Organizers launch BagShare in wake of Pittsfield plastic bag ban

Jim McGrath helps Michelle Potash of Richmond create a reusable bag from a feed bag April 6 at the Pittsfield BagShare table during the Berkshire Earth Expo held at the Boys & Girls Club of the Berkshires. Potash is also a biology teacher at Taconic High School and had students presenting at the expo.

PITTSFIELD — Got reusable bags? Pittsfield organizers want to make sure you do.

That's why they're launching a campaign to craft 15,000 reusable bags by January 2020.

Kate Lauzon and Lisa Fletcher-Udel have amassed more than enough material to meet the 15,000-bag goal, and now they're looking for more hands to make them.

It's an ambitious mission, they said, but they think they have it in the bag.

"I think it's just gonna explode once we get the word out there," Lauzon said.

They'll bring the materials, and you'll bring the four minutes per bag. Ideally, they said, people will contribute in groups, pledging to make 120 bags per team.

The project follows the passage of a plastic bag ban by the City Council last month. Though compostable alternatives are allowed at the register, environmental advocates hope the ban spurs interest in reusable bags.

Councilors opted not to force stores to charge for paper and compostable bags at the register, but many stores that have gone without plastic have decided to do so. Through the BagShare program, Lauzon and Fletcher-Udel hope to divert materials from the trash and use them to make shopping bags that lower-income residents won't have to buy.

There are at least 15,000 under-resourced people in Pittsfield, Lauzon said, and that's where the goal post came from.

"Our people do not need to be charged for one more thing," she said.

Over the past couple of months, the pair busily stashed away feed bags from farms and cloth headed for the dumpster, and have already used them to help volunteers make more than 100 bags. Now, they're disseminating pledge forms asking businesses and groups of friends to make bags on deadline — when the city's new ban takes effect next year.

"We have enough fabric that we could easily make 15,000 bags just out of fabric," Fletcher-Udel said. "It's amazing how much fabric we have."

They're willing to host bag-making events at Tyler Street Lab, host events at local offices or provide materials for people to make them at home.

If you don't have a sewing machine or another way to stitch the bag together, then the BagShare organizers say they'll come to you with a grommet machine and grain and feed bags.

"We can set up wherever," Lauzon said. "All it takes is one folding table."

They've already booked three schools, Lauzon said, naming Monument Valley Regional Middle School, Miss Hall's School and Morningside Community School. She said she's already fielded interest from local companies like Berkshire Bank and Pittsfield Cooperative Bank, who have called inquiring about putting bag-making groups together.

Those interested can contact her at TylerStreetLab@gmail.com.

Bags made with the grommet machines take no time to make, she said, "and then you get a really awesome sturdy bag out of it."

"We're saving all of this material to be reused so it's not going into the landfill or the incinerator," she said. "It takes less than four minutes and then they can have the bag forever. It's really just a win-win."

The Pittsfield program is an extension of a local program launched several years ago by Leni Fried. Fletcher-Udel said she got involved about seven years ago.

Through Fried's program, Fletcher-Udel said, organizers established relationships with local stores so that sewing enthusiasts could use spare cloth to make bags for those who need them.

"It's really an awesome project because the amount of fabric that would end up in a landfill is just astonishing," she said.

Since the idea is to upcycle, she said, it's important not to be too picky — "If you have a pink bag, it's OK if you use green thread."

Still, she said, "I try to make 'em look nice."

Fletcher-Udel said there might be people who enjoy sewing and who want to help but can't make it out of the house. In those cases she's interested in having materials delivered to them.

They have already started giving bags to Pittsfield food pantries, they said, and will continue to do so as the community advances toward the 15,000-bag goal.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.