Boomerang Bags Manly, a community project that makes reusable cloth bags from recycled materials for a variety of purposes, urgently needs a long-term workshop space with storage facilities. Their existing studio, located in the Royal Far West former hospital on Manly seafront, has to be vacated soon, because the building is scheduled for demolition and redevelopment in January 2023.
Jude Furniss, Project Leader of Boomerang Bags, explained to Manly Observer that the community-driven project is seeking either a dedicated studio or a multi-use shared space with like-minded organisations.
“We have a critical need for a new space because our current building is expected to be demolished in early 2023,” Ms Furniss confirmed. “We are looking for a space that has good access to the community in which people can meet easily. Ideally in Manly to Dee Why area, close to public transport and a space that we can either share with other like-minded groups that promote the upcycle movement, or in a dedicated space that we can call our own.”
Ms Furniss explained it doesn’t have to be a large site – at present Boomerang Bags utilise a room approximately 25 square metres in size – just somewhere secure in which to hold their weekly workshops and install a printing desk and a few shelving units upon which to store craft materials and cloths.
Ideally, the premises would be free of charge or a minimal rental fee, because Boomerang Bags is a non-commercial community charity that donate their recycled, reusable bags to venues, assorted businesses and welfare charities.
Who are Boomerang Bags?
Boomerang Bags, founded on a simple concept of providing returnable bags, describes their organisation as “a community-driven bag-share initiative, tackling single-use plastic pollution and diverting unwanted fabric materials from landfill at a grassroots level.”
Founded in 2016, volunteers work one day a week on diverting unwanted fabrics from landfill and converting them into functional, multi-use bags, aprons (used by Australian Men’s Shed Association and the Manly Co-Op), drawstring mesh bags (for divers involved in subaquatic clean-up operations who retrieve garbage and plastic waste from Sydney Harbour, bays, beaches and lagoons) and beeswax wraps (sterile food preservation alternatives to plastic cling film) in a process called ‘upcycling’.
Upcycling is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as “reusing discarded objects or materials in such a way as to create a product of higher quality or value than the original.”
Businesses and retail outlets that wish to participate are encouraged to register to host a Boomerang Bag box – a red box stocked with reusable bags for the use of clients and customers – which is delivered to their premises.
Stitched together from unwanted bedsheets, clothing, curtains, banners and assorted fabrics, Ms Furniss explained Boomerang Bags “can be used for things like reusable shopping bags, produce bags for fruit and vegetables and bread bags, but we’ve also adapted their need for communities facing some kind of threat.
“This includes bushfires for people rescuing wildlife – we’ve made pouches for the fleeing animals; laundry bags for frontline workers during the Covid pandemic; and care bags where we put in care products for those affected by floods or women’s shelters and people who are vulnerable in the community.
“We’ve found that there are lots of reasons and purposes for our initiative beyond reducing plastic pollution by making reusable bags, which is what Boomerang Bags’ original objective was.”
How does the operation work?
Since they launched in 2016, Boomerang Bags Manly, one of over 700 Boomerang Bag providers in 20 countries, have provided over 10,000 free reusable bags for the Manly community.
How many people are involved in the Manly operation, making the bags?
“We have a group of around six regulars that come,” Ms Furniss said. “But now we’re out the other side of the COVID pandemic, we’d like to encourage more to join and meet regularly. Because it is about bringing the community together, just as much as it is about making the bags and diverting the waste from landfill.”
Is there an ideal material for making the bags?
“Our preference is always cotton,” she revealed, “100 per cent cotton, because it’s breathable, washable, and is obviously the best resource. But we’re very adaptable in that we’ve made bags out of items ranging from a pair of jeans and a T shirt to curtain upholstery.”
And how do Boomerang go about sourcing materials to make the bags?
“It’s really varied,” she said, “people either reach out to us or we put a post on our Facebook page and the material comes flooding in. We have to be really discerning on what we do take, though, because people like to think they’re doing the right thing by donating, but often it’s a lot of fabric that we really can’t use.
“We also recycle a lot of Council event banners. For example, banners from the recent Manly Jazz Festival are getting cut up and turned into bags.
“Boomerang Bags ethos is generally the wackier the better…
“We also make bees wax wraps, which are offcuts coated with beeswax, and they’re an alternative to using clingfilm. You put it over your bowl or wrap your cheese, or carrot sticks or your sandwich, and then afterwards you just wipe them clean.
“So, we utilise everything from Council event banners to general waste fabrics, plus sheeting and bed linen. We also have a really good relationship with organisations such as Woven Image, which makes sustainable fabrication and recycled textiles for a range of interiors, ranging from equipping hotels to soundproofing studios to office fit-outs. And they have really durable upholstery, as you can imagine… They make most of their fabric from recycled plastic bottles, so it’s a beautiful relationship.”
How do they meet costs?
As you’re not actually charging for these bags and wraps, how do you afford the running costs to make them?
“We hold market stalls from time to time to generate income if we need to buy sewing equipment or screen print paint for printing our labels,” she revealed.
“Manly Food Coop does take some of our stock, so we charge them a small amount of money for whatever we supply them, which they on-sell at retail price. That’s what keeps us ticking over.
“However, the Boomerang community bag project as an entity is not set up to generate revenue, it is totally a voluntary-run project. I think it would change the dynamic of what we do if we’re under pressure to constantly generate income.
“I hope we don’t have to do that to continue. Unfortunately we haven’t come across a financial grant yet that provides funding for rent, which I think is a shortcoming in the way grants are put together…. most community projects need to pay rent, to some degree.”
Can you join other environmentally-aware, community-based groups and pool skills and resources?
“It would be good to create and be part of upcycling hub on the Northern Beaches,” she considered, “where we would be just one of a number of like-minded projects or organisations that could all come together and work under one space where they can be a mister fix-it – or a missus fix-it, I should add! – a general fix-it organisation.
“Like somewhere that upholsters and recycles furniture, for example, and repairs appliances; to combine all those sorts of things.
“Meanwhile, we’re basically looking for a sponsor or an organisation that can support us with a workshop and storage space from which to continue our community engagement and keep the Boomerang Bags project going…”
Boomerang Bags Manly website