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The small but mighty power of Auckland’s Eco Neighbourhoods

Volunteers making Boomerang Bags. The project aims to reduce plastic bag use and fabric waste.

A rising interest in environmental issues has lead to the establishment of Eco Neighbourhoods, where small groups of people find a way to tackle the Earth’s big problems.

The steady hum of sewing machines is notable when you walk into the Gribblehirst Hub in Sandringham, where volunteers are busy turning scrap fabric into Boomerang Bags.

As the name suggests, the reusable bags are designed to be borrowed and returned, so you don’t have to resort to a plastic bag while out shopping. Pick up and return points are found at Dominion Rd shops.

The Eco Neighbourhood group, started by Lisa Simperingham and Catherine Patten, has just sewn its thousandth bag. Simperingham had been part of a clothes swap group for 10 years when the pair decided to follow the example of other Boomerang Bags groups in Te Atatu and Titirangi. Through word of mouth, the project quickly outgrew her house.

Read more: Can your actions really save the planet? ‘Planetary accounting’ has the answer

Volunteers say they enjoy being creative and the social aspect of being in the Eco Neighbourhood group.

It’s a great way to make use of scrap fabric, says Simperingham.

“The fabric is donated – old duvet covers, scraps from clothes people were making, scraps from curtain and upholstery shops. It’s stuff that was going to go into the landfill.”

There’s a growing interest in sustainable community projects, like Boomerang Bags, that tackle global environmental issues, says Eco Neighbourhoods coordinator Heather Lyall.

“It starts with people becoming more conscious themselves.”

Groups are running community gardens, beekeeping, pest control, and sustainability workshops, amongst others.

Lyall’s own group, Owairaka, spent the last year setting up a mobile chicken coop that tours member’s homes. Many people wanted their kids to experience keeping chickens and learn about where their food comes from, she says, but don’t necessarily want to have a coop permanently.

Backyard Bee Keepers, another group, create healthy bee environments and remove swarms. “Bees are a really great sign of how healthy our environment is,” says Lyall.

By starting small with basic projects, like learning how to compost, groups find they become interested in doing more, says Lyall.

One such group is in Waterview, which started with a community garden. Someone suggested a central island in the middle of a new state housing development that was going to be concreted over could become a garden instead, so one of the tenants started an Eco Neighbourhood group. Now they have fruit trees, a big herb garden, a butterfly and bee garden, and a shared tool shed and lawnmower, says Lyall.

“Starting somewhere, which you’re passionate about, and becoming more active around it in your community, there’s real power in that.”

For more information on Eco Neighbourhoods, see livelightly.nz/econeighbourhoods. Boomerang Bags is always looking for more volunteers, check out the Facebook page for more information.

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