Sustainable Seward members have been stenciling designs on t-shirts repurposed into reusable shopping bags. (Photo courtesy of Jennny Nakao).

Sustainable Seward members have been stenciling designs on t-shirts repurposed into reusable shopping bags. (Photo courtesy of Jennny Nakao).

Sustainable Seward upcycles in preparation for plastic bag ban

As Seward approaches a citywide plastic bag ban later this year, a local environmental awareness group is trying to help the community transition away from plastic.

With a handful of volunteers and some sewing machines, Sustainable Seward has been transforming T-shirts into reusable bags and has partnered with Seward Marketplace and the local thrift store, Ukanuzit, to make the “upcycled” bags available to Seward shoppers.

The three are working together to create “Borrow-A-Bag,” a display case with T-shirt bag available near the cash register at the Seward Marketplace.

“The idea being that customers can grab a T-shirt bag on the spot, shop and take it home and return it next time to the bin at the bottom of the display case,” said Sustainable Seward member Jenny Nakao. “Ukanuzit will wash and store the returned bags and Sustainable Seward volunteers will help transport them back and forth.”

Nakao said the idea stems from a shopping experience at Ukanuzit about three years ago when Melissa Houselog, one of the owners of the store, gave her a T-shirt bag for her purchase.

“She told me all about how she had been making them for customers instead of plastic bags,” Nakao said. “She makes them at home … while she decompresses from her day watching television. She’s made dozens on her own and uses them at the store.”

With Houselog as an inspiration, Sustainable Seward decided to create T-shirt bags at the Seward Music and Art Festival in October. The Alaska SeaLife Center donated hundreds of shirts and nearly a dozen volunteers spent the weekend sewing bags for festivalgoers.

“We did this to help educate people about the upcoming bag ban and support their transition to reusable bags,” Nakao said.

Now, Sustainable Seward has continued to make bags at sewing nights at a member’s house or the Seward Community Library.

“We sew about 30 bags per meeting and have over 100 made,” Nakao said. The group is also stenciling phrases onto the bags, such as “please bring back,” and “I ‘heart’ Seward.”

Banning plastic bags was one of the initial goals of Sustainable Seward, a grassroots organization founded at the second annual Seward Strong Planning Day. An ordinance banning plastic carry-out bags and polystyrene containers was passed by the Seward City Council at the end of 2018 and will take effect on Oct. 1 of this year.

Seward joins the ranks of a handful of Alaska municipalities banning single-use bags. Wasilla, Palmer, Cordova, Bethel and Soldotna have all banned plastic bags.

Soldotna City Manager Stephanie Queen said that the community has adjusted to the change. In an interview shortly after Soldotna’s ban took effect, she said that the transition was going well. The city of Soldotna also handed out reusable bags in preparation for the ban.

“I’ve seen a lot of the reusable bags around town, which makes me glad that they got into people’s hands. We were really glad the stores were helping with that,” Queen said. “I’ve seen more people carrying their own bags. I think people are changing their behavior and working it out.”

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