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A creative and biodegradable alternative to single-use plastic bags

Rachel Das
A sustainable option for keeping fruit and veges fresh in or out of the fridge.   Cecilia Clavijo

A local innovator's launching an affordable alternative to Kiwi's more than 1.5 billion yearly plastic bag use.

University of Canterbury entrepreneur Cecilia Clavijo will soon be selling biodegradable cotton 'VitaBags'.

The reusable VitaBags (pronounced "vee-tar") would last up to three years, but would take just three weeks to break down once they were thrown out.

"Plastic bags are so unnecessary - we could do without them. The first plastic bag that was ever created is still here and it will still be here in 500 years," Clavijo said.

Take a quick look: single-use plastic bags vs. biodegradable options.

VitaBags could replace single-use plastic bags when fruit and vege shopping and would keep them fresh in or out of the fridge.

Clavijo believed we needed to change the way we thought about plastic, in order to keep New Zealand clean and green for our children.

"I just want to break a paradigm cos I'm a mum now, I have three kids and I want them to make better choices. This is a beautiful country, New Zealand, clean and green - so let's keep it that way."

She believed most of us were pretty clean and green but everyone was looking for convenience in a fast paced world.

"We definitely have the skills to innovate and to create a product that is biodegradable, organic, that's not going to generate so much waste... so I just thought let's eliminate the need for plastic bags and start reducing it somehow," Clavijo said.

VitaBags are an innovative and planet-friendly option for fruit and vege shopping. Cecilia Clavijo

Bolivian-born Clavijo had a background in industrial engineering and management .

She took a place on the 2016/2017 University of Canterbury Summer Start Up, where she was able to develop her project.

Clavijo said 27 countries had placed either a ban or put a tax on plastic bags and that would definitely come to New Zealand.

"There are a lot of people who want that to happen, it's just a matter (of) acting on it."

Clavjio was excited to think of everyone in New Zealand using a plastic bag alternative, whether they bought hers or made their own.

"Whatever you want to do, just stop using plastic bags."

"Deep down, everyone wants to do the conscious decisions that are going to good for the environment, but sometimes we get too busy with our daily lives and we just don't have time to think through these things," Clavjijo said.

Cecilia Clavijo
Local entrepreneur Cecilia Clavijo hopes people will start making sustainable choices. Cecilia Clavijo

VitaBags were made from certified organic cotton in India, where the workers are treated ethically.

"It's all organic. So after you use it for three years, whenever the bag's too worn out to keep using it, then you can dispose it and it's going to decompose within three weeks and it's not going to put any toxic things in the environment."

Clavijo said the bags could be used for any purpose: sandwich bags, make-up, etc.

However, her main intent for their use would be shopping for fruit and veges.

A campaigner for a plastic bag free Christchurch, Megan Blakie, believed innovative alternatives and manufacturing could lead the way in this country.

She said although New Zealand had a pure image, it could be made a reality by fostering sustainable businesses.

"People in the community do care and it gives me hope for the future," Blakie said.

Cecilia Clavjijo hoped to launch her planet-friendly bags this September and would distribute them throughout supermarkets and fruit and vege stores.

Listen to Cecilia Clavijo's full interview here.