BagShare at work

BagShare volunteers assemble reusable bags. The initiative attracts sewers and nonsewers of all ages. 


Mindy Domb

The BagShare Project offers a creative and simple solution to the global problem of plastic bags: sewing and sharing handmade, reusable bags from scrap materials.

The project is the brainchild of Leni Fried, an artist from Cummington, Massachesetts. She began BagShare in 2007, and since then, she estimates, volunteers have made about 15,000 bags at community sewing events. Bags are donated to local stores, where customers can borrow them — instead of using disposable bags.

“It’s kind of creativity in action,” Fried says. “They’re personal. They’re not mass-produced. They’re signed by the person who sewed them, and they’re also really functional.”

BagShare bags can be found in stores, markets and libraries all over western Massachusetts. The bags don't just keep their plastic counterparts out of circulation: Since they make use of everything from salvaged fabric and plastic, to computer wire, irrigation drip tape and old clothes, BagShare bags keep all sorts of waste from being sent to the landfill.

Fried says it’s important for people to see how just a little bit of creativity can save a lot of trash. “Part of this project is to build awareness about how much is being thrown away and how much of what we throw away is completely usable and can replace us buying new things,” Fried says. “If you’re recycling, it’s the end of the line. If you’re reusing, then you can be reducing what you buy.”

The BagShare also fills a local need. In May 2016, Amherst passed a law barring stores from distributing single-use plastic bags. Volunteers are working quickly to get more reusable bags into circulation by the time that ban takes effect in January.

In nearby Northampton, plastic bags have been banned for almost a year. The ban has helped reduce waste, but stores can still use disposable bags made from paper. BagShare wants to replace those, too.

Jaimie Golec, who runs Serio’s Market, a family grocery store in Northampton, was one of the first store owners to offer customers the handmade bags. Since then, Golec says, she’s really seen a difference. “The amount of paper bags we order has reduced dramatically. Probably by half,” she says.

BagShare bags hang on hooks at the store's entrance and exit. They’re free to anyone who hasn’t brought their own reusable bag. Serio’s customers have responded positively to the idea. They’ve even started donating scrap fabric to the project. In fact, people all over western Massachusetts have donated scrap materials and sewing machines, and BagShares have sprung up in nine different towns in the area.

“It’s not a top-down organization,” Fried says. “I may have somebody contact me, and all I do is just say, ‘OK, great. Where do you live? Who can you sew with? Who can use these bags?’ I kind of help give them a direction, but then they lead. So, my job is sort of creating leadership.”

Teaching new skills is also central to the BagShare Project — especially skills that go underappreciated in a world where most of what we need can be bought in a store.

“I call it a ‘maker-based activity,’ compared to a ‘meeting-based activity,’” Fried says. “I think that, in our culture, we’re often too oriented to do things with our heads, rather than our hands. So, the more we can teach these kinds of skills, I think, the better off we are. We’re more prepared for whatever may happen in the future.”

Being prepared is useful, but, Fried says, the community around BagShare is the real measure of its success.

“A big part of our identity as Americans is that we’re individuals. The BagShare is about shifting that,” Fried says. “We only have one planet, and we are forced to share it, whether we want to or not. I also think that by sharing, we’re less alone. I think that’s why the BagShare keeps going.”

This article is based on a story that aired on PRI’s Living on Earth with Steve Curwood.

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