19 Dec, 2017

Bags that keep on giving


Across the country and throughout the world, thousands of people are turning to sewing to bring about change. Using fabric from upcycled quilt covers, coffee sacks and feedbags, these new age artisans are crafting bags that provide a unique alternative to less planet-friendly options.

While on the surface, Boomerang Bags may appear to be about reducing plastic bag use, you only have to delve a little deeper to discover there is much more going on here…a heart-warming story of connection, belonging and empowerment.

In Beerwah, a group of mothers meets each month at a local nursing home to sew bags that are offered for sale at local stores. The gatherings are important interactions for residents of the home, who eagerly await the opportunity to chat to the mums and nurse the babies.

The award-winning Caloundra group brings together people of all ages once a fortnight to make bags and friends. They have crafted an incredible 1900 bags since May 2016 and recently won a local community award recognising their contribution to the environment.

Old skills are being revived and new generations of craftspeople are emerging, taught by more experienced community members. Those who can’t sew are donating fabric or supplies; strangers are coming together to share stories and solve problems.

The Boomerang Bags story

Boomerang Bags was founded in 2013 after Tania Potts and Jordyn de Boer realised they were both working on strategies to address plastic waste in their Gold Coast communities.

Jordyn was seeking a grant to purchase 4000 calico bags to supply her local shopping precinct with reusable bags. Tania was pursuing funding for a mobile hydration station for events. Tania acknowledges both were initially seeking solutions rather than mobilising people who wanted to make a difference.

“We got together to talk about our ideas and realised if we purchased new calico bags from China, we were part of the problem,” Tania said.

“That led us to consider how to use resources that were already on the planet. We found an old doona and decided to turn that into bags instead of importing new ones.”

The idea quickly spread. In the first year, there were three communities; in the second, ten communities were on board, with the first international community in Norway. Four years on and almost 135,000 bags later, 500 communities are sewing their way to change.

Boomerang Bags was established with a borrow and bring back philosophy - bags were made available at no charge to supermarkets and stores with an expectation that people would borrow them and return after use.

The concept proved to be problematic, with some groups struggling to get people to return the bags, which take between 45 minutes and four hours to make. Without a conversation or story, the human value and connection were missing.

Local solutions for local communities

While some communities are still working with the initial idea, Tania says groups are encouraged to find locally appropriate solutions where there is a conversation with the new owner of every bag handed out. Many groups now make bags to sell at low cost, with the money used for maintaining sewing machines and buying thread.

Tania said that only using recycled fabric already on the planet, every bag helps to divert material away from landfill. Communities are finding interesting and useful ways to interpret the concept including:

  • turning feed bags into market bags
  • using leftover bags from local breweries to create beach clean-up sacks that are sold to Councils
  • funky laptop satchels made from old coffee sacks
  • conference and convention bags for major events
  • visiting kindergartens and primary schools to talk about plastic pollution, giving children fabric to decorate and turning it into the child’s own Boomerang Bag for library books or as a gift for their parents

“The old world is one of What can I get and is now moving to one where people are asking how can I give,” says Tania.

“The planet is in a social and ecological crisis and many people genuinely want to do something with meaning and purpose, and connect with each other. Everyone can be part of this project. You can always iron or make tea if you are unable to sew.”

Keen to get involved? Check out the website and see if there is a community near you. If not, Boomerang Bags communities can start with a single person.

There’s an online toolkit available to help new groups get started, and a Facebook group to provide support and encouragement along the way.

Boomerang Bag communities in the Sunshine Coast, Redland, and Moreton areas include:

  • Beerwah (check out our story on the coordinator Amy Handy, Amy’s zero waste mission)
  • Caloundra (Contact Lynne on 0499 880 021). The group is also seeking donations of non-stretchy fabric such as doonas and sheets.
  • Coolum (Contact Emma Hodkinson on 0422 696 323)
  • Nambour (Contact Jocelyn on 0438 455 657)
  • Yandina
  • Glass House Mountains
  • Wynnum
  • Redland City
  • Mt Gravatt
  • Sandgate
  • Pine Rivers
  • Nundah

Images courtesy of Boomerang Bags

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A local government partnership initiative