Boomerang Bags event encourages non-plastic alternative

MILFORD – Last Saturday, Kathy Parker and Celeste Philbrick Barr were in the back room of the Free Spirit Boutique fashioning custom-made reusable shopping bags for anyone who came into the shop and wanted one.

The two Milford women are part of Boomerang Bags, an international grassroots movement started by two Australian women to make and give away reusable shopping bags. The idea is to reduce the demand for plastic by cutting down on the amount of plastic bags consumed.

The bags are made from old T-shirts and sweatshirts, and everyone is encouraged to give them away to friends, family, colleagues or bagless strangers.

Several months ago, Barr, who is on Milford’s recycling committee, stopped into Free Spirit, at 87 Union Square. She bought a shirt and when owner Robin Goodwin asked if she minded bringing it home in a reused bag, Barr, who learned about Boomerang Bags during a trip to Iceland, realized the shop could be a good place for a sewing bee. Goodwin loved the idea.

On Saturday, Parker was on the sewing machine whipping up bags, and Barr was talking about how the sewing bees also are a way to raise awareness. She and Parker talked about what plastic waste is doing to the environment and the efforts around the world to curb their use. The back room overlooks the Souhegan River, which seemed sparkling clean as it flowed toward the Stone Bridge, but the talk at Free Spirit was informed by knowledge that the world’s ocean and marine life are suffering under a load of plastic.

Barr noted that China – where they have a word for the thin plastic bags that means “white pollution” – has banned them. Parker, a teacher who has sewing machines in her Bedford classroom for students to make reusable bags, talked about the environmental disaster of plastic microbeads in beauty products that found their way into the stomachs of birds and fish. The products are now banned in the U.S.

The women talked about a global movement called 4Ocean, started by two young surfers who were so alarmed at the amount of trash they encountered on beaches and in oceans that they started a cleanup business. Funded by the sales of bracelets made from recycled trash, 4Ocean removed 250,000 pounds of trash from oceans and coastlines in 2017.

And according to Boomerang Bag’s website, much of the seafood that lands on our plates is likely to have consumed plastic. All species of sea turtles, nearly half of all seabirds and a growing list of fish species have been documented with plastic in or around their bodies.

There are now more than 555 communities involved in Boomerang Bags and they are all over the United States and Canada, and in diverse locales that include Dubai, Iceland, Newfoundland, Singapore and the Christmas Islands. Milford is the first place in New Hampshire and Vermont to have a Boomerang Bag group, and Free Spirit is the first store in New Hampshire to offer the free Boomerang Bags.

Worldwide, the communities have made nearly 200,000 bags so far.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or