Recycling Plastic Bags

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Plastic bags have become one of the most ubiquitous consumer items on earth. They are light weight, low cost and water resistant, making them convenient for many uses. Unfortunately, they have also become a major expense for environmental litter clean up, take a long time to decompose (estimated 1,000 years), and pose dangers to animal and aquatic life. Some states have seen such high expenses that they’ve resorted to banning plastic shopping bag use. How about you? Are you using plastic or reusable shopping bags? Do you still have some laying around and are wondering what to do with them?


Made from petroleum products (crude oil, natural gas or other petrochemical derivatives), the plastic used for grocery bags was discovered 85 years ago. Major retailers and grocery chains switched to their use in the 1970’s and ’80’s. [1] According to The Wall Street Journal, the US goes through 100 billion plastic shopping bags annually and that 4 out of 5 grocery bags are now plastic. Only 3 percent of plastic bags are estimated to be recycled. [2] Here is an example of a way to recycle plastic grocery bags to benefit others. 


Groups of ladies (The Emerald Coast Bag Ladies) in Florida’s panhandle area, get together every week to create crocheted sleeping mats for the homeless made from recycled shopping bags. It takes about 700 plastic bags and 100 man-hours to complete one of these mats. All skill levels and ages can become involved in this project. One of our local ladies drives a county school bus. She had the idea to use the idle time children spend on their rides to and from school by incorporating their assistance tying the plastic bag sections into long lengths of “plarn.” Once the lengths are tied, they can be rolled into balls keeping the plarn from getting tangled and making crocheting easier. 


Recycling plastic bags

Photos by Dorothy Barrett

Recycling plastic bags

Photos by Dorothy Barrett

The children noticed a number of homeless sitting and standing along the school bus route. When our bus driver completes a mat, they stop along the route and give the mat to a needy person.
 There have been a lot of benefits from this project. In addition to recycling shopping bags and benefiting the homeless with soft, water-proof sleeping mats, the children have learned valuable life lessons of cooperation and serving others.

Billie Nicholson, Editor
January 2018

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