Linda kindly accepted my offer of a special feature article and took my questions to the next Sewing Bee meeting so that the entire group was able to contribute to this post! Here’s what they had to share:
1. Where did this journey begin? What drove you to begin such an amazing project?
“Our journey began in different places although we all had green leanings we experienced different pivotal moments that compelled us to do something about plastic.” Sam Brydon was sparked to make a change after watching the highly rated documentary, ‘The Plastic Ocean’ - which can basically be described as 102 minutes worth of reasons why we need to change the way we consume. This compelling watch motivated Sam to begin sewing reusable produce bags. However, the special thing about these women is that they wanted to share. Rather than just making a change in their own families, they knew that they needed to change the way we all worked. We made this mess together, so let’s clean it up together. Sam began to sell her reusable bags in our local fruit and vegetable shop in Cambridge.
A similar realisation that a change needed to occur came to Linda, through her son Eli (aged 7). While watching the news, Eli was horrified by a story about a whale found dead full of plastic. It was him who asked Linda what they could do. With a simple google search, together they found the Boomerang Bag movement which Eli introduced to his teacher and the Enviroschool group. Through a passionate speech, Eli was elected to be an Enviroschool representative and together with Linda, they set out to bring the Boomerang Bag movement to Cambridge!
The process began by purchasing screen printing supplies and asking for old t-shirts to screen print upon and transform into simple, reusable shopping bags. Linda purchases a cheap second-hand sewing machine off TradeMe for $35 and figured she’d try her hand at sewing! Now I know what you’re thinking, this woman brought the Boomerang Bag Movement to Cambridge without even knowing how to sew! At least we all know she definitely can now!
On the Cambridge Grapevine (what a wonderful place it is), Sam posted about her produce bags and through comments on the post, Linda’s work with Boomerang Bags was mentioned. They were linked, had a simple cup of coffee and these two wonderful women with great ideas joined forces and Plastic Bag Free Cambridge was finally born.
Helen Parker was next in line to join the group. From the first Sewing Bee, Helen quickly made herself indispensable by finding and complete things that neither Sam nor Linda would possibly have the time to do. She now holds the official title of ‘Plum Cake Baker, Chief Fundraiser, and Treasurer’ and they absolutely love her for it.
The Sewing Bee’s began humbly - in the kitchen and dining rooms on their own homes. One was even held at Eli’s school. With the financial assistance of Helen’s grant, they were able to fund a permanent space at the Cambridge Community Centre on a Sunday afternoon.
Following this, Plastic Bag Free Cambridge officially launched with a stand at the local Cambridge Farmers Market where they gave away their lovingly sewn bags and the idea was truly brought to life.
2. How did the Boomerang Bag Movement come about?
“Boomerang Bags is an international movement that was started by 2 awesome women in Australia. The concept is to raise awareness of the single-use plastic problem and to combat this by making and distributing reusable bags made from recyclable materials. They make it really easy to set up your own branch where ever you are in the world offering marketing materials and a starting out guide and support and advice via email. They have inspired over 860 communities worldwide.”
3. What is the process of making a Boomerang Bag?
“The fabric for the bags is kindly donated to the group. The Cambridge Lions Shed have been hugely supportive and a regular donor to the cause. They call us up when they get a good donation of fabric and pass it on. We have also had amazing donations from the public and from local shops who donate sample fabrics and ends of rolls - especially curtain fabric which fits the brief perfectly for making strong and reliable bags. We are also all huge op shop fans and have all spent more than we care to account for on gorgeous retro and vintage fabric finds for the love of it! Our grant also covers a small portion of such purchases! We have also been donated or have op-shopped for threads and have purchased a couple of sewing machines for the group.”
The sewing process is completed by our volunteers. Just about the entire group can sew. However, there are two specialist volunteers either in charge of cutting the patches for the pockets or screen printing the patches with the logo. These are the first few steps in the sewing process. Then, the rest of the group sew the bags together. Each Sunday, the group meets at the Cambridge Community Centre with their sewing machines in tow. They set up and sew! Using the pattern supplied by the original Boomerang Bag group, each member usually cuts out their own bag from the donated fabric. However, each bag will have a unique touch depending on the volunteers' interpretation of the pattern.
During 2018, between 45-50 volunteers attended and donated of their time and skills to this wonderful movement. They have a regular group of approximately 15 sewers, within this are 3-4 prolific super-sewers who collectively have contributed 3/4 of the 5,000 bags produced during 2018. “They are amazing,” Linda writes, “we’re so lucky to have such passionate and dedicated volunteers.”
4. Where did your passion for the environment come from and how has it changed over the years?
Each member of the group will have a slightly different answer for this question, for Sam it is due to her love for the natural world and the destructive impact it has on her to see it defaced. For Helen, it’s her love of David Attenborough and nature! Linda’s response was, “I started with the Green party campaigning on what society felt were fringe and certainly unpopular issues. It feels to me like we as a society try and avoid issues until they are unavoidable any longer and by then it’s so much harder to do anything about them. In the last 10 years though there has been a shift, finally some of these issues are getting some traction in the mainstream media.”
It seems clear that these women are acting out of pure love, and a willingness to make a change to save and preserve the amazing natural world we have around us. Perhaps for them, it feels as if they are simply doing their bit, however ‘their bit’ has become a massive gearshift in the way that Cambridge as a community views our use of plastic bags in our day to day life. While being perfectly timed with supermarkets making the switch to reusable shopping bags also, many Cambridge locals have been lucky enough to stock up (or trade) enough gorgeous Boomerang Bags to complete their entire grocery shop without having to purchase reusable bags. Plastic Bag Free Cambridge has managed to transform not only the minds of those in their immediate contact, but they have continued to successfully spread their message to Cambridge locals while simultaneously saving them money!
The group entirely agreed that “social media and the wider sharing of information has made a huge impact on the movement towards the war on waste” they commented specifically about the videos of an albatross found with a stomach full of plastic and the video of the turtle with a straw being pulled out of its nose.”
Having a visual image of the impact our plastic consumption is having on the world, although graphic and horrific, really forces us to look at what we are doing at a societal level. Without giving us the opportunity to push it to the side or ignore it because we cannot bear to watch.
I myself have been guilty of scrolling past a graphic video on Facebook which shows evidence of animal mistreatment or the serious impact of plastic within our streets, forests, and oceans. I selfishly avoid these videos or photos because it hurts to watch them, without considering how the animals themselves must be feeling. However, the world has finally come to a place where we have no choice but to watch. We can’t ignore the issue any longer and we have people (like Linda, Sam, and Helen) who are now making it so much easier and more affordable for us to do our part.
5. Have you been surprised at how successful the bag system has become?
“Yes, we were really shocked at how many people wanted to get involved and how much of their time and energy they wanted to give to this. Also, we are constantly amazed at how quickly the bags disappear every time we put them out. Then again, it's not a surprise that people love the amazing handmade free bags! We're glad people love them and only hope they are using them and not stockpiling them in their cars! Use them, people!”
“It felt like Cambridge was really ready for this - people wanted to do something tangible and we provided an opportunity with our bags and that's part of why it has been as successful as it has. We still regularly get new volunteers.”
6. What is your vision for this project for the future? Do you have a specific goal in mind?
While the aim of the group, to make Cambridge plastic free, is in no way achieved but we do feel we need to change our focus now. The Boomerang Bag movement here in Cambridge has created a lot to be celebrated, “we have hosted a really successful Cambridge wide plastic bag free day and distributed over 5000 bags and have spread the message through the town but there's so much more to do.” The group is currently looking at and discussing how our project might evolve and what they can do next. “Plastic packaging is a huge one - especially now that soft plastic recycling has been put on hold. We're looking at social actions around production and packaging. But the sewing group has become really important to the group. More than we had expected. People have created lovely friendships, social connections and a sense of purpose to do working for a cause so we will keep going in some shape or form for sure.”
7. What other ways do you personally implement into your life to reduce your waste and your impact on the environment?
“We have lots of things that we do and that we have started doing since this journey began.” Let us remember, the group's vision was to reduce the negative impact of plastic on the world, not just to make Boomerang Bags! “We do the things you would expect like compost, buy in bulk, grow our own vegetables and avoiding plastic packaging where possible. We've started cooking from scratch and making changes to our diet to be more planet-friendly. However, we also do less expected things, Sam has planted 1000s of native trees and actively monitors pest control. We're also all on the zero waste bandwagon and experimenting with making our own products, buying package-less or compostable packing. This includes using shampoo and conditioner bars, reusable menstrual cups and Linda even made her own mascara and loves it. We also have car kits of bags and reusable takeaway containers.”
“We're campaigning, writing emails and asking sometimes awkward but important questions -often lots of questions to discover if stores are genuinely interested in making a change. We try and buy things that will last and avoid fast fashion - op shopping helps with lots of these changes. We talk to people about what we're doing and why while also trying to make an impact in our workplaces. We sort recycling, take stuff home, get keep cups, reusable shopping bags and other eco-friendly stuff for our colleagues. However, we will be the first to admit that we’re far from perfect and that at times, trying to live the zero waste life can be difficult.”
While many of us will read about what these women achieve and admire it, we can understand that these women have a complete understanding of the impact each individual can have on the growing issue of plastic and waste. While they are making considerable changes, investing their time, energy and finances to the cause, they still have the urge to do more. That’s the result of appreciating the small, yet significant impact each mindful and sustainable choice we make has while still being aware of the greater issue. Whatever stage of your journey or understanding you are in, there is always room for improvement and progress. If you haven’t been inspired by these women already when you see them out at the markets or their bags hanging in your local New World, you will be now.
Admittedly, these women are cheese and berries lovers - however, both of which are super difficult to find in plastic-free packaging. Some loves just can’t be beaten, and so you have to make exceptions. “You can drive yourself insane trying to be completely zero waste, we've all tried the month of completely zero plastic and it’s so hard. There is hidden plastic everywhere: teabags, fruit stickers, even paper that is actually fused with plastic.” Linda says, “I have 2 kids and it’s challenging. Not everyone in my household is completely on board with all my radical ideas either and so I have to compromise a lot. I have a husband who loves potato chips and kids with food sensitivities. I work full time so there's a lot I have to live with. With the way the world is currently set up, it takes a lot of time and energy to do all the things I would ideally do. So we do what we can. The way I see it the little things you do often will add up to more of an impact than the one-off things you do occasionally. If you buy take away coffee everyday switching to a keep cup will make a huge impact on your waste.”
8. How can members of the community get involved?
“People can join us by liking and interacting with our Facebook page ‘Plastic Bag Free Cambridge'. We also invite people to our Sewing Bee which is on every Sunday at the Cambridge Community Centre from 1:30pm-5: 00 pm. We also kindly accept donated fabric or sewing supplies - we love fabric donations if we're able to use them. Specifically, the fabric donated needs to be clean, durable and ideally pretty. While also being on a useful size for making bags. Maybe you have a stash of fabric that you collected for a special project that you never got around to? We can make great use of that. We will also teach you to sew if you come along to a Bee enabling you can make all sorts of things to help you avoid plastic.”
9. For readers who aren’t Cambridge locals, how would you recommend they begin reducing the waste they produce?
“For those outside of Cambridge, start your own group or check on ‘Boomerang Bags’ if there is already a group near you you can join. There are also great Facebook pages that help you reduce your waste like ‘Zero Waste New Zealand’, ‘Zero Waste Chef’ and ‘Zero Waste Home’. Watch documentaries! There are some great ones on Netflix and choose something small you can do, you might just be surprised at how it grows and where you’ll end up!”
For Linda and Sam, their ideas that once seemed small have grown into exciting and innovative movements which have had a wonderful ‘domino’ effect across our Waipa District. They are living proof that small ideas, with enough passion and motivation behind them, have the ability to branch off into great projects which has gifted Cambridge so much more than originally intended. The ripple effect of this group has spread significantly throughout Cambridge, giving many people a sense of purpose, inspiring their own journeys to reduce their waste or giving them an easy step in the right direction. Often, that’s all it takes.
Thank you again to Linda, Sam, and Helen for letting us share their story and really bring a face to the Boomerang Bag movement here in Cambridge. But also, thank you to all of the lovely volunteers and donators who have contributed to the project, from fabric to end result. It is such a lovely gift which you have all given Cambridge and we are very grateful!
I encourage you all to follow and watch the progress of this amazing group throughout the future and get onboard with their upcoming projects! In our own personal lives, let’s do more than just remember to bring our reusable bags with us each time we pop to the supermarket! Let’s try to implement small, effective changes throughout our lives to maintain a positive momentum going forward!
Thank you all for reading,
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