UCC groups collect plastic shopping bags in earth care effort
Written by Emily Schappacher April 26, 2013
Residents at Lake Prince Woods retirement community count and sort bags to donate to the Bags of Hope program.
As the concept of bringing reusable bags to the grocery store catches on, many people still end up with stockpiles of the plastic ones. Instead of throwing them away, residents from Lake Prince Woods retirement community in Suffolk, Va., are putting them to good use as part of their Mission 4/1 Earth efforts. Lake Prince Woods is operated by United Church Homes and Services, a nonprofit ministry affiliated with the United Church of Christ.
"We collected 1,071 the first week, and 1,110 this week," said Susan Stone, director of development and PR at Lake Prince Woods. "I think we have some shopaholics around here."
Lake Prince Woods is collecting bags for the Bags of Hope program, operated by two local Baptist congregations. The bags are given to the Salvation Army for use in its thrift stores and to the local food bank for food distribution. The retirement community’s initial goal was to collect 1,000 bags, which was surpassed during the first week. Stone thinks the residents will easily collect 5,000 bags before Mission 4/1 Earth ends on May 19. Each week, volunteers sort and count the bags, and Stone says at least 100 of their 200 residents have been participating.
Earth care is important to many people at Lake Price Woods, which is located on 172 wooded acres. Stone says the facility’s lake, woods and walking trails are big draws for the folks who want to live there, many of whom are involved in the gardening club and have small flower of vegetable gardens of their own.
"The outdoors and our surroundings are very important to the residents," she said. "It’s just awful when you see plastic bags littering the highway and causing problems in waterways and so forth, so this was certainly something we could help with – keeping the bags out of where they don’t need to be."
Members of The Chimes UCC in Newport, Wash., are also figuring out another use for all those plastic bags. Working with Rural Resources, a nonprofit organization that works to meet the basic social and economic needs of the rural community, the congregation is collecting plastic bags to make into sleeping mats for the area’s homeless residents. Volunteers cut plastic bags into strips of "plarn," or plastic yarn, and then crochet or knit them together to make a 4-foot by 6-foot mat. Chris DeChenne, The Chimes UCC secretary, says it takes 500-700 bags to make a mat, and she currently has more bags than she has room to store.
"I am inundated with bags," she said. "It's sort of a 'mention it, they will come’ scenario."
The project is still in its beginning stages, but DeChenne says two volunteers are currently making "plarn," one person is making mats, and a number of people have received directions on how to get started. DeChenne hopes the project will take off because the mats have more benefits than she initially thought they would. They are moisture-resistant, durable, lightweight, and easy to store, and also repel parasites and make a great temperature barrier during the cold Washington winters.
"When Rural Resources saw and tested the mat, they thought it was great and more durable than anything they currently have," DeChenne said. "It turns out there is a need, even here."