Athbags Initiative

August 13, 2019

In your own words, tell us about your project.
In May 2018 I engaged with Athboy Tidy Towns to consider developing some ideas I had in relation to plastic reduction initiatives for the town.  One of these ideas was based on an Australian model called ‘Boomerang Bags.’  Using this model we established ‘Athbags.’

Our favourite aspect of this initiative is its simplicity.  That is: we use preloved donated fabrics destined for recycling or landfill and turn it into beautiful functional shopping and produce bags.  These bags are then distributed amongst the local community through the support of the business community and voluntary groups.  The bags are displayed with an honesty box and all donations received are reinvested into the initiative.

From our launch in November 2018 we had four group members directly involved in ‘Athbags.’  Since then we have doubled our group members.  We meet on the first Saturday of each month supporting our local community centre.  During these meets we get busy cutting, measuring and matching fabric.  We then take this prepared fabric and create our beautiful bags.  This group consists of community members who all bring their own skill-sets together in an inclusive manner whilst enjoying the process over a cup of tea.

Due to community interest Athbag’s is now a conversation starter on plastic and waste awareness issues within the community.  Developing from this Athbag’s has since hosted a recycling workshop in conjunction with Voice Ireland, attended by 50 residents and also hosted Athboy’s first community ‘Earth Hour’ event attended by over 40 local residents and musicians.
Why did you do this work?
Having been raised on a small farm I was acutely aware of nature in my surroundings and the impact that human activity had on that environment.  My knowledge of environmental issues and impacts matured with experience over the years.  More recently I found the marked increase and indiscriminate use of single use plastics horrifying.  In general consumers did not seem to be aware of this trend and its devastating effects on our planet.  The BBC documentary, Blue Planet, was instrumental in increasing public awareness of the impacts of this. Therefore on a local basis our group decided to take action in a meaningful and engaging way.  We wanted to be able to raise awareness and inform the public on waste issues and show how each person can actually make a difference by introducing small changes in their everyday lives.
What was the impact or outcome of your project?
Positive community engagement and changed mind-sets.  130 shopping and produce Athbag’s were made and distributed in the first few months of the initiative.  The initial investment was cost neutral primarily based on voluntary contributions from bag distribution.  The Athbag’s initiative is growing in popularity with national awareness through various engagements and partnerships.  This resulted in our founder joining the committee of the Meath Environmental Network.  Additionally our group engages with local community groups and activities.  These include advising on projects with a local Youth Advocacy Programme (YAP), sponsoring a project in partnership with the local Foróige youth group, presenting the ICA and the local Women’s Group.  We have distributed our Athbags in the local community centre and various local businesses.  We have engaged and consulted with a local committee for the major Leinster Fleadh festival which will bring over 20,000 visitors to Athboy over the week-long series of events.  Our focus during this festival is to advise the committee on bringing a zero waste food court to the festival.  Further afield we have engaged with Plastic Free Kinsale and Zero Waste Maynooth to share ideas and learn from each other’s strategies.  We also engaged with the Spark Change initiative. Measurable impacts include:

  1. Reduction of use of single use plastic shopping bags with support from local businesses profiling our initiative

  2. Local Butchers now encourage customers to bring Tupperware or containers to bring meat products home. In addition one Butcher has introduced paper wrapping in place of most plastic bags.

  3. Refill Ireland initiative supported in local businesses encouraging town folk to use refillable water containers rather than buying disposable water bottles.

  4. Local sustainability workshops planned to establish sustainability baselines for Athboy

  5. Terracycle programme launch over Summer 2019.

Do you have any tips or advice for similar projects?

  • Keep it simple

  • Stick to your goals and objectives

  • Be open to help and advice

  • Get to know your group members – you never know what skillsets they have that may add to your project/

  • Have fun and enjoy the journey

Which Sustainable Development Goals does your work link to?
Goal 4. Ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all
Goal 11. Make cities and human settlements inclusive, safe, resilient and sustainable.
Goal 12. Ensure sustainable consumption and production patterns
Goal 13. Take urgent action to combat climate change and its impacts*
Goal 14. Conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development
Location of Project
Athboy, Co. Meath
Contact Person
Donna Kelly
Email Address
Contact Number