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.

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.”