Rarotonga—From Trash to Class!

The story of one woman’s passion! By Aine Dowling.

We’ve seen clothing upcycled, recycled, pre-loved and vintage, no waste, and who made my clothes? but how about this one—bags made from plastic waste. Environmentalist and educator Sabine Janneck is co-owner of The Dive Centre on Rarotonga and knows all about eco-friendly environments, and is passionate about saving the lagoon and reef and keeping the beaches clean. But that’s not all Sabine is passionate about, with her innovative business—making bags from the plastic bags you toss—going gang-busters, it’s time to take a look at a different side of recycled fashion. 

Smart and colourful handbag by Sabine Janneck

Smart and colourful handbag by Sabine Janneck

According to Clean Up Australia, Australians use in excess of 6 billion plastic bags every year. If tied together these bags would form a chain that would go around the world 37 times! Plastic bags also clog up drains and waterways, and threaten our natural environment killing large numbers of wildlife each year including birds, whales, seals, and turtles.

So isn’t it better to go from thisSabine2

to this!

Sabine with a selection of recycled plastic bags

Sabine with a selection of recycled plastic bags and purses

Arriving on Rarotonga in 2006, Sabine is a qualified PADI Divemaster with a keen interest in underwater photography, and marine conservation and education that developed into a passion after she, and her partner Sascha, bought The Dive Centre. That passion later extended to all things environmental when a friend taught her how to make the purses and bags. “I really loved the bags, so I learnt how to make them and it just went from there,” says Sabine. “They’re unique, attractive and colourful, and a bit of fun. But more importantly they reduce the landfill.”

Sabine’s bags are made from a range of plastic products including dog and cat food bags, chip and snack packets, chocolate wrappers, coffee bags, yogurt pouches, milk cartons and basically any plastic food packet or wrapper. The packets and wrappers are sorted into colours and cut out using a template to determine either the colour or pattern that will be shown on the bag. The template strips are then folded to make small squares and sewn together to make the bag. Everything is done by hand by Sabine, and it takes around eight hours and 120 snack packets to make a small purse. My personal favourite was the Grain Waves clutch—very Australian in a lovely green and gold (see image above).

iPad holder

iPad holder

Sabine’s range includes small zip purses and wallets, clutch bags, handbags, tablet or iPad bags, phone covers, totes, cushions, and neck/back rolls. “Most of the items are made to order,” says Sabine. “They take so long to make, and use a lot of wrappers, so making items for stock is really not possible at the moment. People come in and ask for a purse or wallet, maybe in a particular colour, and I make it for them. Some bring in their own bags—one lady wanted a purple one and brought in a pile of Cadbury wrappers, it was just the colour she was after.”

Colourful tote bag with wooden handles

Colourful tote with wooden handles

Sabine is also an active member of the Te Ipukarea Society whose philosophy is that ‘we don’t own our land and marine resources, but borrow them from our future generations and need to leave them in good condition’. “I try to make real difference,” says Sabine. “I stop along the road to pick up wrappers and packets, and I have friends, and staff and students of the Rutaki School who collect them for me.” Sabine is also an educator at the school—teaching children the value of the environment and how to look after it, and is on a number of local committees including biodiversity, and sustainability.

“If we don’t teach our kids how to look after this place there will be nothing left for future generations,” says Sabine. “I can’t save the world, but I can help to make it a little bit better.”

Photos by LFW

1 thought on “Rarotonga—From Trash to Class!

  1. goodbyeplasticbag

    It looks great, such a good idea! Plastics are made from non-renewable natural resources such as crude oil, gas and coal, and plastic bags will never be recycled even they are reused as bin bags. Crafting with plastic bags is a great way to recycle old plastic bags!


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