Full project name: Reducing waste and littering in Montenegro by making reusable shopping bags affordable and accessible to every citizen

Start and end date: February 2018 – ongoing

City project taken place: All Montenegro

Project Coordinators: Vanja Cicmil, Bojana Mijovic, Alexa Aubertin

Beneficiaries: All citizen of Montenegro, Waste Management companies, Municipalities, Supermarket chains

Sponsors: BEMED, NTO, MEA, UM, U.me

Partners: n/a

Budget: 12.992 €

Synopsis:

The goal of the project is to drastically reduce the creation of non-recyclable plastic waste in Montenegro and to raise awareness about the dangers of single-use plastic items over-consumption.


Single-use plastic bags are distributed all over the country without any second thought of the direct and indirect consequences they have on the environment and our food chain. We estimate that 200 to 400 million single-use plastic bags are being distributed every year in Montenegro. The EU Commission encourages its member states (and states to-be) to take ambitious measures against plastic bags pollution such as bans or economic incentives.

It will publish a new legislation to reduce the number of single-use items put on the market by May 2018.


Currently there are only very limited reusable bags available in Montenegro, and those available are very expensive for Montenegro living standards. Our project aims at making long-lasting reusable bags accessible and affordable to every citizen in Montenegro,. We expect to create a noticeable waste reduction on the national scale, while raising awareness regarding single-use plastic waste creation and disposal in Montenegro.

Goals:

Main project goal: The goal of the project was to drastically reduce the creation of non-recyclable plastic waste in Montenegro and to raise awareness about the dangers of single-use plastic items overconsumption.

The first project goal is to have 5000 to 10.000 long-lasting reusable carriers bags in service in Montenegro within 1 year from funding received (pilot phase – batch 1). Citizen would use their reusable bag in average 5 times a week, meaning saving 5 single-use reusable bags ending up in the nature or in a landfill. 5000 to 10.000 bags for one year is 1.3 million to 2.6 million plastic bags reduction in Montenegro. We believe it is a concrete result with big impact, as well as sustainable.

The second project goal of this project is to raise awareness about the overuse of single-use plastic bags in Montenegro, in particular and single-use items in general, and its impact on the environment. Distribution of the bags will be done in parallel with education of cashiers and communication through media (TV, press, social media).

The third project goal is to continue producing and selling reusable bags in Montenegro until every household uses reusable bags to do their grocery and regular shopping. The production request will start as soon as the first batch is approximately 80-90% sold out.

Results:

Despite all our efforts, we have faced numerous challenges that we hadn’t all anticipated, a lot related to the fact that we were pioneers in Montenegro for such initiative. Those challenges will be developed in the next chapter. We haven’t managed to achieve all our goals – which we realize now, may have been too ambitious in the current cultural context of Montenegro. However we had some great achievements that we are pleased to share below:

At the time of writing this report, we are pleased to say that we have noticed a sensible change in the use of reusable bags in Montenegro through the project period. It is difficult to estimate accurately the real influence of our project on this result but being one of the very few NGO in Montenegro campaigning for the ban of plastic bags and the use of reusable bags. Of course, there are still unfortunately millions of single-use plastic bags being used every year in Montenegro, but the first change – which is the creation of awareness – is now there.

  • Government has changed at the last minute its draft waste management law (which is still under approval at the time of writing this report) to include the full ban of plastic bags. The Minister has said that this change was to comply to EU regulations but mostly as response to requests from NGOs such as Zero Waste Montenegro (who did the very first petition to request plastic bags ban in Montenegro in 2017) and citizen group (Zero Waste Montenegro is also a founding member of the citizen group Ociste.me who made in 2019 a new petition to request the Government to ban plastic bags.
  • It is now accepted as clients of supermarkets to wrap your fruits and vegetables in reusable produce bags by most employees – and not to force clients to put them in plastic bags as they were instructed to before.
  • Several individual initiatives have popped up to sew and sell reusable bags (called ‘ceger’ in Montenegrin) which wouldn’t even have been imaginable 2 years before. For example here or there.

We managed to have the bags printed, sown and delivered by our partners in the North of Montenegro for the first few sub-batches.

However we were not satisfied with the reliability, professionalism and product quality of the NGO of vulnerable ladies and printing company we worked with so we had to find another partner NGO to work with. We are now working with a group of Roma ladies that are working under the scope of a renowned and reliable Roma NGO in Montenegro. Once we have finished selling all the bags with the current design, we will seek for another organization to do the printing.

Number of bags printed: 1696

Number of bags sewn by partner NGOs: 1114

The design of the bag was made by an upcoming Montenegrin artist. Prints were made on 2 sides. However, we realize that lots of companies are asking for a bag with no print or only print on one side, so for the next batch, we will adjust our design accordingly.

We organized a remarkably successful launch event with the International Zero Waste Lifestyle Founder and Blogger Bea Johnson that had a huge press coverage (see details in intermediate report).

We have created a video for social media to raise awareness about single-use plastic bags’ negative impacts, however, this one was done through another project financed by the British Embassy in Montenegro.

We have created a webpage to present the bags (as well as reserve a domain name for its future update: www.ceger4.me).

We have not conducted a photo shooting session nor designed visuals for a social media campaign yet. We have contacted several celebrities who have said they were supporting our initiative but it hasn’t resulted in a photo session.

We contacted all supermarket chains in Montenegro. We have managed to get some meetings with their representatives several times, we almost even got an agreement made with the organic supermarket chain in Montenegro, but none of them has resulted in an agreement of distribution being signed. Supermarkets currently sell their plastic bags a few cents each and have no interest in distributing reusable bags at cost price (with limited or non-existent financial interest for them). Also, the total price of the bags ended up being too high for many distributors.

We managed to find 2 shops (one bakery and one zero waste café) as well as our office as distribution points for the bags.

We managed to sell most of the bags through our personal connections, bringing them to events (handicraft markets, etc) or through other projects. However, this approach is not sustainable as it requires lots of our time for limited results. Until supermarkets accept to sell reusable bags in their shops and value the ‘Made in Montenegro’ label (which also comes at a higher price) or until we find another distributor/major retailer chain willing to sell our bags at cost price, we will have difficulty to make the distribution of the bags sustainable.

Number of bags sold at cost price: 805

Number of distribution points: 3

Outlook:

We will hire a skilled project manager to manage the completion of the project which consists of:

  1. Finish the sewing of the 587 bags and find a temporary distribution channel to sell the remaining costs below cost price (3 euros per bag).
  2. Approach again supermarkets, and convince them to embark on the reusable bags journey with our support – and with a new approach: Assist them in the logistics of getting light foldable R-PET bags at around 1 euro piece – so they can make a slight profit while still selling them at an affordable price, get the design of the bags made for them and the communication campaign around CSR.

This way, the supermarkets will handle the distribution themselves (making it sustainable in the long-term), bags will be accessible (supermarkets are all around the country) and affordable (price should remain under 1.5 euros maximum).

The 2 downsides of this new plan however are that it won’t create employment for ladies in Montenegro and bags would be made of plastic (PET) though recycled one (R-PET).

Our high-quality cotton bags
Interview with Béa Johnson during the launch event