Following the model of a nearby community, Pittsfield, Massachusetts residents have organized a bag share program to promote the use of reusable bags.
Almost six years after a petition was first introduced to its city council, Pittsfield voted a plastic bag ban into law in March.
“Pittsfield has had a rough time passing the bag ban – which they finally did – but it doesn’t go into effect until January 1st of 2020," said Kate Lauzon, one of the founders of The BagShare Pittsfield Chapter.
Pittsfield is Berkshire County’s largest community with around 43,000 people.
“So we wanted to make sure that a lot of people in Pittsfield had these reusable bags in their hands before that bag ban went through,” said Lauzon.
The volunteer effort is currently based out of the Tyler Street Lab in Pittsfield’s Morningside neighborhood. It’s intended to make environmentally friendly replacements for one-time use bags easy, cheap, and fun.
“We want the availability of these bags to go to anyone," Lauzon told WAMC. "So this is completely volunteer driven, and I’ve used a lot of my own money to purchase equipment because we have to purchase grommet makers and the grommets to go with them, but they take about four minutes a piece to make a bag.”
Lauzon takes recycled grain and feed bags and transforms them into the reusable bags for everyday use.
“You just fold the bag and then you put it in the grommet machine, and it takes a total of four grommets for the handle and two to three grommets on the bottom, and you have a bag," she explained. "A very completely, well-used – some of them are actually pretty because they have horses or birds on them from the birdseed bags.”
Her co-founder in the Pittsfield Chapter is Lisa Fletcher-Udel, who says she got to work making reusable bags seven years ago when she learned about the concept from the grocery store Berkshire Organics. Her style is different. She sews reusable bags from fabrics, fully embracing the recycling model by sometimes using neckties as handles. When Lauzon reached out to her about reviving her efforts, she dove back in – with prolific results.
“Last year about this time I had learned that BBE Office Interiors had boxes of fabric that they were going to throw away," said Fletcher-Udel. "They asked if anyone wanted them for free, so I took them and I made myself and another woman made – we made 100 bags for the downtown Pittsfield famers market. And that’s really what reinvigorated me to get back involved with the bag share.”
Their inspiration comes from a Cummington-based artist and printmaker who’s been crafting reusable bags since 2007.
Leni Fried is the founder of the BagShare Project.
The then owners of Cummington’s sole store – the Old Creamery Co-op, located on Route 9 about a half-hour east of Pittsfield – wanted a solution to onetime use bags in their community.
“They had contacted me and wanted to know ‘how can we get more people to bring their own bag when they go to the store?’” said Fried.
Her answer was to blend creativity and a communal spirit into the project.
“I wanted to create a way of sharing instead of owning, also because subconsciously I thought it might bring across the idea that we share a planet,” she said.
The idea of hand-crafting resuable bags was a hit in Cummington, and has spread throughout Western Massachusetts. The project’s website identifies 18 venues – from stores and famers markets to libraries and survival centers – that participate in the BagShare.
The chapter in Adams in northern Berkshire County set out to make thousands of reusable bags in 2017. That undertaking inspired Lauzon in Pittsfield. She wants to see the city making and using 15,000 reusable bags by January.
“We bring them to food pantries, we’ve been talking to all the churches,” said Lauzon.
On April 27th, the Pittsfield Chapter will hold a training session to kick off the effort.
“We’re all going to be meeting at the Tyler Street Lab and there’s going to be free transportation for 15 people up to the Adams Mill," explained Lauzon, "where we’re going to be learning how to make these bags so we can come back and these group leaders will be able to train and have BagShare making events later on.”