Plastic can be fantastic if you rethink and reuse

IMG_8021A unique collaboration between the world of science and fashion has seen the University of Sheffield team up with the London College of Fashion and a world-renowned designer for a thought-provoking project encouraging people to ‘re-think’ and ‘re-use’ their plastic bags.

For years society has been encouraged to use eco-bags but Professor Tony Ryan OBE, Pro-Vice-Chancellor for the Faculty of Science at the University of Sheffield, says that scientifically, plastic bags could actually be more eco-friendly, especially if the plastic bag is reused before being thrown away.

The Objects Of Truth project aims to raise the status of the humble plastic carrier bag and inform the public of the energy used in making plastic and eco bags.

“An eco-bag needs to be used more than 100 times to get ahead of using a fresh carrier bag every time because there’s 100 times as much embedded energy used in the production of the bag and depending on the materials, water, fertilizer and pesticide,” said Professor Ryan.

“All you have to do is use your carrier bag three times and you have to use your eco bag 300 times to get ahead and people don’t; they use it half a dozen times and it’s left at home. You are actually doing more harm to the environment not less.”

Professor Ryan said thanks to new technologies which promote the degradation of plastics, many of the old arguments used against the use of plastic carrier bags are now being re-examined.

As part of the project, and in a bid to encourage people to look at how they consume carrier bags, an exhibition called ‘Plastic is Precious: It’s Buried Sunshine’ launched at Meadowhall this week and runs until 4 November 2013. Bill Amberg Studio, the name behind Dunhill and Donna Karen designs, and the handbag designer of choice for many celebrities including Tom Cruise, Kate Winslet, and Elle Macpherson has created a limited edition bag, to raise the status of the disposable plastic carrier, which will be on display for the first time at the exhibition.

The Plastic Is Precious exhibition at Meadowhall Shopping Centre.

The Plastic Is Precious exhibition at Meadowhall Shopping Centre.

There will also be a plastic bag amnesty managed by University of Sheffield students, encouraging shoppers to exchange their current plastic bags for one similar to the carrier bags exhibited as part of Bill Amberg’s design. These bags, printed with slogans “I used 99 per cent less energy to make than an eco bag,” remind shoppers that plastic is precious and the bags breakdown under UV light, eliminating issues and concerns of the future.

It is hoped that shoppers will be inspired to customise their bags, potentially starting a wave of new thinking and new fashion surrounding plastic bags. Meadowhall will recycle the bags given in at the amnesty as part of its ongoing recycling programme.

Speaking of the design collaboration, Professor Helen Storey, from the London College of Fashion said: “By sharing the science behind the materials we use in everyday life we hope to encourage and support those who wish to live more sustainable lives. There are no easy answers to living green, but by changing our behaviours in small ways we can make a big difference to our environment. We hope that this exhibition will provoke shoppers to think about their consumption of plastic bags today and in the future.”

Bill Amberg commented: “l chose to add leather handles to the bag as it has an intrinsic sensual quality that we are all familiar with. I wanted to juxtapose this luxurious material with the humble plastic carrier bag to provoke some thought about what, how and why we use our bags. Leather will provide the lasting and timeless quality we all too soon forget with a disposable bag.”

The Plastic Is Precious bag, customised by Bill Amberg.

The Plastic Is Precious bag, customised by Bill Amberg.

Richard Pinfold, Marketing Director at Meadowhall said: “We’re delighted to play host to this pioneering exhibition and hope it will encourage shoppers to think about their plastic bags as a fashion commodity. The message is to re-use bags as many times as you can.”

Professor Tony Ryan and Professor Helen Storey have worked together across the worlds of science and fashion for the past ten years to share the science behind everyday lives and the development of new, useful, memorable and sustainable solutions.


Visit for more information about Plastic Is Precious

Follow @buried_sunshine on Twitter to keep up to date with the exhibition and use the #plasticisprecious hashtag