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Calling all Crocheters: New Life for Old Bags

By Elisa Revello in Arts & Entertainment on Jun 24, 2011 8:40PM


Despite the best intentions to carry a re-usable bag, we still end up with a heap of plastic bags shoved into our kitchen cabinet. And we haven't found many creative and sustainable ways to re-use these pesky bags.

Ruth Werstler did find a way to up-cycle plastic shopping bags. Ms. Werstler’s benevolent venture, New Life for Old Bags (NLOB), began as a way to entertain and engage residents of Bethesda nursing home, help the less fortunate, and protect the environment. NLOB collects plastic bags and creates plastic yarn, affectionately known as “plarn.” The plarn is crocheted into sleeping mats for the homeless in Chicago. Since its inception, NLOB has made over 240 mats—that amounts to 168,000 bags. Fun fact: one mat keeps 500-700 bags from going into a landfill.

The endeavor is community-based and Ms. Werstler encourages everyone—young and old—to get involved. NLOB asks that you do not donate plastic bags as they is already a plentiful supply. The head crocheter, an 80-year-old woman who made over half of the bags that NLOB donated since 2010, recently retired from her job and so NLOB is looking for anyone who can help crochet the mats. The entire venture is collaborative and individuals, families, or organizations can help with the whole mat-making process, or simply one part. NLOB partners with schools, churches, nursing homes, community centers, and social groups throughout Chicago, and is expanding to other parts of the country. If you are interested in donating your time and energy, contact NLOB on Facebook.