Single-use plastic shopping bags are seemingly everywhere: Drive down a road and chances are pretty good you’ll see a bag snagged in a tree or caught up in a breeze, boogeying across a parking lot.
And chances are that bag will long outlive us all; along with the billions of other plastic bags humans use every year.
Durangoan Sarah Musil Burris wants to get people to think about the long life span of an item that is only used briefly and then discarded, sometimes to be recycled, sometimes not.
She’s doing it using homemade reusable bags that will soon be available for customers at north City Market.
There’s also another level of recycling going on: Burris is also helping keep old clothes out of landfills as well because the reusable shopping bags she and about other volunteers sew are made out of old T-shirts.
Her project, which she calls “Free Bag, Bag Free,” was born from witnessing firsthand as a volunteer for Sea Shepherd Conservation Society the destructive power plastic has on the environment.
“I came back and I was depressed because they’re still killing dolphins and they’re still slaughtering pilot whales and the Japanese are commercial whaling and the trawlers are still raping the oceans. I just went and spent two years and nothing changed,” she said. “So I decided, ‘OK, it’s time to act locally then, instead of globally. I started looking around, and because I’ve seen the trash in the oceans. There’s plastic everywhere – they’ve found it in the Mariana Trench. It’s bad; it’s everywhere.”
Burris said the idea for the bags came when she discovered that customers at her regular grocery store use thousands of plastic bags per day. She began talking to the manager at north City Market – and people at Kroger headquarters – to get permission to have a bin filled with the free, upcycled T-shirt bags. It’s a process that’s been about a year and a half in the making, Burris said.
“The Kroger Brand, they have a good heart, they have a lot of good programs,” she said, adding that her intention isn’t to force anything on anyone: It’s just to get people to think about alternatives.
“Maybe it’s the people that don’t bring, that don’t use reusable bags, and if there’s a free one there ... it’s 15,000 (plastic) bags a day from north City Market. One day, one store. I figure in Durango, north City Market is 15,000 bags, we must be doing 100,000 bags a day in Durango,” Burris said. “We can’t (make) 100,000 bags a day, but if we can get people to start thinking about it ... This is all just to try to get people to think about it.”
Making a T-shirt bag really couldn’t be easier, Burris said. In short: Get a T-shirt, cut off the sleeves, make a bigger hole where the neck opening is and sew the bottom closed. That’s all there is to it.
The group is broken into different teams, she said. Some people like to go pick up the bags, some people like to do the sewing. Right now, there are about nine people helping. She said she hopes to expand the project to other stores.
“The first part is to get people thinking about using the reusable bag, with something that was going to be thrown away to begin with,” Burris said. “The whole thing – taking T-shirts (we’re getting them from the thrift store – they have them in the rag bags, so I’m not sure what they do with them) – it takes minutes to make the bags,” she said. “There are a bunch of different people working on them. They’re not all going to be the same; they’re not going to be the same size; they’re not going to be the same style.”
Burris said the group is always looking for volunteers, adding that you don’t need to be a professional seamstress to make a bag. They are also accepting T-shirt and sewing machine donations.
And if joining a group isn’t your thing, Burris said, people can make their own bags and give them to their friends: “Who cares? As long as they get out there,” she said.
When it comes right down to it, Burris said, it’s well past time to reconsider the overuse of plastic.
“What I want to emphasize is it’s “refuse, reduce, reuse, recycle.’ First, we have to stop using plastic,” she said. “I think just by giving people a free option, maybe it’ll just start to click. Just like straws, only 15,000 bags a day in one store. We’re past the point of rinsing out ziploc baggies and reusing them. We have got to stop our dependence on plastic.”
Sarah Musil Burris has assembled a group of people who are helping her upcycle T-shirts into reusable shopping bags they’ll give away at north City Market. If you have T-shirts you’d like to donate, a sewing machine the group may use or if you’d like to join the group, email Burris at Columbine.firstname.lastname@example.org.
If you’d like to make your own T-shirt bags, there are tons of instructional websites. Check out www.durangoherald.com for a quick tutorial.