HELPING THE PLANET, ONE REUSABLE BAG AT A TIME by JoAnn Early Macken, the author of more than 130 books for young readers

Many people know that producing plastic bags requires petroleum—a nonrenewable resource—as well as water and energy. While researching an educational book I wrote about plastic, I found some other disturbing facts:

  • Most plastic bags are not biodegradable. If they are exposed to sunlight rather than buried in landfills, they can break into smaller pieces. But they never completely decompose.
  • Although plastic bags can be recycled, most are thrown away after one use. Many end up blowing down streets, caught in trees, or washed into waterways.
  • Countless birds and animals die after becoming tangled in plastic bags or mistaking them for prey.

Because I knew that many people already relied on reusable shopping bags, reducing and eventually eliminating disposable shopping bags seemed like a practical goal. Through our village’s Conservation Committee, I met several women who agreed. Together, we formed Bring Your Bag Shorewood.

Wisconsin state law prohibits local ordinances that restrict packaging, so we decided to focus on education first. We posted reminders in stores, gave away reusable bags and stickers, and connected with our neighbors through a Facebook group.

Then we discovered Boomerang Bags, a brilliant idea that started in Australia and is spreading around the world. Boomerang Bags are reusable shopping bags, handmade from donated fabric and displayed in stores. People who forget their reusable bags can borrow one and bring it back for someone else to use.

When we first checked the Boomerang Bags Communities map, we found only one group in the United States. Now ours is one of at least 25. More than 300 groups around the world have already made nearly 100,000 reusable shopping bags! Following the Boomerang Bags model, we’re collecting slightly used and leftover fabric, silk screening the boomerang logo on patches, and making reusable shopping bags.

More than 40 people took part in our first Sewing Bee. Some of them brought portable sewing machines, some brought ironing boards and irons, and some brought fabric, scissors, or thread. We set up cutting, ironing, pinning, and sewing stations around the large room we reserved in our Community Center. For a few hours on a Sunday afternoon, we stitched up a storm—and had so much fun! Several of us brought unfinished bags home to finish. Since then, we’ve held three more Sewing Bees and stocked more than 100 Boomerang Bags in a local grocery store. Most of them disappeared within a few weeks.

We need a larger inventory, and we hope to expand to more stores, so we’ll keep sewing. Every reusable bag we make can help reduce the number of single-use shopping bags on the planet. At the same time, we’re keeping leftover and unwanted fabric (including gently used tablecloths, sheets, pillow cases, and even clothing) out of landfills. And we’re raising awareness of a serious environmental problem that we all can pitch in to help solve.

JoAnn Early Macken is the author of Baby Says “Moo!” and other picture books, the poetry instruction guide Write a Poem Step by Step, and more than 125 educational books for young readers. Her poems appear in numerous children’s magazines and anthologies. JoAnn contributes to the Teaching Authors blog, and she speaks about poetry and writing at schools, libraries, and conferences. Visit her at www.joannmacken.com. And learn more about Boomerang Bags.

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