'Don't worry, it's only a plastic bag," a fellow shopper at Mahaneh Yehuda market told me when I declined the offer of a free plastic bag to carry home my groceries. But the disposable nylon bag, or sakit in Hebrew, is a cause for concern for a group of students from the Bezalel Academy of Art and Design who brought their eco-friendly alternative to shoppers last Friday. The students have designed the sakita, a cloth bag that can be re-used and is infinitely more stylish than its ubiquitous plastic cousin. "We want to provide an alternative service for shoppers because of the problems caused by plastic bags," said Boaz Mendel, who studies industrial design at Bezalel. "We came to the shuk because the bags are a very acute problem here." Every market merchant, whether selling fresh vegetables or meat, socks or laundry detergent, is armed with a steady supply of plastic bags. "Plastic bags are very easy to manufacture, but so are our cloth bags," said Mendel. Every year Israelis use five billion plastic bags which, if they don't end up in landfill sites, litter open spaces and kill wildlife that swallow them. The limited-edition sakita, manufactured mostly from wool, was available for one day only at Mahaneh Yehuda. And at NIS 1 apiece, it was snapped up by pre-Shabbat shoppers. "I think the bags are a great idea," said Ya'akov Uzzan from Shivtei Yisrael. "They look great, they're strong and they also reduce waste and pollution." Jerusalem student Merav bought five of them. "I want to look after the planet. It's impossible to recycle plastic bags," she said. "I bought them not just for myself, but for my friends too." But the sakita proved a harder sell to market officials who attempted to shut down the stall at midday, although the students eventually persuaded them otherwise and continued to distribute their eco-friendly bags to the bustling crowd. Despite the short print-run, the students hope that the reusable shopping bag concept will catch on and green organizations will take the concept forward. Mendel speculated about the prospects for a law proposed in the Knesset last year to limit the use of plastic bags. "There are similar laws already in many places, like Ireland," he said. "But if people use cloth bags then they won't need a law in the first place."

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