The basket case

Baskets by Catherine Daniel. ©Jo Sealy / josealyphotography.comBaskets by Catherine Daniel. ©Jo Sealy /

Ahead of this month's Wanstead Upcycling Fair, which will feature a range of bags and baskets made from recycled materials, Marian Temple presents the case for banishing plastic bags from our lives... and from the lives of our ocean-dwelling friends.

Recently, several things have come together to concentrate minds on our use of plastic. Not before time. David Attenborough's wonderful Blue Planet II TV series did not pull punches, making all too clear the results of our overuse of plastic and our casual attitude to its disposal.

Who can forget seeing dolphins, turtles and even whales entangled in plastic or ingesting the stuff? In both cases, a slow and painful death. Albatrosses fly hundreds of miles to bring back food for their chicks. That food can be plastic they have mistaken for fish. Another death sentence. Autopsies on fulmars found dead on beaches reveal stomach contents including items such as balloons, cling film, toothbrushes and packaging. Single-use plastic toothpicks will perforate the stomach of any bird that swallows it. David Attenborough sums it up:"Plastic is now found everywhere in the ocean, from its surface to its greatest depth." And what damage it does!

Then there is the recent decision by China to stop importing our waste plastic for recycling, which has caused a major headache for those in power. One hopes they are not casting around for an alternative country that will conveniently rid us of our rubbish. One would hope they are thinking seriously about our use of plastic, much of which is unnecessary and would seem to benefit the packaging industry rather than anyone else.

So, oceans and China... obviously time for a change. It's good to think globally and act locally and that is exactly what the Wanstead Upcycling Fair on 31 March is all about. So much of the everyday plastic we use is bags for shopping. Even 'bags for life' are made of plastic! What did people use before plastic bags? Why, shopping bags, of course, a wonderful invention! No reason why we shouldn't be using shopping bags today and the fair will show us a variety of creatively made bags and baskets from recycled and biodegradable materials. No harm will be caused to the environment at the end of their useful lives.

Maybe it's time for the basket to make a comeback. After all, it is the 450th anniversary of the founding of the Worshipful Company of Basketmakers. Baskets will be for sale at the fair, of course, and you may have seen the current display of environmentally friendly shopping bags in Wanstead Library's display cases. Pieces include work by Mary Butcher, the queen of her field and sometime resident basketmaker at the V&A Museum. Three pieces were loaned by Mary Masaba, recent winner of the Creative Basketry prize and John Page, head of basketry at City Lit, also has work on display. Naturally, there will be members of the Basketmakers Association at the fair. Habiba Ahmed, the borough's recycling officer, will be there as well, to give advice and information on reducing waste and running drop-in sessions for families with some fun decorating of cloth bags.

It's not too late to apply for a stall at this event to publicise, demonstrate or sell your own environmentally friendly goods. It would definitely be worth spending part of your Saturday meandering among the stalls and enjoying some tasty food, plastic packaging free, of course.

The Wanstead Upcycling Fair will take place at Wanstead Library on 31 March from 11am to 3pm (free entry). To book a stall, call 020 8530 4866

To take part in a free basket making workshop, visit

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