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.

Congratulations to our 2018 SWMD grantees!

One of the most important things the MARC Solid Waste Management District (SWMD) does is provide financial support to organizations on the Missouri side of our region for projects that reduce the amount of material we send to landfills. The district receives funding every year from the fees collected from the landfills and transfer stations in Missouri. Half of that amount is used to fund local waste reduction, reuse and recycling projects through a grant program. So far this year, we have awarded more than $403,812 to 11 grantees.

The 2018 grant projects so far include:

Avenue of Life:  $32,500 to support the fifth year of a regional mattress recycling program.

Avila University:  $8,790 to purchase recycling containers and create signage for a campus-wide recycling program.

Bridging The Gap:  $84,674 to provide one-on-one consultations and assistance to businesses interested in starting new or expanding existing recycling and composting programs.

Franciscan Mission Warehouse: $30,400 to support staffing and purchase equipment to increase collection and distribution of used medical equipment.

Kansas City Zoo:  $24,991 to purchase recycling containers and create signage to support recycling at the zoo.

Meredith Used Car Sales & Recycling:  $14,925 to purchase of five, 30-yard containers for the collection of scrap metal in Cass County.

Missouri Recycling Association:  $30,000 to support costs for the annual recycling conference scheduled for September in Kansas City.

Platte City:  $5,686 to create educational materials and provide staffing to decrease the presence of non-recyclable material placed in curbside bins.

ScrapsKC:  $37,325 to support a staff position to increase material donations and to create an inventory database system for the creative reuse store.

Sleepyhead Beds:  $83,451 to purchase a truck and fund staff positions to increase the collection and distribution of mattresses.

Urban Lumber:  $51,070 to purchase a drying kiln and shelving for reclaiming urban trees for reuse.

We are very proud of our 2018 group of grant recipients and excited about their projects. The district could not accomplish its waste diversion goals without our grantees! Visit the Solid Waste Management District’s website to learn more about the grant program.

Congratulations to our 2017 SWMD grantees!

One of the most important things the MARC Solid Waste Management District (SWMD) does is provide financial support to organizations on the Missouri side of our region for projects that reduce the amount of material we send to landfills. The district receives funding every year from the fees collected from the landfills and transfer stations in Missouri. Half of that amount is used to fund local waste reduction, reuse and recycling projects through a grant program. So far this year, we have awarded more than $407,146 to 11 grantees.

The 2017 grant projects so far include:

  • Avenue of Life:  $59,428 to support the fourth year of a regional mattress recycling program.
  • Bridging The Gap: $81,187 to provide one-on-one consultations and assistance to businesses interested in starting new or expanding existing recycling and composting programs.
  • City of Grandview:  $23,625 to purchase a recycling trailer for events and staffing for management and education.
  • Composting and Organics Association of Missouri: $8,202 to conduct a regional composting workshop.
  • Folk Alliance: $3,608 to support staffing, signage, and recycling and composting bags for the annual conference at the Westin Hotel in Kansas City.
  • Independence Avenue Community Improvement District:  $17,500 to purchase recycling containers and bags and provide recycling education on Independence Avenue in Kansas City.
  • Kansas City Chiefs: $21,981 to purchase dual containers to collect compostables and recyclables from fans.
  • Mid-America Regional Council:  $48,267 for Recycle More advertising and outreach.
  • Project Central: $120,708 to support the third year of consultations for school composting and/or recycling programs.
  • Scraps KC: $10,881 to provide support for a newly opened creative reuse store.
  • The Rehabilitation Institute:  $11,759 to support the sale of used books online.

We are very proud of our 2017 group of grant recipients and excited about their projects. The district could not accomplish its waste diversion goals without our grantees! Visit the Solid Waste Management District’s website to learn more about the grant program.

Congratulations to our 2016 SWMD grantees!

Photos of past grantee projects, and/or district grant priority target materials. From top to bottom: Man deconstructing a mattress, receptacles for recycling and trash, used books, woman collecting food waste, bicycles.One of the most important things the MARC Solid Waste Management District (SWMD) does is provide financial support to organizations in our region for projects that reduce the amount of material we send to landfills. The district receives funding every year from the fees collected from the state’s landfills and transfer stations. Half of that amount is used to fund local waste reduction, reuse and recycling projects through a grant program. So far this year, we have awarded more than $515,000 to eight grantees. Another $70,000 in grant funding is in the final stages of being awarded.

The 2016 grant projects so far include:

  • Access Records Management: $50,000 to provide recycling services to businesses.
  • Avenue of Life: $51,140 to support the third year of a regional mattress recycling program.
  • Bridging The Gap: $80,000 to provide one-on-one consultations and assistance to businesses interested in starting new or expanding existing recycling and composting programs.
  • Dr. Joseph Martinich: $12,984 to produce a study on the economics of recycling for the Kansas City region.
  • Kansas City University of Medicine and Biosciences: $9,000 to improve the campus recycling program.
  • MRC Recycling: $5,000 for a baler to manage plastic material.
  • Missouri Organic: $206,233 to support infrastructure development for the placement of a food depackaging system (equipment that separates food items from their packaging material, including plastic and cans).
  • Project Central: $101,143 to support the second year of consultations for school composting and/or recycling programs.

We are very proud of our 2016 group of grant recipients and excited about their projects. The district could not accomplish its waste diversion goals without our grantees! Visit the Solid Waste Management District’s website to learn more about the grant program.

Congratulations to our 2015 SWMD grantees!

One of the most important things the MARC Solid Waste Management District (SWMD) does is provide financial support to organizations in our region for projects that reduce the amount of material we send to landfills. The district receives funding every year from the fees collected from the state’s landfills and transfer stations. Half of that amount is used to fund local waste reduction, reuse and recycling projects through a grant program.

We are very proud of our 2015 group of grant recipients and excited about their projects. The district could not accomplish its waste diversion goals without our grantees!

The 2015 grant projects are:

  • Avenue of Life: $203,492 to support the second year of a regional mattress recycling program.
  • Bridging The Gap: $79,740 to provide one-on-one consultations and assistance to businesses interested in starting new or expanding existing recycling programs.
  • City of Kearney: $5,700 to purchase a container to collect electronics at the Kearney Drop-off Recycling Center.
  • Kansas City Design Center: $30,000 to design a comprehensive, appealing and convenient recycling system for downtown Kansas City.
  • Meredith Car Sales & Recycling: $19,916 to purchase a trailer and hold at least 10 electronic recycling collection events in Cass County.
  • Missouri Organic: $4,000 to purchase carts and establish a paper towel composting program at the University of Missouri-Kansas City campus.
  • Missouri Recycling Association: $12,000 to support costs for a keynote speaker and AV equipment at the annual recycling conference scheduled for September in Kansas City.
  • Project Central: $47,044 to work with five schools to set up recycling and/or composting programs.
  • Southeast Enterprises: $12,000 to support transportation costs associated with a regional holiday light recycling program.
  • Sleepyhead Beds: $7,000 for staffing to conduct six mattress collection events and six presentations in the region north of the Missouri River. Sleepyhead Beds holds these events to collect quality used mattresses which are sanitized and provided to children in need.
  • The Rehabilitation Institute: $80,000 to collect and divert durable medical equipment from the waste stream. Equipment is then either repaired and made available for reuse, or recycled.
  • Truman Heritage Habitat for Humanity ReStore: $49,434 to provide a truck and staffing at the Lee’s Summit Resource Recovery Park to capture reusable materials before they enter the landfill.

Visit the Solid Waste Management District’s website to learn more about the grant program.

New yard waste management options for Jackson County

The MARC Solid Waste Management District administers an annual grant program that awards funds to local communities and organizations for waste reduction and recycling-related projects. From time to time, we publish updates about recent grant recipients.

In 2012, Jackson County received a $15,000 grant from the MARC Solid Waste Management District to survey residents living in the eastern part of the county to determine interest and need for a yard waste collection facility. More than 1,500 surveys were completed by residents of Blue Springs, Oak Grove, Lake Lotawana, Lone Jack, Grain Valley and the unincorporated area of the county. The findings of this survey indicated that residents:

  • Have a need for additional yard waste disposal services in the area.
  • Recognize the need to properly manage yard waste.
  • Believe local government should have a role in addressing yard waste management needs.

EJC Yard Waste SignAs a result of this survey, the county received $64,632 in grant funds from the district to support start-up costs for a regional yard waste drop-off facility. The site is located near Pink Hill and Ketterman Road in Oak Grove on land owned by Jackson County. The cities of Blue Springs, Oak Grove and Grain Valley collaborated with the county on the project.

The Eastern Jackson County (EJC) Yard Waste Collection Center officially opened on June 5, 2014. The facility collects leaves, yard clippings, tree limbs, brush and large tree debris.

For more information about the EJC Yard Waste Collection Center, including hours and fees, visit the county’s website or call (816) 847-7050.

Congratulations to our 2014 SWMD grantees!

One of the most important things the MARC Solid Waste Management District does is provide financial support to organizations in our region for projects that reduce the material we send to landfills. The district receives funding every year from the fees collected from the state’s landfills and transfer stations. Half of that amount is used to fund local waste reduction, reuse and recycling projects through a grant program.

We are very proud of our 2014 group of grant recipients and excited about their projects. The district could not accomplish its waste diversion goals without our grantees!

The 2014 grant projects are:

  • Avenue of Life: $173,371 to develop a regional mattress recycling program.
  • Bridging The Gap:  $23,900 to provide one-on-one consultations and assistance to businesses interested in starting new or expanding existing recycling programs.
  • City of Blue Springs: $5,100 to purchase recycling bins for four city parks.
  • City of Riverside, Mo.: $3,210 for marketing and vendor costs for the 2014 Northland Recycling Extravaganza.
  • Friends of the City Market: $20,000 to provide support staff to assist River Market vendors in separating food waste for composting.
  • Grain Valley School District: $7,800 to start a food waste composting program in two schools.
  • Jackson County, Mo.: $64,632 to support start-up costs for a regional drop-off yard waste facility.
  • The Rehabilitation Institute: $31,240 to purchase a truck for transporting collected books to support the third year of a successful book recycling project.
  • Ripple Glass: $6,380 for a traveling educational display to encourage glass recycling.
  • Southeast Enterprises: $8,500 to support transportation costs associated with a regional holiday light recycling program.
  • Trozzolo Communications Group: $195,075 to develop a regional recycling education and marketing campaign.

Visit the Solid Waste Management District’s website to learn more about the grant program.