The Tennessee ‘Bag Ladies’ are no ordinary grandmothers. They are a church group of around 20 retired women who are combating waste and alleviating the suffering of the homeless by turning used plastic bags into hundreds of sleeping mats.
The ladies, from Union City, first met to discuss the idea at the beginning of 2015, and have since come together every Thursday morning. They’ve now completed over two hundred mats, which are distributed to homeless people, in Memphis, or those displaced by natural disasters; for example Louisiana flood victims. Each one comes with a waterproof pillow made with leftover plastic cuttings, and a knitted hat or scarf.
Setting up buyback centres in impoverished communities & recycling stations in schools.
“The goal is to help others. We know we cannot solve the problems of the homeless but we can help a few individuals. Any of us could be walking in their shoes anytime,” explained Bag Lady Janice Akin.
The grandmothers, and in some cases great-grandmothers, are all from rural West Tennessee and include teachers, nurses, and Pastors’ wives. Bags are straightened before being cut into two inch strips to create plastic yarn, or ‘plarn’, which is then crocheted together to make a three by six foot soft mat.
It takes 600-700 bags to make a mat, but Janice said that they have not been short of supplies. Since word got out about their project, they have been offered help from admirers all over the world. “To say we have been overwhelmed by the response to our mission would be an understatement. The story went viral. We have heard from people in England, France, Italy, Austria, Australia, India, South Africa, and Mexico.”
The project was started “for people and also for the environment”, added Janice. “Working to do something for the environment is always a good thing.” According to campaign group Bag Free World, in any one minute there are 1 million plastic bags in use around the world, Furthermore, on average each bag is used for 25 minutes before becoming waste, which can take up to 500 years to disintegrate.
The mission is no longer restricted to the original team: five other churches in the area have adopted the project too. “We discovered that there are groups all over the country doing similar projects to help the homeless. Yes, we think people are trying to create positive change.”