Plastic bags — the stuff that dreams are made of

By Xiao Lyu & Qingwei Chen

Mary Moy, vice president of New Life for Old Bags (NLOB), has crocheted 52 sleeping mats in the last 5 years ago. But the mats are not made of yarn, they’re made from discarded plastic shopping bags. The process not only recycles the bags, but gives them new life: as sleeping mats for the homeless.

Every Tuesday afternoon NLOB volunteers work hard turning old bags into beautiful and useful mats at Bethesda Home and Retirement Center in MontClare. Each six-by-two-foot mat takes between 500 and 700 bags and requires 80 hours to make.

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Group founder Ruth Werstler officially started to run this organization in late 2009. The inspiration of this idea came from a local news report that her father watched on TV about a group of elderly women in Palatine who were making mats.

In 6 years, the fast-growing group of volunteers has contained people of all backgrounds, including Cynthia Hernandez, who has worked on this team for 3 years. Hernandez lives at Friedman Place for the blind and comes over to make the mat every Saturday and Tuesday.

“I like the texture of the plastic and I like sharing the sleeping mats with the homeless people,” Hernandez said.

Besides helping the homeless, NLOB says their project also aims to protect the environment.

“We are keeping a lot of these bags out of the garbage, out of the landfills, out of the oceans,” Moy said. “Plastic is a resource and don’t think they are endless supply, we are doing to our planet a lot of harm, we should be careful on how we use them.”