none of the recipients of the mats knew what recycling actually meant, but were so impressed to see that these mats can be made with no tools involved besides a scissor and that the bags are freely available amongst friends too.”

She says that various people have approached her to help, “but unfortunately backed down once they realised that there is actually work involved in terms of collecting bags and cutting them before the weaving can begin. But we’ll get there!”

If you want to get involved, bags can be delivered at the Cancer Association of Namibia in Windhoek or Swakopmund. RR Importers in Windhoek is also collecting bags for the Kabouterland Kindergarten teachers who’ve just started to make them too. Conny can be contacted at [email protected]

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