BagShare Project offers to help Easthampton through plastic bag ban

  • One of the more than 30,000 bags that have been made by volunteers by The BagShare Project since its founding in 2007. Contributed Photo

  • The BagShare Project’s sewing center in Easthampton, located in donated space in Eastworks. Contributed Photo

Staff Writer
Published: 3/11/2020 10:43:42 PM

EASTHAMPTON — As Easthampton considers banning many types of single-use plastic items, including plastic grocery bags that can’t be composted, a local volunteer organization is offering to help the city make the transition.

The BagShare Project, founded in Cummington in 2007, makes bags out of reused materials. The bags are then made available to customers at a variety of locations in western Massachusetts, including Old Creamery Co-op in Cummington, Cornucopia Natural Wellness Market in Northampton and the Emily Williston Memorial Library in Easthampton.

Customers or patrons can pick up a bag free of charge, which they are asked to return to a BagShare location later on. However, there is no penalty if someone does not.

“Tons of them are not returned,” said BagShare Project founder Leni Fried. “It’s very loose.”

Since its inception, the project has made more than 30,000 bags out of reusable materials. Non-homemade bags have also been donated to the effort.

For several years, The BagShare Project has had a sewing center in space No. 330 of Eastworks, donated by the building’s owner, Will Bundy. A major effort of the project has been making shopping bags out of used feed, seed and brewery bags, and breweries in Easthampton are where the organization collects some of its materials.

“I certainly hope that they can be a partner,” said City Councilor Owen Zaret, who is sponsoring the bag ban.

On Tuesday, Zaret and fellow plastics ban co-sponsor Councilor Lindsey Rothschild met with Fried at the Easthampton space.

“Leni was amazing,” Zaret said. “I was so inspired by the work that she’s doing.”

Fried also said the meeting went well.

“We loaded them up with bags and ideas,” she said.

Fried said Easthampton could pay The BagShare Project to put on large bag-making workshops, where 1,000 bags could be made at a time. She noted that the project already offers bag-making workshops free of charge, and that after the large workshops the bag-making effort in Easthampton could become self-sustaining. The project offers one such bag-making workshop at its Easthampton space on the last Sunday of every month from 1 to 4 p.m.

Zaret said he was open to finding council, grant or personal money, or raising funds for BagShare to put on large-scale workshops. The project could be part of a community response that could advance the goals of the plastic ban legislation and encourage reuse and sustainable practices, he said.

Fried agreed that BagShare could help ease Easthampton’s transition to a plastic bag ban.

“People will realize that they don’t need to worry about purchasing a bag,” she said.

A discussion of the plastic ban Tuesday by the City Council’s Ordinance Committee went well, Zaret said, calling it a “really great collaborative conversation.”

A proposed exception for biodegradable plastics was struck at the meeting, he said, because of concern that some products that meet that definition can break down into harmful materials.

He also said the committee will likely be voting on exempting stores with around 5,000 square feet or less of space from the legislation’s bag fee. Under the ordinance, a store providing any kind of checkout bag would have to charge at least 10 cents. He also said BagShare bags would be exempt.

A number of business owners expressed concern at the meeting about not having suitable compostable alternative products for their businesses, but Zaret said the legislation allows for deferments in such cases, and that changing the ordinance to allow some deferments to become permanent exemptions is being considered.

“The intent is not to be draconian,” he said.

The ban will next be discussed at the committee’s March 25 meeting.

In addition to single-use plastic bags, the proposed ordinance would ban single-use food service ware, including cups and utensils, that aren’t compostable. It has a number of exemptions and exceptions and would not go into effect until one year after passage.

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