20 January, 2022

The Humanitarian Collective

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“Aano bags”: The Hope for a Greener Karachi

A look into the environmental non-profit founded by The Humanitarian Collective's Pakistan Regional Coordinator, Aanya Afridi

My name is Aanya Afridi, and I am a 17 year old Pakistani student at Karachi Grammar School living in Karachi, Pakistan. This is the story of Aano Bags, and the 50 billion plastic bag issue in my city. 

Growing up under the influence of my mother, who had always been involved in “go green” campaigns around our neighborhood, tree plantations, and various garbage cleanup programs in the city, I learned of the impact of pollution in Karachi at an early age, and have been extremely environmentally aware ever since. However, I was always left wondering how a more permanent approach could be made to combat the extreme pollution in a city like Karachi.

I had seen the way my neighborhood had become increasingly polluted, specifically due to the growing number of plastic bags lying on every road, street and avenue. These plastic bags. 

Pakistan generates 50 billion plastic bags annually – luckily, our government is now in the process of banning the use of plastic bags; particularly at retail level. However, the process of replacement through paper and cloth will require enormous efforts and resources. Although a ban had been placed on plastic bags in my neighborhood, I noticed that paper bags were not an efficient alternative either. Therefore, I embarked upon a unique opportunity for a community service project, which I aimed to have multiple benefits: clean up our current environment, save our future environment, recycle unwanted material, and very importantly to provide financial independence to impoverished women. 

My project is simple: I take waste cloth from textile mills, have impoverished women stitch them into bags in their homes and sell these bags to general stores. 

To have unemployed, poor women stitch these bags, and be able to earn money was extremely moving for me, as a result of seeing so much poverty in Karachi, especially women in poverty who are unable to go out and work while taking care of their homes. This is why Aano Bags decided to reach out to them – those women who are able to stitch from their homes, own a sewing machine, and want to earn an income. 

Thus, ‘Aano bags’ top three priorities are; Female empowerment, cleaning up the environment, and spreading environmental awareness. Conservation and environmental awareness is absolutely lacking in Pakistani society – most people have the mindset that one person can’t really make a difference. This mindset must be diminished in order to move forward.

With this project I aim to change the environmental mindsets of those in Karachi, in which most people believe that a change in one person’s lifestyle and attitude towards plastic will not affect the city as a whole. Environmental awareness is a domino effect – one person’s initiative can, it can, absolutely change the way society thinks about our community. 

I also hope to encourage more unemployed, impoverished women in Karachi to realize that as long as they have skill, they are productive members of the society and can still help and support their families from their homes. Everyone, especially women, must learn of their value. 

After a trial run of producing and selling over 1,500 bags within my neighborhood, I was excited to see the reactions of both consumers, as well as the women stitching the bags, as this project is a source of income for those women unable to work outside their homes. I hope to continue to help these women and our environment, while spreading awareness in our community. Soon, the pilot project of Aano Bags will be expanded into a large-scale organization. 

While Aano Bags is meant to be a platform that benefits both the local environment as well as provide impoverished women much needed employment, it is also meant to attract attention of others to create their own versions of eco-friendly bag solutions so that we can target the eventual replacement of the 50 billion plastic bag problem we have inflicted on our own environment.

Going into this initially small scale project, I knew the risks – financially and socially. Though my age made it more difficult for people to take me seriously, I was happy to see that eventually it wasn’t a barrier on the road to success for Aano Bags. My hope is for this organization to not only be remembered by the product, but as something that contributed to the start of the movement towards a plastic free Karachi, and something that helped transform the mindsets of my community, and hopefully whomever has read this narrative.