Tuesday, March 22, 2016

How Creative Problem Solving can Save The World, One Bag at a Time

The problem

Plastic Bags are unnecessary and are destroying our environment.
We've all seen images like this. This particular photo was taken on a family holiday travelling through Asia in 2015, at a small village in Cambodia. So much waste littering the ground - and so much of that waste is plastic, and plastic bags.

Every day I hear or see another story, on Facebook or in the news about waste and environmental pollution. The problems seem so big and insurmountable for the average person.  What can just one person do to alleviate such immense problems like 

This Mokumentary created to raise awareness of the plastic bag problem in California - could have been made anywhere.

My Decision to make a difference

Plastic bags - particularly single use plastic bags are everywhere. We all use them, but this is one thing that we can all do something about. And this is what I chose to try and make a difference with.

 I sew, I make lots of bags in particular and I mainly sew with upcycled and recycled materials.  So this was definitely the problem for me to try and solve! 

My personal experience of the problem

Reusable Shopping Bags have been around for years. I bought myself a set and started using those for my weekly grocery shopping several years ago.  They were a great idea and I was very happy with them. BUT I often forgot them and left them in the car. 
They also weren't easy to clean. If any food spilled on them, the bags weren't easily washable, so began to smell after a while.  Some shop assistants were very aware of customers bags smelling and would, and still do, put meat and other things that may potentially leak - into plastic bags before putting them in the reusable bags. Which to me defeats the whole purpose of the reusable bag in the first place.
Not only this, but some of these reusable bags I bought from the supermarket were biodegradable. One day I went to use my bags and some of them literally fell to pieces.

So - I decided to use my creative problem solving skills and come up with a solution.

My own solution to the plastic bag problem

First of all, back in 2010, I made myself a set of reusable shopping bags from an old sheet - and a small drawstring backpack to keep them in.
These were much more compact than the store bought reusable bags, and could be easily washed in the washing machine if things spilled on them by accident.

I used these bags for years - reducing the need for hundreds of plastic bags over that time.

However, there were still times when I forgot and left those bags in the car when I went to do my weekly grocery shopping and ended up with a few extra plastic bags.

So, over the next few years I played around with designs and finally came up with my own solution to getting rid of the need for any plastic bags when shopping.

I finally came up with a design and made my own 
Eco-Friendly Shopping Bags Handbag.

This is a handbag that has a hidden compartment in the base where a bag full of reusable cloth shopping bags are stored. This means that as long as you have your handbag with you when you go shopping, you will also have your reusable bags. No more leaving them in the car!

I made a few bags over the course of designing and perfecting this bag. I also added some mesh produce bags in the side pockets for buying fruits and vegetables, and an extra handibag from a pillowcase inside for those times when I buy a few extra things.

An all round eco-friendly solution

All the while I was making this bag, I had the environment in mind and wanting to do my part to reduce waste. So these bags are made as much as possible from recycled and upcycled materials.
I like to work on the basis of

Use What You've Got

So, the main handbag is made from a pair of jeans - plus some co-ordinating fabric - from my stash or charity shops. The zips and bag accessories were reclaimed or again bought from charity shops.
The main reusable shopping bags were made from old sheets and pillowcases and the produce bags from old net curtains.


Once I had completed my bag design and pattern, I had a fabulous team of ladies to test the pattern and instructions out for me.  They made some gorgeous bags and gave me some very positive and constructive feedback to enable me to polish and finish off my pattern, which had now grown into a small e-book.
Here are the bags they made:

Making a difference

I use my bags each and every week and never forget my shopping bags now. I always get lovely complements on all of my eco-friendly shopping bags and feel proud that I am taking some action and making a small difference to the problem of single use plastic bags.

Not only am I making a difference in having made and now using my own set of these bags, but through the sale of my e-book of patterns and tutorials I hope I am inspiring others to make their own eco-friendly, reusable shopping bags thereby further reducing the need for and use of single use plastic bags in other parts of the world where my e-book has sold to! The e-book contains instructions and plenty of photos to help make the handbag itself and all the reusable shopping bags that fit inside it too.

I wanted to make sure this e-book was affordable and so attractive to as many people as possible to try and spread the impact it makes.
I settled on the cost of a cup of coffee as the sales price for the book.

Just AU$3.99

Buy Now
AND $1 from each book sold is being donated to the WWF .
In order to do this I decided to 'adopt' a turtle, which means that each month I contribute money - partly from sales of my e-book and the remainder funded myself.

I chose turtles as I live in Cairns - right on the doorstep of the Great Barrier Reef and have seen lots of turtles many times whilst snorkelling. They are beautiful creatures.
I also volunteer twice a month at a local turtle rehabilitation centre, helping to care for sick and rescued turtles.

So if you sew (and I tried to make all the tutorials as clear and detailed as possible with LOTS of photos) so even a confident beginner sewer can give these a try. Or perhaps you know someone who sews.  Then why not, have a virtual 'cuppa' with me and 
Add to Cart

Help to make a small difference into a bigger and bigger difference by spreading the word.

I believe that one small action by a single person can grow and make a big difference.

What skills do you have that you could put to use Creatively Solving a Problem to make a difference. Even if the difference is only small - it's a beginning that can grow into something HUGE.

I'd like to leave you with one of my favourite quotes and one that inspired me to create these bags and sell this e-book.

What will it inspire you to do?

I would love if you shared this post with your friends and on social media - Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest - anywhere. Help me make the small difference I'm making into a bigger and bigger one.

Thank you!

I shall be linking this post to many of the fabulous linky parties whose pretty buttons and direct links can be found on my linky party page.


  1. Huzzah! Such beautiful versions from your awesome testers, and a fabulous design from your little gray cells! Pinning and tweeting

    1. Thanks so much Mich! I appreciate the shares!

  2. Hi Jill! This problem exists everywhere especially in the countries with high population density...That's where I live, India... Your bags look fabulous... and the one in which you store them is perfect, trendy as well! I wish IO owned a sewing machine, because even if I want to try many projects from your blog I cannot do it right away.
    Thanks for spreading awareness Jill, people shall start considering environment at last.

  3. Thank you for giving such a thorough explanation of the world problem. Several years ago, a large grocery store in our city banned bags altogether. You cannot even buy a paper bag there. So I am used to bringing my bags to the store and always carry a small bag in my purse. I have also had bag making parties in my home. Your book looks great! I have pinned this to my DIY Grocery Bags board. https://www.pinterest.com/thelostapron/diy-grocery-bags/

    1. That's awesome that you have somewhere in your city that has banned plastic bags. We need more places to do this worldwide! Thanks so much for pinning this too! I really appreciate the share!

  4. I love your Eco-Friendly Shopping Bag. Do I have your permission to sell any items I make using your tutorials and patterns? Of course credit would be given to your for your patterns. I look forward to your reply. Thank you for sharing your tutorials and for your E-Books.

    1. Thanks Marlene! And yes, please feel free to sell things you make with my patterns and tutorials. I'd love to see things that you make and will happily give you a shout out too!

    2. Thank you Jill, I will send pictures when I get them finished. Have a great week.

    3. I shall look forward to them Marlene! :)

  5. This is such a great post!

    Thanks for joining Cooking and Crafting with J & J!


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