Sophia Scott filming in a recycling plant

Groundtruth packs a punch with eco-bags

It’s no understatement to say Groundtruth bags pack a punch with its bags sourced from recycled plastic, especially when you consider the story behind Groundtruth itself.

The story of Groundtruth begins with three sisters, Georgia, Nina and Sophia Scott. These three sisters spent a decade capturing stories from all over the world as documentary-makers through their own company, Groundtruth Films. Their work has taken them from Europe to Asia, Africa and the Middle East, giving them insights in the different environments to be found all over the world, and the people who live in them.

Plastic is literally everywhere…We started to feel quite frustrated by not being able to make a big difference by telling human stories. There was all this garbage around, so we thought, how can we fuse the two?

– Sophia Scott, Founder, Groundtruth

Each place they visited came with its own local history of conflict or some other social issue affecting the lives of the people. However, the Scott sisters could also see what impact the changing climate was starting to have on people, and this started a new chapter for them, which is being written in earnest now.

New beginnings

“Georgia and I have been making long-format films for years in difficult places”, reveals Sophia Scott. “I spent my entire twenties growing up and working in Nairobi, filming across the whole of the African continent.”

Sophia speaks about how her work in making films was a great vehicle for storytelling but not so much a tool for initiating change. She admits: “You put your camera in someone’s face and they often tell you the story but you take that story away, and unless something’s done about it, then that person’s life is not changing.”

Stories were easy to come by – the world is home to billions of people and it’s easy to capture a fraction of them at a time, but there was more going on behind the scenes. The sisters had a growing sense of frustration over time about how they could only seem to tell stories, while spotting the hallmarks of the disposable culture we live in: plastic waste from all over the world, washing up on foreign shores in ever-greater quantities.

At the Ocean X Prix in Lac Rose, Senegal, if you watched any of the coverage of the races, you didn’t have to wait too long before seeing a shot of the beaches which were littered in shreds of plastic film or stray plastic bottles. Plastic is durable and buoyant, allowing a discarded item from Europe to be carried by marine currents to virtually any coastal destination if given enough time. And this is just the plastic we can see with our own eyes.

“Plastic is literally everywhere…We started to feel quite frustrated by not being able to make a big difference by telling human stories. There was all this garbage around, so we thought, how can we fuse the two?”

The end result is Groundtruth, a ground-breaking business which sources plastic waste including rPET (short for recycled polyethylene terephthalate) plastic such as bottles and upcycles it to produce the materials which can be woven to make a durable bag. Sophia added: “I never had the right backpack so we were always travelling from Congolese jungles, dirty, muddy, and then maybe on a plane straight to New York for a pitching session so we were really looking for a hybrid bag that could take us to both those worlds.

For the conscious traveller, everyone is looking for something that has been produced in the right way, not just environmentally, but humanely…it really came about with us wanting to create a business, make something useful and clean up some the mess that we are all part of.”

The RIKR range

Part of Groundtruth’s efforts to achieve this business goal as well as this clean-up ambition is by collecting forms of plastic waste which can be used to create artificial fibres suitable for weaving into durable backpacks. For the upcoming Arctic X Prix, Groundtruth is unveiling the RIKR range of bags, which Groundtruth describes as a high-performance range tested in Antarctica.

“We launched in September 2019 with the RIKR range”, Sophia reveals. The prototypes were tried and tested out in the Antarctic with Robert Swan, the first man to walk both poles, according to the Guinness World Records. Initially, Groundtruth intended to try launching annual ranges of backpacks designed for entirely different climates, but COVID-19 pandemic resulted in them holding fire for a few months.

The backpacks are sourced using an aforementioned form of plastic called rPET, otherwise known as the material used to make plastic bottles specifically. Each product is typically made from over a hundred plastic bottles each, giving a sense of the sheer number of items needed to go into just one product. Even so, plastic bottles are hardly in short supply and in urgent need of being put to a better use than simply becoming rubbish.

“Luckily, we found a recycling plant next to our factory”, according to Sophia. She was looking far and wide across the world with her sisters to find a small factory to suit their manufacturing needs, where workers were paid a fair wage among other things. China was deemed too restrictive, especially as the sisters weren’t able to use cameras inside or fraternise with workers properly. Luck was found in Indonesia, where they found a plant right next to a plastic bottle recycling facility.

The factory is powered by solar energy, the workers are ensured fair pay and the owner is particularly driven by making use of manufactured materials, especially those provided from the aforementioned plastic bottle plant. “They get 2,000 tonnes of plastic bottles a week, and that is from local surroundings including waterways, some of it is ocean plastic, and a lot of it is our trash that gets shipped up out there”, says Sophia.

Another product that Sophia mentions, the Unda range, will launch in the spring of 2022, unveiling backpacks made utilising captured CO2 or ‘captured carbon’. Not only is Groundtruth taking plastic bottles and putting them to better use – they are finding ways to extract excess carbon from the atmosphere and using that to make a new material entirely. We ask Sophia to describe this mysterious new substance, to which she replies, “At the moment, it’s very challenging because it’s not really been done before. The first samples we were receiving during the last lockdown were very brittle, just like a solid piece of coal but shiny.”

This captured carbon prototype was an incredibly powdery substance, perhaps a cruder form of carbon which required further research to help make it something solid enough to make into a product which would stand the test of time.

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