Boomerang Bags launch in Pemberton

On Friday, March 10, at 10:30am, a new black box appeared in the entry to the Pemberton Valley Supermarket. It had a boomerang stenciled on the front, and more than 400 reusable cloth grocery bags dropped inside until it was almost overflowing.

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A minute later, a woman was grabbing a small bag of groceries at the check-out.

“Hey, you don’t have to use plastic,” someone said and pulled a hand-made grocery bag from the box, offering it to her with the instruction, “borrow this, and bring it back next time you come in,” thereby officially kicking off the Boomerang Bags Pemberton initiative.

For several years, senior staff at the Pemberton Valley Supermarket has wondered how best to discourage use of plastic bags, but they didn’t want to be punitive and charge people, nor could they work out how to manage a discount or incentive program. When store manager Kirsten McLeod saw a video about Boomerang Bags pop up on Facebook, she immediately thought: “that’s a brilliant idea. But I’m not going to sew them.”

Frances Dickinson, a textile artist who has run her own business since graduating from art school in 2003, saw the same video, and went straight to the sewing machine.

Dickinson has always made her own grocery bags. But too often, she confesses, she forgets to bring them with her, and walks out of the store carrying yet another single use plastic bag. “I’ve always thought, whenever I forget, why is there not a box there of bags I can borrow?”

When she learned about Boomerang Bags from that Facebook video, Pemberton seemed a good fit for the 4 year old Australian initiative that is tackling plastic pollution by upcycling old textiles into reusable bags and making them available for people to borrow from their local store or market.

“Pemberton is small, word of mouth is effective, it’s a socially minded place, and there’s a real food focus here. I felt this swell of interest from the moment I saw the post, and I thought, I can take this on. I’m happy to spearhead it, as long as there’s a healthy group of makers willing to back me up.”

What caught her off-guard was how many enthusiastic makers the project would reveal and how many dusty sewing machines would be shaken forth from the closets of Pemberton. “I didn’t know there were so many people who wanted to sew,” she said.

Dickinson hosted eight two-hour sewing circles at her house. Almost two dozen people responded to the invitation, bringing sewing machines, old fabric, kids, or wine, along for a session or more.

“It’s more a social event than a social movement,” said one-time sewer, Lara Wall, nailing perhaps the secret ingredient to any world-changing initiative.

Bogs Fabrics, the Re Use It Centre Pemberton and Shayne May donated fabric. Leah Daling contributed the old Village of Pemberton banners that she had collected.

Lara Wall liaised with the grocery store and organized the box which was built by John Parnell and volunteers at the Men’s Shed, with a donation of materials from RONA. “I’m not a big sewer. My 12 year old, Elsie, was sewing at school. So we went to one sewing bee. I’m much better at logistics than I am at sewing.”

IMG_1168 Celebrating the launch of Boomerang Bags Pemberton with the first box, March 10 – Kirsten McLeod (Pemberton Valley Grocery Store Manager), Leah Daling, Sue Murphy, Logan Daling, Lara Wall and Frances Dickinson.

Ulla Clark from Limelight Screenprinting helped prepare the logo art and donated the screen and ink. Dickinson, Sue Murphy, and their kids screenprinted the labels. People just picked up bits of the project and ran with it, contributing as they best could.

“This is not me,” explains Dickinson. “The Boomerang Bags is not Frances Dickinson, it’s not my business or my project. I’m happy to spearhead it, but I’m not owning it. There are no rules. There’s no guilt allowed if you stop coming. If you say you’ll do five bags and only do two, that’s totally okay.” It’s a speech she gave at every sewing circle. She says, “Women are so good at feeling bad about everything. And that’s not what this is about.”

Dickinson is now moving house, so she’s wound down the sewing circles for the time being. Her focus was on getting enough bags made to get the project launched. Over 400 bags were made and labeled in just two months.

What happens next is up to the community.

“The worst thing that could happen is that in a month, the box is empty and no one has boomeranged it. We’re not making free bags for people. That’s my worst fear for the project. It will be dead in the water if the community doesn’t welcome it, and respect the intention behind it.”

But if they do? Imagine a huge sign as you drive into Pemberton announcing “We are a Boomerang Bag Community.” Boxes in all the local stores. (Stay Wild has already expressed enthusiasm.) Drop-in sewing nights at the Community Centre. Sewing bees popping up in living rooms all over the place. “I’m hoping more people will jump on the bandwagon – the WI, seniors, people with a bit of time on their hands. I feel like people would be happy to sew more if they know it works. Wouldn’t it be great to eliminate plastic bag use from Pemberton? But it has to work.”

It’s an open invitation. How can you be part? Follow Boomerang Bags Pemberton on Facebook for more information. Or just go out and get making.