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From Trash To Treasure: Sustainable Fashion Bags Made From Ocean Plastic

The world seems to be a little askew when fishermen are being paid to fish for plastic in our oceans. 


But is that really surprising? 


Unfortunately, it is not, as 75% of the garbage in our oceans is plastic waste. Waste that thanks to ethical brands like Got Bag is collected, sorted, recycled and turned into thread that the company uses to design sleek and sustainable travel gear.  


Got Bag is dedicated to raising awareness and cleaning our oceans. With the idea of turning plastic waste into sustainable travel gear, Got Bag developed the world's first backpacks made from recycled ocean plastic


To date, this eco-friendly fashion brand has recovered and recycled about 400 tonnes of Ocean Impact Plastic from our oceans, with clean-up programs that remove 50 tons of plastic per month from the ocean with the help of a network of 2,300 fishermen.

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Sustainable Fashion Choices Make Changes

“I had been closely connected to the sea since childhood and actively wanted to do something about the increasing amounts of plastic I saw entering the oceans,” says Got Bag founder Benny Mandos. “It's in my nature to start, test and push new things. Especially when the issue, like the pollution of our oceans, is so close to my heart. So we collected ideas, tested them out, had many conversations and gained experience. And after 2.5 years, the first Got Bag was ready for sale!”


Founded in 2016 in Germany, Got Bag is an eco-friendly fashion brand creating the world’s first backpacks made from ocean plastic. United by the vision of a plastic-free future for our oceans, Got Bag’s goal is to clean up the oceans of a significant amount of waste. For each Got Bag created, up to 9.9 lbs. of ocean plastic is collected.


“We wanted to create multifunctional, everyday travel companions – who adapt flexibly to the lives of their customers. The most apt description of the product design is probably the term 'minimalist'. It arose from the conviction that minimalism, which does not emulate any particular trend, is timeless. Like the Got Bag materials, the design therefore is particularly sustainable,” says Mandos.


“Symbolically, a backpack stands for the fact that we all have to shoulder the great task of ensuring the water quality for the future of flora and fauna,” says Mandos about how the idea of travel gear actually came about for Got Bag. “The idea actually came about by chance, but made sense as rucksacks are a particularly durable, robust and easy-care product. Got Bag customers have certainly fallen hook and sinker for the idea as they also love the minimalist, timeless design of the functional backpacks.”

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“The total amount of Ocean Impact Plastic Got Bag has collected so far is about 400t. In the first two fiscal years, the total amount was around 100t. But with our network of now more than 2,000 collectors.”

Benny Mandos, Got Bag Founder

Turning Waste To A Viable Product

Over 9 million tons of plastic waste escape into our oceans every year. By cleaning our oceans from plastic pollution while turning the waste into something useful, Got Bag was able to create a foundation for their innovative products. The company’s clean-up program in partnership with a network of fishermen off the north shore of Java, Indonesia, collects ocean plastic as by-catch, which is then cleaned, sorted and processed. 


Any unusable recovered plastic is recycled, while the PET plastic is shredded into pellets and turned into a robust yarn, and ultimately into a polyester fabric. The material is then waterproofed with an innovative and environmentally-friendly BIO-PU coating, creating the Got Bag products. 

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Got Bag, eco-friendly fashion, sustainable fashion, backpacks, eco-friendly bags, Buy Good. Feel Good.

A Clean Up Network

Indonesia generates more than three million tons of plastic waste annually, making it the second-largest country in the world after China. Around a third of it, more than one million tons, ends up in the ocean every year. 


In Indonesia, Got Bag works with partners who process the raw material ocean plastic step by step into a high-quality yarn. This process turns the collected plastics into pellets in a technologically demanding process that meets European standards. 


The base of the clean-up program is Demak, Java, which is located at the mouth of several rivers carrying large amounts of plastic waste from inland into the ocean in addition to the plastic carried into the ocean through winds and rainfalls. According to Mandos, the plastic waste recovered there tends to be less contaminated and decomposed, so it doesn’t need to be sorted and cleaned too intensively.

Got Bag, eco-friendly fashion, sustainable fashion, backpacks, travel bags,  Buy Good. Feel Good.
Got Bag, eco-friendly fashion, sustainable fashion, laptop case, backpacks, Buy Good. Feel Good.

In an effort to reduce ocean plastic pollution at its source, Got Bag also supports the establishment of waste infrastructure in rural areas in Indonesia and the creation of jobs. In the industrially weak coastal region of Demak, the population mainly lives from fishing and to a lesser extent from agriculture. 


“Most of the work there was done by men, while women mostly sold the goods at the markets. But then two women groups came together to actively collect plastic and bring it to the Got Bag recycling stations. And now these women recruit new helpers, take on educational activities and are in close contact with the Got Bag team to coordinate the collection activities,” says Mandos passionately. 


The beautiful thing about this program is that those who started by handing in plastic at the Got Bag collection points have now become important multipliers creating awareness among the local population. They communicate their knowledge of recycling and the negative impact of plastic waste on the ocean leading to a greater environmental awareness and protection in their surroundings. 


“Additionally, Got Bag organizes workshops and training sessions on waste separation for the local community to create a collective awareness about plastic pollution as well as increase pressure on authorities to find solutions for a sustainable waste system. Our management is also in close contact with the local government, which supports the team's work and works with it to find long-term solutions to preserve intact ecosystems. Piece by piece, we are making very good progress here,” says Mandos.

Types Of Ocean Plastics

Got Bag can only use PET to process it into backpacks. But there are many more parts of the Ocean Impact Plastic:


PET: just over 10%


PP: just under 5%


HDPE: significantly less than 5% - but difficult to identify


LDPE/LLDPE: 20% (e.g. plastic bags)


Mixed: about 55% (foil and plastic bag residues, various polyethylene variants, polycarbonates, polystyrene, polypropylene and containers without marking, as well as only about 20% composite materials – for example sachets for shampoo or ketchup – which are particularly difficult to recycle due to the aluminium coating)


Buckets and pipes: about 5% (probably PVC, but also without marking)


The core of the Got Bag corporate philosophy is to address the ocean plastic problem holistically: all types of Ocean Impact Plastic gathered at the Got Bag collection points are fed to individual recycling solutions. From the very beginning, Got Bag was looking for innovative ways to reuse not only the valuable PET, but also all other materials.


“Materials made of PP, HDPE, LDPE, PS and PVC are conveyed to local companies, who provide them with appropriate recycling solutions. Mechanical processing is used to process them back up to produce new items,” says Mandos. “Composite materials make up a large proportion of so-called residual materials, which are particularly difficult to recycle due to coatings and adhesives. Up to now, Got Bag has therefore used them as a fuel to generate energy from them - as an alternative to burning fossil fuels. Compared to conventional energy production, new raw materials are substituted and a filter system in accordance with European standards keeps the resulting emissions low.”

Raising Awareness

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For Got Bag, raising awareness of the environmental pollution problem with the help of campaigners, politicians and the public, to identify practical solutions is essential to the ethos of who they are. To them this is the bottom line of what Got Bag is all about.


“The total amount of Ocean Impact Plastic Got Bag has collected so far is about 400t. In the first two fiscal years, the total amount was around 100t. But with our network of now more than 2,000 collectors, we are reaching higher sums faster, which makes us very proud,” says Mandos. And with plans to venture out to new locations in the Caribbean and South and Southeast Asia, they are hopeful to try to achieve as much impact as possible at each new location.

 

Mandos is optimistic for the future of sustainable fashion. Although phenomena’s like Shein make him sometimes question how far we've really come; “but I still believe that we can make it. Even if there is still a lot to do and a lot of change to take place!” 


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