What about all that plastic? This might be one of the biggest questions of our time.

Cities across the world are becoming concerned about the huge amount of plastic being used and then discarded by their communities. In particular, single-use plastic bags play a huge role in degrading the environment.

Recently, the education team at the Sarjeant Gallery Te Whare o Rehua Whanganui came up with the idea of the Tote Bag Project to increase awareness of the detrimental effects of plastics in our world and to encourage students to think about solutions.

In one-off sessions, students have been decorating their own cotton tote bags by drawing directly on the bags with permanent markers or by employing a silk-screen process using fabric ink. Not only will the decorated tote bags encourage students to use fewer plastic bags but they will also be uniquely creative and extremely handy.


When schools book in for the tote bag programme at the gallery, classes can choose what technique they would like to use to decorate their bags. They will be looking at different subject matter when creating their designs, ranging from flora and fauna to patterns and shapes - and educators Sietske Jansma and Andrea Gardner are looking forward to seeing the wide variety of designs and ideas students create.

Why are single-use plastic bags so bad?

+Non-renewable resources (crude oil, gas and coal) are used to make them.

+Disposal is difficult - most are not recycled. In Whanganui, three tonnes goes to the landfill annually. Plastics breakdown but they never biodegrade.

+Plastic bags damage the environment. They disintegrate into microplastic and enter the food chain; they kill millions of sea birds, sea mammals and many fish either by being mistaken for food and eaten or by trapping them. They can block drains which in turn can cause flooding and increase the risk of mosquito-borne disease.

+It harms our "Clean Green" NZ brand which is estimated to earn us around $20 billion a year.

So keep an eye out for the students fashionable tote bags - hopefully they will be seen around town doing their job, full of togs, library books, groceries, sports gear, or a delicious lunch.

Any schools interested can contact Sietske Jansma or Andrea Gardner at education@sarjeant.org.nz. All of the Sarjeant programmes are free for schools and are funded by the Ministry of Education and the Whanganui District Council.