One stitch at a time

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

Beecroft’s bag ladies putting an end to plastic

Jenny Barlass

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) 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.

Why ban the plastic bag?

According to the Boomerang Bags website, a staggering 1 million plastic bags are used every minute around the world, contributing to about 3.5 million tons of waste a year. They don’t break down, lasting for hundreds of years. Half of these end up in landfill and a fair portion remain unaccounted for – meaning oceans, waterways, the natural environment. In the ocean, sunlight and wave action causes the plastic to fragment into tiny pieces, which result in marine life hazards: 44% of all seabirds, 33% of cetaceans, all sea turtles and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies, leading to internal blockages, dehydration, starvation and early death for many. That means much of the seafood on our plate has ingested plastic and will have health implications for us too.

Want to join in?

The group meets on the second Wednesday of every month at St John’s Church Hall, Beecroft Road, from 10 to 12.30pm. Most people bring their own sewing machines, and if you’re not a sewer, the group still welcomes people who can iron and cut fabric too.

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