One stitch at a time

Beecroft’s bag ladies putting an end to plas­tic

Monthly Chronicle - - Front Page - Jenny Bar­lass

Beecroft’s bag ladies putting an end to plas­tic

Beecroft has a long his­tory of both hat­ing the plas­tic bag and low key civil in­sur­rec­tion - think of the furore over the metro down­grade, the in­tro­duc­tion of the 10/50 tree lop­ping rule and the marches against de­vel­op­ment in Byles Creek.

So when Wool­lies planned to open its new branch there last year us­ing plas­tic bags, lit­tle did it know of the tide of op­po­si­tion it would face.

It’s now a year down the track and to­day - un­like many of its sur­round­ing sub­urbs - a plas­tic bag is a rar­ity. The pres­sure of the Bag Free Beecroft cam­paign on both the su­per­mar­ket and lo­cal shop­keep­ers re­sulted in the new Woolies be­ing the first check­out plas­tic bag free branch in NSW.

So what are lo­cals us­ing to carry their groceries in­stead? On a rainy Wed­nes­day morn­ing in the St John’s Church Hall be­tween 20 and 30 women reg­u­larly turn out to sew charm­ing fab­ric bags. Es­sen­tially home­made out of rem­nant, pre-loved or new fab­ric, the bags are the re­sult of this lo­cal loathing of plas­tic.

To date this quiet pow­er­house - a com­bi­na­tion of a de­sire to re­duce the amount of plas­tic knock­ing around the world killing an­i­mals - as well as har­nessed fe­male skills, has pro­duced over 1,000 bags in the 10 months the group’s been at their sewing ma­chines. No money has changed hands, no grants have been ap­plied for.

It’s a grass­roots rev­o­lu­tion of sorts, and as one woman said: “There’s a real change in shop­ping be­hav­ior here in Beecroft - we just don’t need plas­tic bags any­more.”

The Beecroft Bag Sewing Group started get­ting to­gether as part of bag-free Beecroft, the bright idea of Emma Heyde.

Then an ac­tive Greens mem­ber and now a Hornsby Coun­cil­lor, Emma wanted to en­cour­age more peo­ple to use re­cy­clable bags, start­ing a vo­cif­er­ous cam­paign to get lo­cal shop­keep­ers on board.

“We be­gan mak­ing the bags from do­nated ma­te­rial and gave them to shop own­ers so they can give to cus­tomers,” says Emma, as she cuts out an­other bag kit from a tem­plate that was set up by Boomerang Bags. “Each bag is hand sewn by some­one living lo­cally and we’re de­lighted to say they’re never re­turned.”

Around 30 are pro­duced in the few hours they meet every fourth Wed­nes­day, and around 30 kits made up for women to sew at home. The bags are sturdy and look great as they’re made from a range of in­ter­est­ing do­nated fab­rics, of­ten with a retro feel.

“Each one uses around half a me­tre of fab­ric - so that’s 500m saved from land­fill!” re­marked Clarissa Lux­ford, a med­i­cal prac­tice man­ager who helps run the group along with Emma and two oth­ers.

“There are around 20 of us who come here reg­u­larly every month and an­other ten at home we give the kits too. We ar­range this around work and fam­i­lies. It’s purely vol­un­tary and it’s about putting back into the com­mu­nity.

“Beecroft has a very strong sense of com­mu­nity and a strong tra­di­tion of in­de­pen­dent shop­keep­ers who’ve em­braced the bags 100%.”

There are now spin-off groups in Pen­nant Hills, Hornsby and Berowra who all keep in touch and swap ideas. Even lo­cal schools are do­ing their bit. “Re­cently we cut out 20 fab­ric kits for stu­dents at Chel­tenham Girls’ High School who are go­ing to sew them into more bags for com­mu­nity use,” said Emma.

There’s a long his­tory of bag-mak­ing in Beecroft, with the ac­tress Ruth Crack­nell (now de­ceased) be­com­ing the proud owner of the first home­made Beecroft bag. The Beecroft His­tory Group, Beecroft Civic Trust, and Beecroft Chil­dren’s Li­brary all make bags to fundraise too.

Want one? You can just grab a bag for free from the ded­i­cated rack in Beecroft Place Cen­tre.

Of course this begs the ques­tion, if Woolies Beecroft store can do it, why can’t su­per­mar­kets in other ar­eas fol­low suite? And sadly Beecroft Woolies still uses them in the fruit and veg sec­tion. But that’s an­other fight for an­other day.

Some of the 30 or some women who make the fab­ric bags that have helped ban­ish plas­tic from Beecroft.

Clarissa Lux­ford: “We’ve saved over 500m from land­fill.”

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