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Can the most expensive bag in the world really advance recycling?

Every morning when I check my e-mail, I’m greeted by scores of press releases. Each one claims to have developed the next big recycling innovation. ‘Game-changer’ is the most popular phrase, along with ‘state-of-the-art’ and ‘high-tech’. It can be tricky to burst these cleverly crafted marketing bubbles.

Not always. Sometimes the ‘greenwashing’ (sorry, I hate the term too) is blatant. Take for example the headline of the article that was sent to me not once or twice but three times – just in case I missed it: ‘A Seven Million Dollar Bag To Save The Oceans’. Although I scoffed at the idea, I admit I was intrigued.   

I read the following: ‘The Italian brand Boarini Milanesi is launching a US$ 7 million (EUR 6 million) bag, the most expensive ever in the world. It has been created to raise awareness of the need to protect our seas, which are becoming more threatened than usual by non-biodegradable plastics due to the Covid-19 pandemic. A total of EUR 800 000 of the proceeds will be donated to cleaning the seas.’

If you’re like me, you’re probably thinking that if they really want to make a difference, they would put all the money towards recycling ocean plastics – not just a fraction of the price. I’m also wondering who will buy such a lavish accessory? And why? Will an Arabian sultan claim it for his personal collection or will a self-made tech giant like Bill Gates purchase it to donate it to the Smithsonian museum?

It’s interesting that the bag in question is not made from recyclable plastic, let alone ocean plastic. Rather, the blue ‘Parva Mea’ model – of which only three have been produced – comes from ‘semi-shiny alligator leather, adorned with a diamond pavé accessory and 10 white gold butterflies with sapphires, diamonds and Paraiba tourmalines, for a total of over 130 carats, taking over 1 000 hours of work to create’.

Naturally, the designers are eager to share their inspiration with the world. ‘Blue sapphires represent the depths of the oceans, Paraiba tourmaline reminds us of the uncontaminated Caribbean seas and diamonds refer to the transparency of water when it falls in the form of rain,’ explains brand co-founder Carolina Boarini.

‘We used to spend every summer at sea between Greece and Turkey and I was happiest when we would go on boat trips between the islands,’ says business partner Matteo Rodolfo. ‘Recently, due to the pandemic, I have seen even more plastic in the sea than when I was a child with all the gloves and face masks that are being carelessly thrown away. This reminded me of my father, who used to dive into the water to collect plastic bags and bottles floating in the sea and helped me wipe tar off my hands when I was building sand castles on the beach.’

I’ve checked the Guinness Book of World Records for details of the most valuable bag to date. The Italian designers are indeed now in first place. The record was previously held by the Mouawad 1 001 Nights Diamond Purse, described as a one-off accessory with an original price of EUR 3.1 million in 2010. The new record will probably prove a hard one to beat.

At any rate, I wonder what the impact of the ‘most expensive bag in the world’ will truly be in the fight against plastic waste. I predict we will forget about the fancy eye-catcher in a matter of days. The plastic ending up in the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, however, will sit there for quite some time…

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