Our Burning Planet


VHS tapes are making a comeback… as upcycled bags and footstools that combat plastic pollution

VHS tapes are making a comeback… as upcycled bags and footstools that combat plastic pollution
John Mhashu recently started helping to build Re.Bag.Re.Use footstools, made from upcycled VHS tape boxes, to fund his running career. (Photo: Regine le Roux)

A Hout Bay-based initiative is taking a novel approach to combat plastic pollution. Non-recyclable VHS tapes are upcycled into products which help the community members who make the products fund their dreams.

A long time ago in a galaxy far far away… Someone removed their VHS copy of “Star Wars: A New Hope” from their tape player for the very last time. 

What happened next is a great mystery. Was it gifted to grandchildren who were born in the age of iPads? Was it donated to an antique store and eagerly purchased by an old-school cinephile? Was it tossed out when the tape refused to play the adventures of Obi-Wan, Darth Vader and Princess Leia? 

There is no way to know how the 1977 movie tape ended up as another piece of plastic pollution amongst the other old movie tapes scattered in with the donations to the Re.Bag.Re.Use initiative in Hout Bay. 

“Most of the VHS and audio tapes come from the Domestic Animal Rescue Group in Hout Bay, as well as Sungardens Hospice in Pretoria,” says Regine le Roux, the founder of the initiative.

“We also get a lot of donations from people decluttering and wanting to find an alternative use for the VHS tapes instead of throwing them away,” she adds.

Regardless of where these discarded tapes came from, they are now turned into upcycled items that are reducing plastic pollution and giving their makers a chance to run. 

VHS movies at the new ’90s room launch at Madame Tussauds on March 27, 2019 in Hollywood, California. (Photo by Rodin Eckenroth/Getty Images)

From trash to treasure

Without intervention, current plastic pollution levels could double by 2040 and there is growing concern amongst experts regarding plastics’ continued contribution to the climate crisis. While recycling can mitigate some of the damage there are many plastic items that cannot be recycled and end up as plastic pollution — including VHS and VCR tapes.

The Re.Bag.Re.Use initiative takes these tapes to create luxury bags and footstools out of non-recyclable material. 

But for le Roux, the Re.Bag.Re.Use initiative really just started as a hobby during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

“Knitting and crocheting has always been one of my hobbies,” says le Roux. 

So during the pandemic le Roux began to experiment with different materials and inspired by women she had seen crochet with plastic bags in the past, she began to work with non-recyclable materials.

Mitchell Margret Nyika, a crocheter for the initiative Re.Bag.Re.Use initiative in Hout Bay, takes about eight hours to crochet a single shopping bag from the tape inside old VHS movies. Photo: Regine le Roux

“My first attempt at cutting up a six-pack wrapper was an absolute disaster,” says le Roux. But with some perseverance, le Roux began to turn empty plastic bags into colourful crocheted items. 

“From there the project has snowballed; we now have five ladies who cut plastic for us, and 10 ladies who crochet beautiful different products,” she explains. The women started experimenting with VHS and audio cassette tapes which they now use to make metallic black and bronze bags.

It takes about eight hours to crochet a single shopping bag, says Mitchell Margret Nyika, a crocheter for the initiative.

“I started as a cutter at the end of last year, but then one of the other ladies taught me how to crochet,” she explains. “I love being able to use my creativity and crochet skills that I have learnt to make beautiful products.” 

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It is an added bonus “to earn something with your skills, and also to keep the environment clean from plastic,” says Nyika.

“It’s just marvellous to see all the old movies,” says le Roux. “There are a lot of children’s videos, and I always have a giggle thinking that Barnie the Dinosaur has never looked so glamorous after a bag has been made from the tape!” she adds.

“But, it always worried me that I didn’t quite have a solution for the empty VHS boxes, because I  found out that the type of plastic that they are made from is not recyclable and would only land up in landfill,” says le Roux.

The Re.Bag.Re.Use initiative upcycles non-recyclable VHS tapes to create luxury bags. Photo: Regine le Roux

Taking a stand by making a stool

To address this issue, the initiative began building footstools three months ago, says le Roux. 

“I found the details of John Singano an upholsterer in Hout Bay,” says le Roux. 

“When Regine first asked me for a quote to upholster the footstools made from VHS tapes I was so excited. Instead of throwing something away, we can turn it into something that people can love,” says Singano.

“As an upholsterer, we are often left with a lot of material offcuts that are too small for other projects and the material gets thrown away,” he adds. 

Each stool is made up of 78 VHS tapes and takes about 35 minutes to put together, says Singano. 

“They are incredibly popular,” says le Roux, “they pretty much get sold the moment they are finished.”

Reuben Mhashu, recently started helping to build Re.Bag.Re.Use footstools, made from upcycled VHS tape boxes to fund his running career. Photo: Regine le Roux

Run Reuben run

“Not only is it keeping plastic from going to the landfill or ocean, but, it is also allowing community members to use their creativity to make additional pocket money to put food on the table,” says le Roux.

Recently, Reuben Mhashu, has started helping to build the footstools. 

“I met Reuben a couple of years back, he is one of Hout Bay’s top runners,” says le Roux, “he recently won the West Coast Marathon.”

Mhashu is currently preparing for the Bay to Bay 30km running race that takes place in January, between Camps Bay and Hout Bay. 

“Reuben has the potential to go incredibly far, but unfortunately does not currently have any sponsors,” says le Roux. 

This is an important initiative, says Mhashu. “Personally, it is very important to me, because it is helping me a lot to save towards my running. I, unfortunately, don’t currently have a sponsor, so the costs for shoes, supplements and race entry fees all add up,” says Mhashu.

The Re.Bag.Re.Use initiative upcycles non-recyclable VHS tapes to create luxury footstools. Photo: Regine le Roux

To do the necessary training for these long distances, Mhashu needs proper shoes and nutrition, says le Roux. 

Mhashu is working incredibly hard to save towards a new pair of shoes and building footstools has helped with this goal.

“It is so satisfying to turn something that is considered junk and would have been thrown away, into something beautiful,” says Mhashu. DM/OBP


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