When Claire Morsman realised that marine animals were dying after ingesting plastic bags, she turned her horror into action. Overnight, she devised the strategy of ‘sociable guerrilla bagging’ – people getting together to make beautiful bags out of recycled material and then distributing them for free to friends, family and unsuspecting members of the general public during co-ordinated mass handouts. Since the campaign began in January 2007, hundreds have joined in, making over 12,000 Morsbags, which have replaced more than 6 million plastic ones.
THERE’S AN EXPANSE of plastic and debris in the North Pacific Gyre that is now the size of Texas and it is killing thousands of marine animals every year. A minke whale was washed up in Normandy, France. Its stomach was absolutely stuffed full of plastic bags. It had no food in it at all and it had died of starvation. Lots of animals die like this. Hearing these stories was the key moment for me. I thought “What can I do, on a practical basis, to help? The problem is plastic bags, so what is the solution?”
My great-aunt left me a sewing machine. I didn’t even like sewing – but I suddenly thought, “I could make reusable bags.” A simple action was needed that at the very least would make me feel better. But then I asked myself, “Why can’t everyone join in and do this? If they re-use a cloth bag, they’re not going to want a plastic bag.”
I asked my fiancé if he could make a website about it, and I phoned my mum up and asked her to create a bag design, and that was how the Morsbags began.
We got lots of hits from the website and the word just spread. It was the most exciting thing watching people come to the site, and when our first ‘pods’ were set up, we were jubilant. Pods are groups of people who get together and have a wonderful time making Morsbags. They download the pattern from the website, and they find old curtains or duvet covers which they can get from charity shops, or people can donate them – and then they get together, chat and make bags. Some people are ‘solo poddists’, or ‘tod pods’ – they do it by themselves!
We’ve got over 200 pods now and they’re all over the world: in the UK, America, New Zealand, Spain, Japan, Morocco and France. Everyone does it differently and this project has just been the springboard. There are quite a few women who are happy to have a sewing machine set up in their living room, and while they’re doing other things their friends come and make bags. One of my friends occasionally works nights, and she’ll cut out material all night while she’s manning the phones at work.
People really enjoy giving them away as well. That’s the other aspect: the ‘guerrilla bagging’ part. We have organised mass public handouts, and people also like posting them through neighbours’ letterboxes and giving them as presents. There are a couple of people who run guesthouses, and they leave bags as little gifts for their visitors. People are putting their own energy into it.
This may be slightly ambitious but I’d love everyone to have a Morsbag, in the whole of the UK at least. My ultimate aim is to get rid of plastic bags in the shops. Globally over a million plastic bags are used per minute, which is mind-boggling. If the only thing we did was to make everyone aware of the issue, that would be a huge result.
I’ve learned there are a lot of people out there who want to do something about environmental issues but don’t necessarily know how to start. There’s so much energy and emotion and intelligence ready to be unleashed. I’ve always thought there are many more good people than bad in the world, but now I’ve learned how brilliant people are! I can’t stress that enough. They’re joining in and getting down to it and not giving in to desperation.
At the end of the day we’re just giving out presents to everyone. It’s an excuse to be creative and do something with an evening or an afternoon; to get together as friends and make new friends as well. Everyone inspires each other. It’s a win-win situation. Anyone can do it, it’s completely universal, and you’re making a bag. How fabulous is that?
Please visit: www.morsbags.com