Canadian Artist Makes a Market For Waste Bags

Making designer bags from waste paper that can't be recycled: It's an environmentally pleasing idea.

The person who thought of it is Mary Anne Runnalls, a Toronto artist. The successful business she started last summer, Relative Productions, uses paper discarded from billboards.

"This paper is full of ink and can't be recycled," Ms. Runnalls says. "The billboard companies don't know what to do with this. We actually get it for nothing."

Most of the paper she and her two-person staff use is from one company, Mediacom, a firm that specializes in billboard advertising. It has a large printing plant just outside Toronto.

"It's a win-win situation for us," says Yvonne McKinnon of Mediacom. "We're glad to find a use for this paper. It's test paper, and we would just have to shred it and cart it away."

The billboard paper is thick, so it can be sewn together. "The water resistant treatment, gives the paper strength," Runnalls adds.

The paper can be squashed and folded into different designs: A long thin bag can be an umbrella stand; a larger bag can be used as a decorative trash can. The bottom of the bag can be folded flat.

In addition, the paper is colorful and flashy. Because it is printed on test runs, the colors are never the same. "We get this chaotic set of prints as they test inks through a run," Runnalls says. "So every bag is different in its own way. We never get a repeat pattern."

Designs include billboard campaigns done for the new magazine George and a series for the Parsons School of Design in New York.

The chichi-looking bags, which are not yet available in the United States, are being sold at Holt Renfrew, an upscale Canadian fashion chain, for $15 (Canadian; US $11) to $20. Runnalls originally got the idea from a friend who saw a similar bag in Paris.

"We have an order now from a design store in Copenhagen," she says. "So in less than six months, the product has gone back to Europe."

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