It can seem a small victory that every time a Boomerang Bag is used on Norfolk Island, a single-use plastic bag isn’t. But I was reminded after talking with Margaret Kiernan and the other volunteers of the Boomerang Bag project that it is on such a level, the individual level, that progress is made in reducing the vast amount of plastics put into the environment. Each time a Boomerang Bag is used and returned for re-use, that person and the next is actively choosing to participate in the quality of their world. And more individuals are more regularly using Boomerang Bags on Norfolk, so the victory isn’t small at all. It’s actually profound and involves the entire community.
Boomerang Bags as an organisation was the brainchild in 2013 of two friends in Burleigh Heads, Queensland, who wanted to decrease the amount of plastic bags used every day. Their idea was simple enough: produce re-usable bags from recycled fabric and make them readily available in retail outlets as a convenient alternative to plastic. Since that time, Boomerang Bag chapters have opened worldwide. The organisation estimates that over 40,000 kilograms of waste has been diverted from landfills alone because of these re-usable bags.
In the serendipitous way good ideas can grow, the Boomerang Bags concept reached Norfolk Island in 2014, when Margaret’s daughter, Gabrielle Beaumont, living in Burleigh Heads as a student, noticed these bags where she shopped and thought it was a great idea. ‘Gab’ contacted Denise Quintal of EcoNorfolk Foundation Inc Limited for support, who wholeheartedly agreed. Three and one-half years and over 5,000 bags later, Boomerang Bags-Norfolk Island has increasingly become a part of shopping on the Island. But behind the success of this achievement is the work and dedication of a core group of people who make it happen. In fact, the whole effort relies on volunteers and donations, which is the very definition of a community organisation. This story is about them.
I met with some of the volunteers in their busy headquarters at the end of The Village shopping area – the space itself donated by a member of the community – in part to try to understand the group’s longevity. At a point in the life of so many grassroots, volunteer-based organisations, which can start with great enthusiasm and somehow dissolve after a few years, the Boomerang Bags crew are still at it, thinking of ways to produce more and more types of recyclable bags. They have received a grant from the Norfolk Island Regional Council to purchase two industrial sewing machines to add to the donated domestic machines they have been using these past years. The new machines will increase the rate of production; more bags, using more types of material. The group is designing a new bag that is lightweight enough to carry and weigh produce without unduly affecting the scales. There are Boomerang Bags circulated at the Liquor Mart intended for bottles; smaller bags at the Pharmacy for prescriptions. And again, for each bag used, each time, a plastic bag is not dumped into the environment.
Still meeting on average two afternoons each week, I talked with some of them to learn if there was a formula for maintaining this level of focus and commitment. I wondered if there might be some ‘lessons learned’ from which other community organisers might benefit.
Sharing that afternoon with two Margarets, Beverley, Judith, Von, Rose, Ria and Jim, I kept hearing three interconnected themes of why they continue: a team ethic in which each contribution is recognised as important, the backing of the community, and the reward of knowing they are helping the community and global ecology. As Beverley added, “Every little bit counts. By bringing these bags out, hopefully we’re increasing some awareness too”.
One element I noticed in this entire interview is no one ever referred to the project as ‘work’ – an outlook that seems to be spreading. A number of Year Six students at the Norfolk Island Central School have even been spending their Friday lunch breaks cutting fabric to
help make bags.
All of this is greatly welcomed by Claire Quintal, the Waste and Environment Team Leader for the Norfolk Island Regional Council. Claire’s job includes helping develop the systems by which waste is managed on Norfolk, never a trivial task on a small island renowned for its scenic beauty. As she thankfully notes, not only does Boomerang Bagsdirectly support the Council’s policy of significantly reducing the consumption of single-use plastic bags, it at the same time is finding a constructive re-use for fabric which itself can be very difficult to compost or recycle. So the benefits grow ever wider. Each Boomerang Bag used not only replaces a plastic bag, but every Boomerang Bag made helps remove another non-recyclable commodity from the Island’s waste stream.
The conversation with the Boomerang Bags folk kept edging towards what Boomerang Bags-Norfolk Island planned to do in the future. When they talk of increasing capacity, what do they wish they had more of? Volunteers. Why? To produce more bags. For example, since so many users of plastic bags are visitors to the Island, one goal for the future is to have a Boomerang Bag of welcoming information for each arriving visitor. The Boomerang Bag would then become their shopping bag for the duration of their stay. However, to our visitors, it’s important to remember the point is to recycle, so take the idea of the Boomerang Bag home with you, but not the bags. Return them to a Boomerang Bagstand for someone else’s use – that’s how it works. OK, if you’re going to take one as a souvenir, consider putting a little something into the donation box at a stand. Maybe consider doing so anyways.
As far as causes go, this is a good one.
Image Credit: Robin Nisbet
Article content disclaimer: Article first published in Discover Norfolk, Volume 02 Issue 01, 2018. Please note that details of specific travel, accommodation and touring options may be outdated. References to people, places and businesses, including operating days and times may be have changed. References to Government structure and Government businesses/entities may no longer be applicable. Please check directly with businesses and/or Government websites directly rather than relying on any information contained in this article before you make travel arrangements.