May 10th, 2018, 04:56 PM

Sustainability Series: Egyptian Remake of the ‘Plastic Bag’

By Sanna Rasmussen
(Image Credit: Upfuse)
Plastic bags are being collected from the “garbage city” in Cairo and upcycled into new, fashionable recycled bags.

Taking around 1,000 years to decompose, plastic is one of natures’ most harmful pollutants. Plastic bags are petroleum-based, meaning they use natural resources, like oil, to be produced. Not only do plastic bags harm our ecosystems on land and sea, but they also affect us humans as we breathe in the toxic fumes spread around from incinerating the plastic bags that end up in waste facilities. Either way you look at it, plastic is a non-starter, and the plastic already in circulation needs to be upcycled to prevent further pollution.

Up-fuse is a sustainable handbag and accessory brand founded in Cairo, Egypt, created when classmates Yara Yassin and Rania Rafie tackled the idea of upcycling plastic bags for a senior project at The German University of Cairo. Both women were studying product development and wanted to find a way to improve the pollution conditions in Manshayet Nasr, the “Garbage City” in Cairo. Their senior project turned into a business in 2015, and since then, they have partnered with local NGO, Roh El Shabab to aid in collecting the plastic bags from Manshayet Nasr.

(Image Credit: Upfuse)

With a staff of 18 women, Up-fuse now produces tote bags, backpacks, pencil cases, and numerous accessories, all using “Sabi”. Sabi is the material produced by compressing 20-30 plastic bags using heat, melting them together. The Sabi is produced in bulk, and on occasion, therefore the 16 laborers who make the material are paid hourly wages when they are needed, of 215 Egyptian Pound, or about 10 Euro. The other two laborers handle the manufacturing of the bags, which is a constant job. These two workers are paid monthly salaries of 5000 Egyptian Pound, or about 230 Euro.

As Up-fuse’s operation grew in 2015, they partnered with local NGO Roh El Shabab to introduce their pollution pick up in the informal district known as Garbage City. Originally, this district was a landfill, but still all of the plastic pollution throughout Cairo ends up in Garbage City. Up-Fuse works with women living in this district to provide them an alternative source of income so that they are not dependent on garbage sorting. Together with Roh El Shabab, Up-Fuse teaches these women and youth the process of upcycling plastic bags, giving them a skill that they may use for profit themselves.

(Image Credit: Upfuse)

In an interview with, co-founder Rania Rafie said, “An important challenge is the consumer’s role. Even though there is an audience that would pay more for products that live longer, there is a majority of consumers worldwide that are still stuck to bargain pricing and are unaware of the whole picture of how these fashionable items are produced, and how they are prices so cheaply.”

(Image Credit: Upfuse)

In creating a product line of their own, co-founders Yana and Rania chose a reasonable price range for their bags and accessories. Although their products are ultimately made with recycled pollutant, the bags are designed in line with trends and inspiration from around the globe. According to Yara, the design process is long- “We all sit down, check the trends, and decide what we want to give to our customers. Then we all sketch and prototype, while collecting materials for inspiration from social media or fashion reports. Finally, Lama, the product designer puts all the pieces together and brings the Up-Fuse piece to life.”

According to their website, each Up-fuse bag is produced with around 30 plastic bags. In their first business year, Up-fuse recycled 36,000 plastic bags from Manshayet Nasr, generating about 1,500 pieces. Items range from 5 euro to 65 euro and can be bought via their website, and in stores in Saudia Arabia, Egypt, and the USA. In the future, Up-Fuse founders Yara and Rania hope to expand their design line and open their own retail store.

Visit there websit here:

(Image Credit: Upfuse)