Edmonton volunteers sew free cloth 'Boom Bags' for shoppers

A group of local fabric bag makers is on a mission to eliminate single-use plastic by providing free reusable bags to shoppers in Edmonton.

Bags made from used cotton fabrics such as sheets, pillowcases, or from reclaimed fabric

Suzanne Dennis, founder of Boomerang Bags #YEG, a group that supplies free reusable bags in supermarkets. (Thandiwe Konguavi/CBC)

A group of fabric bag makers is getting together to fight single-use plastic by supplying their own free bags at local supermarkets.

Since they started a year ago, about 90 volunteers have distributed more than 2,000 bags in Edmonton shops with either a Boomerang Bags #YEG stamp or red fabric label.

"We have to get everybody to have a bag," Suzanne Dennis, founder of Boomerang Bags #YEG, said Thursday in an interview on CBC Edmonton's Radio Active. "Boom Bags is all about keeping plastic out of the landfill. So instead of taking plastic bags when you go shopping, you use a Boomerang Bag."

The totes and produce bags are made from laundered, donated or reclaimed fabric, such as from used sheets, pillowcases or tablecloths.

The group hasn't seen any opposition from supermarkets, she said.

Dennis said they get requests every week from businesses that want bags, and the group has dedicated space for bag trees at Culina To Go on 102nd Avenue near 121st Street, and Earth's General Store on Whyte Avenue.

Plastic bans

The group welcomed the announcement this week that Sobeys would phase out its plastic bags by the end of January 2020 — a move they anticipate will make their bags an even hotter commodity. 

The Trudeau government also announced earlier this summer that it hopes to ban single-use plastics as early as 2021.

Dennis has been using fabric bags for 30 years. 

"And I'm not like a super tree-hugger greenie or any of that," Dennis said. "It's just something I've always done."

The original concept for Boomerang Bags, in which the bags are left in public areas for people to "borrow and bring back," was started in Australia and has spread to more than 800 communities worldwide. In Alberta, there are chapters in Edmonton, Calgary and Banff. 

The "boomerang" part has not caught on in Edmonton, Dennis said. Because people don't often bring the bags back, Dennis calls her chapter the Boom Bags project. 

Floral, colourful

The crafty bags are sometimes floral, colourful and may feature emblazoned with slogans professing love for the city. 

A Boom Bags YEG creation made by a home sewer out of a T-shirt. (Boomerang Bags #YEG/Facebook)

The bags are made by volunteers. Dennis provides set-up kits, including Boomerang Bags labels and fabric. 

Volunteer sewers are not required to bring their bags to the dedicated bag trees and are encouraged to give them out in the community. 

"If you see somebody in the lineup behind you at Safeway who doesn't have a bag, offer them a bag," said Dennis.


Thandiwe Konguavi


Thandiwe Konguavi is an award-winning journalist, born in Zimbabwe. She is a reporter/editor at CBC Edmonton. Reach her at thandiwe.konguavi@cbc.ca or follow her on Twitter:

With files from Alexandra Zabjek