This couple turned a desire for a zero-waste household into a thriving Madrid business

From reducing plastic waste at home to a successful business - meet the Green family behind Verdonce bags

This couple turned a desire for a zero-waste household into a thriving Madrid business
Oliver Green and Mónica García, founders of Verdonce Bags © Verdonce Bags

Just a year ago, in summer 2018, Oliver Green and Monica Garcìa set about drastically cutting their plastic waste and living a healthier lifestyle.

Like  many of us, they were appalled at the shocking amount of plastic waste ending up in our oceans – 2 million single use plastic bags are used per minute –  but unlike most of us, they decided to do something about it and revolutionize they way they shopped.

Fast forward one year, and the they are running a healthy business producing Verdonce bags a jute alternative to plastic that are entirely reusable and environmentally friendly. 

The Local caught up with the couple to find out more, and to ask for some tips on reducing household waste.

Why did you start making your own bags?

One of the first actions we took was to stop using single use plastic bags and buy food unpackaged. We looked at the options available and decided to make our own. As part of our approach to reducing waste we wanted bags that were not made in a sweatshop, lightweight, made from natural materials with a minimalist and stylish design. That’s when Mónica got out her sewing machine and set about designing and making her own plastic free bags.

Mónica at work in the Verdonce atelier © Verdonce Bags

How has the business evolved?

After several rounds of prototyping and testing different materials friends, family, shopkeepers and other shoppers started to ask about them. That’s when we decided to sell them online. Oliver set up the website and Mónica took care of Instagram! We launched the business with a single product, the jute mesh bag in three sizes for buying fruit and veg. We later expanded the range with bags for buying dry food unpacked, bread bags, a canvas tote bag for on the go and the jute scourer.

What’s with the name?

There was just one thing left – the name. We decided to put a name to it because we wanted to create something chic and memorable says Oliver. We hit upon the name Verdonce which is a mashup of  our family name “Green” in Spanish (Verde) and once (number 11) – the street number of our family home where we began this revolution. 

What are the benefits of reducing plastic in your home?

  • Plastic is very difficult to recycle. In fact only 9 percent of the plastic ever produced has been recycled. And it can only be recycled once. That’s why it is essential to drastically cut the amount of plastic we used. Governments and businesses are starting to wake up but taking action at home to avoid using plastic is a great way to add your voice. 

  • It’s healthier. Many plastics contain chemicals like BPA that leach into your food and off-gas into your home. Therefore it is really important to take steps to avoid plastic coming into contact with you food and reduce the amount of plastic in the home. 

  • It’s tidier. Think of all those pesky plastic bags piling up under the sink of filling the bin. A massive advantage to cutting waste is freeing up space in your cupboards. Not having to take the bins out so often is a nice side benefit as well .

  • Keep food fresher for longer. Food waste is another huge factor when it comes to climate change. As much as 40% of bread gets thrown away. Buying and storing your bread in a traditional cloth bread bag keeps it fresher for longer. 

Jute bags and cotton & linen produce bags © Verdonce Bags

Can you share some tips for families trying to reduce their plastic waste at home?

There are three main areas where single use plastic comes into the home: the kitchen, the bathroom and cleaning products. We recommend starting with your kitchen and produce shopping and then moving on to tackle the bathroom and finally look for cleaning alternatives like vinegar and bicarbonate of soda (baking soda). 

These are our top 5 things you can do to make an immediate impact:

  1. Avoid buying water in plastic bottles. The tap water in most of Spain is of high quality. In coastal areas or places with a lot of limestone in the water fitting a filter on your tap is a good and cost effective solution.

  2. Take you own bags when shopping for fruit and veg. We found the independent local greengrocers very friendly and open to us bringing our own bags at first. Now you can even use them in supermarkets all over Spain Mercadona and Carrefour! Carrefour even has a bulk counter in the bio section. 

  3. Take tupperware or mason jars to buy wet food from the meat and fish counters. Again we shop at local stores but more and more supermarkets are coming on board with this. At first we felt a little embarrassed but now it just seems quite normal!

  4. In the bathroom go for alternatives like bamboo toothbrushes, solid shampoo, traditional bars of soap and bamboo cotton wool buds. The bamboo toothbrushes take a bit of getting used to, but after a few weeks you totally forget about plastic.

  5. If you have kids pack school snacks in reusable bags instead of plastic. Swap plastic straws for paper or reusable alternatives. Try using cloth napkins instead of wet wipes. We label our cloth napkins for each family member and wash about once per week. 

At the end of the day it’s about being resourceful and using your imagination. You’ll often find that there was a perfectly good solution before disposable plastic came along. We find it fun to look for different solutions, to ask older friends or members of the family what they used to do.

One of the great things about Spain is that a lot of traditional shops still exist if you look for them. We have found local shopkeepers and greengrocers to be so friendly making shopping less of a chore and more of an occasion for a little chinwag.

To find out more about Verdonce bags check out the website and follow on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.

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Police operation targets illegal water tapping in Spain

More than 130 people were arrested or placed under investigation for illegal water tapping last year, Spain’s Guardia Civil police said on Wednesday following a huge operation.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park”
Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in Andalusia. Photo: CRISTINA QUICLER / AFP

During the year-long operation, “133 people were arrested or investigated for extracting water through more than 1,533 illegal infrastructure devices”, the police’s environmental unit said in a statement.

A similar operation in 2019 had targeted 107 people.

Spain is one of the European countries most at risk from the impact of drought caused by global warming, scientists say.

Water usage issues are often at the heart of heated political debates in Spain where intensive agriculture plays an important role in the economy.

Police said most of their operations took place “in fragile and vulnerable areas such as the Doñana natural park” in the southern Andalusia region, one of Europe’s largest wetlands and a Unesco World Heritage bird sanctuary.

They were also operating in “in the basins of Spain’s main rivers”.

In Doñana, police targeted 14 people and 12 companies for the illegal tapping of water for irrigation, a police spokesman said.

Ecologists regularly raise the alarm about the drying up of marshes and lagoons in the area, pointing the finger at nearby plantations, notably growing strawberries, which are irrigated by illegally-dug wells.

“The overexploitation of certain aquifers for many reasons, mainly economic, constitutes a serious threat to our environment,” the Guardia Civil said.

The European Court of Justice rapped Spain over the knuckles in June for its inaction in the face of illegal water extraction in Donana which covers more than 100,000 hectares (250,000 acres) and is home to more than 4,000 species, including the critically endangered Iberian lynx.

According to the government’s last official estimate, which dates back to 2006, there were more than half a million illegal wells in use.

But in a 2018 study, Greenpeace estimated there were twice as many, calculating that the quantity of stolen water was equivalent to that used by 118 million people — two-and-a-half times the population of Spain.

Spanish NGO SEO/Birdlife also on Wednesday raised the alarm about the “worrying” state of Spain’s wetlands.