Billboards to bags: Totem helps Chevrolet go green

Earth Day may have been last Sunday, but reducing waste is always an ongoing challenge. If it can be turned into something useful, that’s even better — and it’s the idea behind a series of bags refashioned from Chevrolet materials.

Produced by Totem, an Oakville-based company, the tote bags, messenger bags, and laptop sleeves are made almost entirely from vinyl billboards and banners that once advertised the Chevrolet Cruze.

“General Motors approached me because they were interested in our unique manufacturing program where we recycle vinyl,” says Melissa Richardson, Totem’s founder. “Chevrolet wanted to give its outdoor vinyl a second life and reduce waste.”

Richardson makes bags out of “upcycled” materials, which “gives something a new life as opposed to recycling,” she says.

These include billboard banners, seatbelts, truck tarps, and bicycle inner tubes.

She got the idea from bags made in Switzerland, and when she discovered that no one was doing anything similar in Canada, she thought she’d give it a try. Her first effort was with banners advertising the National Ballet of Canada.

“I contacted them to see what they were doing with their banners for recycling and they didn’t have anything in place,” she says. “Not knowing how to use a sewing machine, never having touched one before, I made a tote bag and presented it to them, and they loved it. Now here we are, almost three years later. I started in the basement of my home and now have a manufacturing facility in Oakville.”

The bags were part of a giveaway on Chevrolet’s Facebook page.

“The Cruze campaign was the biggest at the time, and since we had all that signage, we wondered what we  should do with it,” says Natalie Nankil, media relations manager for Chevrolet Canada. “We are always looking for ways to support our commitment to green and responsible manufacturing, so working with Totem was a unique way to upcycle our advertising and divert it from landfill.”

Chevrolet is now working on a Facebook campaign that asks people to suggest new uses for banners that advertised the Volt, Sonic and Orlando.

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