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.

Reducing waste through creative reuse

It’s a craft store — a design center — a make-and-take space. It’s a treasure. It’s ScrapsKC! Welcome to Kansas City’s newest and only creative reuse center.

You are probably familiar with the concept of reduce, reuse and recycle. Following that order, reuse is the second-highest and best use of materials — better than recycling. After experiencing ScrapsKC, you may become hooked on the reuse concept.

ScrapsKC, an SWMD 2017 grantee, is located in an older brick building in the west bottoms of Kansas City. Climb the wooden steps inside, labeled with words such as “crafts” and “birthday parties”, and enter the store — you will be greeted by an array of things any child, artist or teacher could dream of. ScrapsKC is a well-organized shop filled with a multitude of colorful craft items, art supplies, paper, fabrics and useful materials, all available at a dramatically reduced cost. A walk around the store and your creative powers will start to explode!

ScrapsKCcollage: photos of interior of retail space.

All of the material in the store is donated and was otherwise destined for the landfill. Businesses, manufacturers, schools and community members donate items that are useful to artists, teachers, makers, scouts, Do-It-Yourselfers and other creative people. In just one year, ScrapsKC has diverted over 25 tons of materials from the landfill.

In addition to the retail store, ScrapsKC features a “Make & Take” space, a Design Center, space for field trips and birthday parties, and plenty of volunteer opportunities.

ScrapsKC also provides opportunities for the homeless to volunteer in the retail store. In exchange for their work, homeless volunteers receive a homemade meal and survival items to help them get through another day. ScrapsKC hopes to grow its resources and support network to employ these homeless volunteers as paid workers.

A visit to ScrapsKC is a win-win: for your pocketbook and for the environment.

The store is located at 1324 W. 12th Street, Kansas City, MO 64101. Learn more at: www.scrapskc.org.

 

Don’t waste the holidays

When you’re making your holiday to-do list, be sure to add reduce, reuse and recycle! There are many great ways to practice the three Rs — from Halloween to New Year’s Eve.

Decorating

  • Shop thrift stores or online for pre-owned décor you want; donate or sell what you don’t.
  • Take good care of your decorations so that they will last many years.
  • Make handmade decorations that are re-useable, recyclable or compostable.

BinnyDance-02-01Cards and Invitations

  • Purchase cards made from recycled content.
  • Make handmade, recyclable cards.
  • Send electronic invitations and cards.
  • Donate used cards.

Costumes

  • Make your own costume from secondhand clothes or items you already have around the house.
  • Skip the chemical-laden face paint (which can be disposed of safely through your local HHW program). Instead, make your own safe, planet-friendly makeup.

Gifts

  • Shop at thrift stores or online to find a unique used gift.
  • Give an experience! Try gift cards for food and entertainment, tickets to a show, or memberships to a museum or zoo.
  • Make a donation in someone’s name.

Gift Wrap

  • Use recyclable wrapping such as old posters, maps, paper grocery bags or the funny papers.
  • Wrap with attractive cloth, fabric ribbons or a reusable bag.
  • Use last year’s boxes, tissue paper, bows and ribbons.

Gatherings

  • Use durable tableware: dishes, cups, utensils, napkins, tablecloths, etc.
  • Recycle cans and bottles.
  • Compost food waste.

Clean Up

  • binnyLightsCompost your pumpkins, gourds and poinsettias. You can also keep poinsettias as houseplants (they’ll bloom year after year).
  •  “Treecycle” your holiday tree, wreaths and garland (natural only).
  • Recycle your old or broken holiday lights.
  • Recycle packaging and cards.
  • Save boxes, tissue paper, bows and ribbons for next year.
  • Donate gently used items to charities or thrift stores.

For more information, visit RecycleSpot.org or call 816-474-8326.

Waste reduction does more than reusing or recycling

reduce-2We’re all familiar with recycle and reuse, but how many of us reduce the amount of waste we create? The Waste Management Hierarchy says that source reduction — or not creating waste in the first place — is preferred over recycling or reusing. Items we recycle at the curb and reuse from the thrift store are important, but are only a drop in the bucket compared to the impact that reducing waste can have.

The production of any item uses energy and resources and generates waste and pollution. Reducing what you buy means less need for resources and energy to create new products, less waste going to the landfill and less pollution released into the environment.

What You Can Do

You can take a number of actions to reduce waste:

  • Don’t purchase products you already have. Keep your belongings clean and organized so you can easily find what you need.
  • Donate unwanted items to friends, family, neighbors, charities and thrift stores.
  • Repair things that are broken instead of replacing them.
  • Maintain homes, buildings, vehicles, equipment, clothing, appliances, etc. Well-maintained items don’t have to be repaired or replaced as often.
  • Buy well-made, durable products. They have a longer lifespan and are more likely repairable.
  • Reuse at work. Find out if your business or organization has a system for reusing, donating or selling surplus supplies and property. If not, suggest it.
  • Share, borrow and rent items you use infrequently. It saves money and resources.
  • When choosing between two similar products, select the one with the least amount of packaging or — better yet — no packaging at all.
  • Choose large or economy-sized items, which often use less packaging per unit of product. However, be sure you can use it all or have friends and family who can share it with you.
  • Choose concentrated products. They often require less packaging and less energy to transport to the store.
  • Use safe alternatives. Many hazardous products have a low- or no-hazard counterpart.
  • Use durable bags instead of paper or plastic bags when shopping for groceries, clothes, toys or tools.
  • Use refillable mugs and water bottles. These days, they come in all shapes and sizes!
  • Use Tupperware for take-out. These can replace disposable paper, plastic and Styrofoam boxes.
  • Be sustainable and save money by shopping for used items. Places to shop include:
    • Garage and estate sales
    • Thrift stores, consignment shops, antique malls or pawn shops
    • Habitat For Humanity ReStores
    • Classified ads
    • eBay or Craigslist
    • Auctions
  • Reuse everyday items. Some common examples include:
    • Plastic grocery sacks as trash bags or thrift store donation bags
    • Dairy tubs as cheap Tupperware
    • Coffee cans as storage containers for hardware
    • Old t-shirts as shop or cleaning rags
    • Popsicle sticks, paper towel rolls, egg cartons, etc. as art project supplies

For more information, visit RecycleSpot.org or call 816-474-8326.

Donation is always in fashion

Clothing-SwapYou’re faced with the same dilemma every spring and fall: what to do with extra clothes, clothes that don’t fit, or clothes that are too damaged to wear. So many people in the world need clothing — and so many landfills don’t — so why not donate your unwanted clothes?

Options for donation

Donating clothes has never been easier. There are thrift stores and clothing donation bins throughout the community, and friends and relatives who might appreciate the hand-me-downs. Charities will often accept your gently worn clothing, too. If you’re donating to a charity, always contact the organization first to find out donation requirements. You may even qualify for a tax deduction.

Wardrobe malfunction?

What about clothes that are ripped, stained or faded? Go ahead and donate them, too! Major thrift operations contract with textile reclamation companies that accept damaged clothing and clothing that won’t sell in stores.

Wearable clothing is sold in different countries throughout the world where it’s in demand. Unwearable clothing can take a couple of different routes. Cotton and other biodegradable materials are often recycled into wiping cloths. They can also be shredded into “shoddy” fibers, blended with other selected fibers, and turned into recycled yarn. Synthetic materials such as polyester are turned into new filament fiber used to make new polyester fabrics.

Clothing Swap

Participate in a clothing swap to exchange your closet clean-outs for clothing you will wear. You can join an existing group, such as Kansas City Pop-Up Clothing Swap, or set up one of your own among friends (see list above).

For more information on donating clothing, visit RecycleSpot.org.

Initiatives to ban foam food containers

clamshellRemember the McDonald’s “clamshell?”

This icon disappeared 24 years ago, in 1990, which means that  an entire generation doesn’t remember that McDonald’s hamburgers once came in something other than a paper wrapper or box. A number of cities have taken steps to see that more restaurants and food vendors follow suit and stop using disposable expanded polystyrene (EPS) foam  food-service products — often mistakenly called Styrofoam® — such as takeout containers and coffee cups. These containers are favored by the food-service industry because they are lightweight and are good at keeping food warm or cool.

Unfortunately, EPS foam products are not good for the environment. Because the material is brittle and light it tends to break apart into smaller pieces that are easily dispersed by wind and water, contributing to litter. EPS foam is pervasive in the environment, and is difficult to recycle because it is generally soiled with oil, grease, condiments and leftovers. Many communities, including Kansas City, don’t have recycling programs for EPS foam food service products, which means it usually ends up in landfills.

New York City recently became the largest city to pave the way for an eventual ban on these containers. In December, the city’s lawmakers passed legislation to ban foam food-service products if a year-long study finds that the material can’t be recycled effectively. The ban will also include the sale of loose foam packing peanuts.

Berkeley, Calif., and Portland, Ore., were two of the first cities to successfully ban foam food-service products back in the late 1980s. Since that time, nearly 100 cities and towns have banned foam food-service products, 75 of which are in California. Some larger cities that have fully or partially implemented bans are San Francisco, San Jose, Oakland, Los Angeles, Seattle and St. Paul. Chicago and Washington, D.C., are currently considering bans. Many of these cities also require food vendors to use recyclable or compostable food service ware.

These initiatives have been met with opposition, primarily from foam manufacturers and restaurant owners who claim that alternatives are too expensive and that EPS foam containers account for only a small percentage of the total waste stream. Opponents of foam bans have been pushing for community-wide polystyrene recycling programs as an alternative.

There are no ordinances in the Kansas City area banning the use of EPS foam food-service products — but there are no local options for recycling, them either. So, what can you do?

  • Support local restaurants that use alternatives such as paper, molded fiber (think egg cartons) and plant-based, compostable food service products.
  • Take your own reusable container for restaurant leftovers and your own travel mug to coffee shops (some even offer a discount).
  • Avoid using plastic foam food or drink containers or other disposable products at home or for parties.

Photo by kimubert

There’s a green elephant in the room

white elephant green bowHappy Regifting Day!

In honor of National Regifting Day, held every year on the third Thursday in December, we’re sharing this fun holiday party idea.

This year, that white elephant in the room will encourage guests to talk about how fun and eco-friendly your gathering is!

A green elephant gift exchange is just like the white elephant version, but with a green twist. Here’s how to set one up:

  1. In your e-vite, ask each guest to bring an item for the Green Elephant Gift Exchange. It must be:
    • Pre-owned
    • Fun — the more tacky and off the wall the better!
    • Wrapped in an earth-friendly manner (reusable or recyclable wrapping only)
  1. Before you begin the exchange write numbers on slips of paper, starting at one and ending at the number of guests participating.
  1. At the party, have guests place the gifts in a central location.
  1. Each participant draws a number. The numbers determine the order in which participants choose a gift.
  1. The first person opens a wrapped gift and the turn ends.
  1. On subsequent turns, each person gets the choice of choosing a wrapped gift from the pile or “stealing” any unwrapped item from another player. Participants must keep unwrapped gifts in view.
  1. The game is over when the last person has taken his or her turn.
  1. Encourage your guests to save any “unappreciated” items for their next green elephant gift exchange.

Notes on play:

  • When a gift is stolen, the robbed player must select a replacement gift from the pile of wrapped presents.
  • A player cannot immediately steal back the gift that was stolen, but must wait at least one round before stealing back a gift.
  • A gift cannot be stolen more than once a turn.

In no time at all, guests will be laughing and you’ll find the true meaning of greening the holidays!

For more information and variations on game rules, search for white elephant gift exchanges online.

Don’t forget to visit www.RecycleSpot.org for all your holiday reuse and recycling needs.