With the strengthening of our purchasing power as individuals, we tend to consume excessively and inefficiently. Each seemingly inconsequential object that we discard irresponsibly, is destined for a landfill or a similar unnatural fate. The immense tax this places on the planet we occupy will soon gather a momentum that is irreversible. While the masses in Sri Lanka have little access to this vital information, it is refreshing to find that more and more consumers the world over, are looking for sustainable products that may begin to reverse the damage we cause to this planet.
And where there is demand, there has come supply. It is refreshing to see business inititives develop with strong community focus, especially those with sustainable products. Numerous terms are utilised
to refer to such sustainability initiatives: recycle, reuse, repurpose, upcycle, downcycle, etc. Semantics aside, what is important is that the resource burden is eased. Susan and Henry, the two minds that have shaped ‘Rice and Carry’ are ensuring not only that this is so, but are simultaneously uplifting the lives of several individuals in the Arugam Bay area, while fashioning an array of bags, wallets, phone covers and other quality products from used rice bags, hessian/goni bags made of jute, and plastic shopping bags. The married couple from the nations of Austria and Germany, respectively, has initiated this enterprise in the still relatively remote Ampara District. To them, such boundaries matter little, as a greater agenda is to be had.
In 2011, Susan and Henry (managing a hotel in Arugam Bay) while observing the routines of the locals, came to notice the sheer magnitude of plastic and other non-biodegradable products that were being thrown after being used just once. What was also noticeable was the manner in which shop owners and consumers nonchalantly handed out and accepted plastic bags even for the most minuscule of purchases. The two then decided to produce a small quantity of bags from paper by tapping into the skills of a local family, in order to address this issue of plastic waste. A ‘No Plastic’ stamp was placed on the paper bags, and they then approached a few small shops to see if they would be interested in selling these to their customers to be reused, rather than handing out plastic bags for every single purchase. Their idea was not received favourably due to the cost involved and other local implications.
Undeterred, Susan and Henry searched for other discarded items for a period of time following this setback, when they came across an empty rice bag in their hotel’s store room. At once, the suitability of the rice bag for what they had in mind was discerned. This idea was then amalgamated with their need to help the local community, which they did by employing a few untrained ladies from the locale. A sustainable social enterprise was thus born. NGOs that had operated in the area prior had donated sewing machines to some of these ladies, and so they weren’t totally uninitiated to the task that lay ahead of them. At first, they were somewhat hesitant to partake in this endeavour, as there is a certain cultural stigma surrounding the usage of waste to produce goods of value. With the passage of time though, they began to see the manner in which their work was not only aiding their immediate environment, but also garnering them a fair income befitting their effort. Susan and Henry expressed that it was the aesthetic and creative element of the process that took a certain amount of time for the ladies to grasp and fine-tune.
Rice & Carry began in Pottuvil in 2012, where the group of ladies upcycled rice bags that were found into all-purpose bags of the highest quality. The unconventional motifs and lettering that already came printed on the rice bags in bright colours proved to be ideal, as they brought to the fore the rural and simplistic nature of the former waste products that were being transformed. The aesthetic value and utility of the rice bags were immediately apparent. With the interest generated by their activities in the area, others inquired if they too could enjoy the fruits of contributing their labour to this successful model of business. Susan and Henry then incorporated the small ‘factory’ house in Komari, a little over 15km away, into their setup. Here, a group of ladies put together the hessian/goni bags made of jute, to be sent to the craftswomen in Pottuvil. Their inspired journey came full circle next, when they finally devised a use for the plastic bags that were being used and discarded so casually. They relied on heat and pressure, to convert them into a novel range of phone covers, wallets, and hard surfaces for the base of certain rice bags. At present, you can find their products at the two ‘Rice and Carry’ outlets along the East Coast. The initial wooden cabin in Arugam Bay itself, and the converted container at ‘Whiskey Point’ beach further north, both display their distinctive wares proudly. In addition to this, you can find their products at the ‘Bludge’ stall at the Good Market in Galle, at Barefoot in Galle and Colombo, and at a handful of smaller hotels along the Southern Coast. They’ve also crafted an exclusive line for PR (Paradise Road) in Colombo, and partnered with Selyn to source fabrics for the bags and other goods, which are locally made and fair trade certified.
The product/s and the cause in the case of ‘Rice and Carry’ are analogous. In that, the vibrant bags and other products are the result of Susan and Henry’s desire to seamlessly blend two separate ideals; that is to protect the environment and to support local communities. From the raw materials sourced, the preexisting motifs and ever so ‘random’ lettering which appear on the rice and hessian/goni bags, to the old-trustworthy sewing machines used to stitch the end products, the bags and other goods exude a character that closely mirrors the existence of this community. Since the community is quite small, an improvement in an individual’s living standard has an exponential effect that extends beyond just the immediate family. In addition to the fair pay that Susan and Henry’s unique commercial arrangement guarantees the ladies, the couple stressed on the flexibility afforded to these women to continue with their family lives and former livelihoods if required, without hindrance. To both Susan and Henry it is important that the ladies enjoy a healthy work-life balance, as it is unheard of in these parts. This freedom is displayed in the goods produced and the unobtrusive way in which they go about their work.
How you can help?
There is no better way to help Susan and Henry’s selfless undertaking, and in the process the ladies, the extended community, and the environment, than to purchase the chic products of ‘Rice and Carry’! What’s more, every single bag and other item is an exclusive piece, of which another doesn’t exist.
Rice & Carry Bags
Surfing Place Road
Tel: 077 716 4254