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Turning trash into treasure

Plastic bags recycled into handmade mats for Houston’s less fortunate

Created date

January 29th, 2014
ladies with their crochet

“I’ve heard of miracles. This is one of them,” says Trace resident Jane Hall, fingering a 4- by 6-foot mat made entirely from plastic bags.

For the past seven months, residents of the West Houston community have rallied around a project that, at first glance, seems unlikely—turning thousands of plastic bags into sleeping mats bound for Houston’s less fortunate.

“We got the idea from a friend of mine who lives in Baton Rouge,” says resident Donna Schlitt. “She sent me a newspaper clipping about a group of volunteers who crocheted plastic bags into sleeping mats for the homeless. I took the idea to our community outreach committee, and we decided to give it a try.”

Twelve thousand plastic bags later, Eagle’s Trace residents crafted 15 mats ready for distribution through the Turning Point Center in Spring Branch.

It takes a village

“There was such a fantastic response from residents when we asked for plastic bags,” says Donna. “I think people felt good about keeping them out of landfills.”

Before undertaking the project in May 2013, volunteers watched a YouTube video demonstrating how to prepare the bags and crochet them together.

“We had several residents watch the video online,” says Donna. “Based on what we learned from the YouTube video, we created our own little assembly line. As word got around, more and more people joined us.”

Each mat requires 800 plastic bags, flattened individually and cut into strips. The strips are tied end to end and the long pieces rolled into a ball.

“We called the balls ‘plarn’—plastic yarn,” says Pat Osborne, who serves on the community outreach committee. “Once we had the ‘yarn’ ready, volunteers used giant crochet hooks to stitch the mats together.”

“The last thing I crocheted were baby blankets for my grandchildren,” says Joan Winkler, who completed two mats. “But this project sounded intriguing. I never imagined it was possible to crochet plastic bags into sleeping mats.”

“This project really took on a life of its own,” says Pat. “It became a social event. We met every Tuesday and Wednesday afternoon in the living room [of the Audubon Clubhouse] to work on the mats and visit.”

‘Comfort and warmth’

In a stroke of good timing, the mats were completed in early December, just as winter’s chill took hold of Houston.

“These mats are lightweight, waterproof, bug-proof, and they offer substantial warmth when you wrap up in them,” says Donna. “We also added shoulder straps, so they could be easily carried.”

Nancy Bell, chair of the community outreach committee, contacted the Turning Point Center to coordinate a drop-off location for the mats.

“Each week, Turning Point sends a van to distribute chicken dinners to the area’s homeless population,” says Nancy. “They told us they would be glad to distribute the mats as well. It’s our hope the mats will provide a measure of comfort and warmth.”