A few years ago, a Sydney family embarked on an experiment to test the limits of the humble paper bag and challenge the notion of ‘single-use’. When their local bakery asked customers to reuse paper bread bags, the family decided to push this request to its limit.
Over a three-and-a-half-year period they transported 569 loaves of bread using just six paper bags. Each time a bag made it home safely, the family marked the bag with a pen, tallying five trips, then 20, then 100.
“When the first bag came back to the store twenty times, staff and customers started to notice our little experiment. Then we made it to fifty times, then eighty times and when we returned for the hundredth time, there was a lot of celebration inside the bakery,” Andy recalls.
The record for most trips made by a single bag during the experiment was 104. This is an astonishing result for an item that most people use just once before discarding.
“The experiment changed my perspective on ’single use’ items because I could think about them more deeply — where they come from and what they’re made from, where they go to and how we pay so little attention to them,” Andy tells Planet Ark.
“It made me think about the choices we make every day, how instantly we choose and how we are conditioned to think only about the product benefits not the production nor the packaging. It’s incredible what goes in to making things, the negative impacts they can have after their useful life and how when they’re in our hands, we aren’t engaged in their real story.”
Inspired by the resilience of these ‘single use’ items, Andy has turned the bread bag experiment into an art exhibition that will be displayed at Iggy’s Bakery in Bronte where it all began. Titled ‘We All Speak for the Trees’, the artwork prompts viewers to reflect on the value and impacts of these everyday objects.
“The experiment and resulting artwork aim to create a moment to pause, connect with the story of our possessions and the natural world that sustains us and help us think about how we can all play our part to help ensure we live on a thriving planet for generations to come,” Andy says.
This project has caused Andy to question not just single use paper bags, but other materials used for everyday products. How is reuse factored into product design? Has design for circularity been considered? Have the right materials been used in the first place? Are some of the questions he has been considering.
“It seems like we have the awareness, knowledge and know-how to fix the many problems the planet and all the species on it face. However, we need to engage more deeply with the things around us, question the systems that support the predominance of ‘take, make and dispose’, make positive changes and inspire people to come with us on the journey.”
The purpose of the work, Andy explains, is to show that everyone can take small actions that add up to big change.
“It was important to me to demonstrate that our everyday positive actions really can create significant change. In this instance avoiding using hundreds of paper bags, creating an artwork to engage people on reuse and the fragile world that supports us, telling the story of the experiment and the artwork; all of these things have come about by lots of small actions adding up.”
The artwork will be on display from May 17-July 30 at Iggy’s Bakery, 131 Macpherson Street, Bronte.
Positive Environment News has been compiled using publicly available information. Planet Ark does not take responsibility for the accuracy of the original information and encourages readers to check the references before using this information for their own purposes.