Sewing machines- Wollongong’s weapon of choice against plastic bags

The ABC’s War on Waste stimulated a national movement to tackle the growing environmental disaster plastic is causing. Since then, thousands of Australians have responded to the battle cry of environmentalists. We signed the Ban the Bag campaign, invested in reusable shopping bags and remember to use them 8 times out of 10. And our State Governments listened, with all but NSW pledging to ban the bag. But what is the next step in the war on waste?

The University of Wollongong’s (UOW) campus club, ‘Surfrider UOW’, is leading the charge against single-use plastics.


The Surfrider UOW club is a branch of national non-for-profit organisation Surfrider Foundation Australia, which is committed to protecting the coastal environment.

“We’re all about promoting a healthy future for the environment but also for all students,” said Maddie Wray, president of Surfrider UOW.

“Wollongong is in an amazing coastal location, so our aim for the future is to make sure that everyone is out enjoying the ocean and beaches that we have, but taking care of it at the same time and realising that it is super easy to grab a piece of rubbish or super easy to refuse a plastic straw or plastic bag,” she said.

Maddie said Surfrider UOW were disappointed in the NSW State Government’s decision not to introduce laws to ban single use plastic bags.

 “I think without the legislation it’s never going to happen. There is always an easier alternative and the easy alternative is always going to be destructive to the environment.”

In an effort to reduce Wollongong’s plastic bag consumption, Surfrider UOW have taken matters into their own hands and sewing machines, by joining the international Boomerang Bags initiative.


Groups involved in the Boomerang Bags community volunteer to sew reusable shopping bags which are then placed in local stores as an alternative to plastic bags for customers to borrow.

Initially, Wollongong’s Boomerang Bags group was organised by local environmental groups, but when bag production started to slow, a university campus group adopted the initiative.

Maddie said that as of August, Wollongong’s Boomerang Bags group was “…coordinated by Surfrider and supported by Flourish Australia and University of Wollongong”.

Bag sewing sessions are held every Tuesday evening, with the help of the local Country Women’s Association’s sewing expertise.

“We get everyone from international students, domestic students, and CWA ladies which tends to be an older generation. We get younger people, and people who take them home for their kids to sew,” she explained.

“We’re all pretty beginner and working it out as we go along,” she laughed.

“We want to be really inclusive obviously so we tell everyone to come along and teach them how to make a bag and everyone who turns up gets to take a bag home with them, but that obviously means that we’re not making a huge amount”.

In total, Maddie estimates that collectively the Wollongong community have sewed 500 reusable bags.


She believes the project has received a lot of community support because “it’s not often you get a group of university students who volunteer to get together and sew”.

Mental health organisation Flourish Australia have gone above and beyond supporting the group by donating a space to hold sewing sessions.

The Boomerang Bags idea has been so popular in Wollongong that Maddie said, “We (Surfrider UOW) keep getting invited to events or people ask us to make boomerang bags to give out to guest speakers or prizes”.

“(The) problem is trying to produce enough bags.”


Maddie strongly encourages communities to get involved in Boomerang Bags because “apart from the obvious of reducing single-use plastics, it’s really awesome to see the community come together.”

“After a full day of uni work you don’t really want to go and organise (sewing sessions) but it’s always incredible to go, it’s so much fun!”

Other than making reusable bags, Surfrider UOW also hosts social events, beach clean ups and documentary nights.

Surfrider UOW has also hosted a community information night that featured several guest speakers, including Andy Gray from Boomerang Alliance and coordinator of the Plastic Free Wollongong movement.


Photographs generously supplied by Andy Gray and Maddie Wray.