Man using Boomerang bag at market Boomerang bag with produce inside shopping basket

Boomerang Bags: Reducing single-use plastic one bag at a time

By Cheryl Birkey, Boomerang Bags KC

I had a realization in early 2017 ― I wanted to work toward solving social issues I cared deeply about. At the top of the list ― reducing the overuse of single-use plastic, namely plastic shopping bags.

I know other places throughout the U.S. have successfully banned plastic bags, so I looked into what it would take to ban plastic bags here in Missouri. Unfortunately, I found out that Missouri has a ban on banning plastic bags. Plus, stores are even prohibited from charging money for plastic bags.

This information shocked me. I had to figure out a Plan B.

People making bagsThen, a friend sent me information about Boomerang Bags. Boomerang Bags started in Australia as a program that provides cloth bags to shoppers who have forgotten their shopping bags. It’s a free (yes, free!) cloth bag that you borrow. And when you return to shop again, you return your Boomerang Bag for someone else to borrow and use your own reusable bag to shop. It’s a movement that is spreading all over the world and I thought it would be a great fit here in Kansas City.

Once I decided to bring Boomerang Bags to Kansas City, I needed to find a place to launch the initiative. My initial plan was to focus on a grocery store. I talked to Cosentino’s in Brookside, a store that cares about product quality, organic produce and the community ― in other words, a great fit for Boomerang Bags! When I approached them about featuring Boomerang Bags in their store, I found out that that store uses 3,000 plastic bags per day! I’m not afraid to dream big, but I’m also realistic, and I knew there was no way I could produce that many bags or combat that sort of waste as I launched Boomerang Bags.

Instead, I began thinking on a much smaller scale and the perfect place hit me ― my beloved Brookside Farmers’ Market!

It was March 2017, and the outdoor location of the Brookside Farmers Market wasn’t open for the season, so I could focus on making inventory. The Boomerang Bags website provided a template for the bag, and I made a single bag from some unused fabric I had on hand. Once I was confident in my construction abilities, I asked for help and my friends pitched in without hesitation.

We met up for a few social sewing events before opening day of the market. We gathered at Keystone Church in Waldo one Sunday, then again in my friend’s garage. I also had people over in my living room. We worked in groups and individually when we could. I also had people reach out to me through social media to donate fabric, as well as cut, sew and assemble bags. I met with strangers in my house and sewed with them or picked up trash bags full of fabric from friends of friends that I met on Facebook. The initial support was awesome and validated that I was on the right path.

Woman Holding lots of Boomerang bagsJust a few weeks later, on April 15, 2017, I launched Boomerang Bags at the Brookside Farmers’ Market for the first day of the season with 100 bags. I came back week after week with more bags each time. By the close of the 2017 season, I had distributed 625 free cloth bags to the patrons of the Brookside Farmers’ Market, so they could take home their organic tomatoes and farm fresh eggs, plastic-free.

As winter approached, I continued cutting and sewing and cutting some more to prepare for the 2018 season and expansion. This year, I added the Downtown Lee’s Summit Farmers Market as a Boomerang Bag venue while continuing to make bags available at the Brookside Farmers’ Market. I attended both markets at the beginning of April and continue to visit each market nearly every Saturday, handing out Boomerang Bags to patrons in need. My goal is simple ― replace just one single plastic bag with a single Boomerang Bag.

Now, I can’t provide 3,000 Boomerang Bags to any one establishment, but I can change people’s behaviors one interaction at a time by engaging in conversations about single-use plastic that expands beyond plastic bags to plastic to-go containers, plastic straws, plastic cutlery, etc. And that’s exactly what I do each Saturday at the markets.

What makes this project especially appealing to me is that it not only helps reduce plastic bag use, but also gives me an opportunity to repurpose unwanted items. The bags are made of materials that might otherwise sit around and collect dust ― fabric purchased for a project and never used, for example, or used bed sheets and tablecloths.

So far in the 2018 season, we’ve constructed and distributed 555 Boomerang Bags to the patrons of the Brookside Farmers’ Market, the Downtown Lee’s Summit Farmers Market and beyond. This brings the grand total to 1,110 Boomerang Bags distributed in Kansas City in just over a year. And we have even more bags in various stages of production. With each fabric donation and each person who donates time, this becomes a community endeavor of love and support for Boomerang Bags and the environment.

As much as I love Boomerang Bags, I don’t want to do this forever. My long-term goal is to become obsolete (yes, really!) I want this project to end because people finally begin to remember their reusable bags when they go to the market, the grocery store, anywhere and everywhere, or that those places become plastic-free, or that legislation finally passes, which bans the ban on banning plastic bags. There’s still plenty of work to do, but with every bag we make and share, we get a step closer to the ultimate goal of reducing ― and, eventually eliminating ― single-use plastic.

To stay up-to-date and learn ways to help Boomerang Bags, find me at Facebook.com/Boomerangbagskc.

Boomerang Bags KC was a 2018 MARC SWMD mini-grant recipient.

Cheryl Birkey is an ACE-certified personal trainer and fitness instructor with more than 10 years’ experience. She discovered her love of fitness during a step aerobics class at the University of Missouri Rec Center (go Tigers!) and has been learning, teaching and sharing ever since. She’s also the founder of Boomerang Bags KC, which creates and distributes reusable bags to help reduce plastic bag use. When she’s not at a gym or working on Boomerang Bags, you can likely find Cheryl spending time in her garden or with her beloved dachshund, Peanut.

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