By Minal Abhange
Plastic bags are believed to be one of the most dangerous substances to the environment.
In fact, the bags have contributed to or caused the world so many environmental issues that it prompted Stephanie Janes to take action.
A CNA, Community Studies graduate from Grand Falls-Windsor campus, Stephanie was moved by the fact plastic bags have littered our forests, rivers, lakes, and oceans – the wind carries them virtually everywhere.
“In an initiative to use up a lot of bags as well as benefit people, the Hope Matters project was born at an Enactus brainstorming session, and we came up with making crochet mats,” says Stephanie, who is also a project manager for the Grand Falls-Windsor chapter of Enactus – a student group that works on entrepreneurial projects with a focus on social issues.
“The Hope Matters project started in 2016, and was designed to turning plastic bags into mats for the homeless,” Stephanie explains. “In the process, we are keeping as much plastic as possible out of the stomachs of aquatic life and landfills. My class needed to partner with a non-profit and do a project with them for this last semester, and working together has transformed into an amazing community project.”
The project is very simple in theory. Plastic shopping bags are cut into strips and then woven into balls of plastic yarn, or plarn. Ten to 12 heaps of plarn are used per mat, which can use up nearly 600 bags each. The end product is roughly the size of a standard yoga mat, and nearly indistinguishable from other fabrics. The mats are then sent to organizations with frontline workers who deal with the homeless, both locally and abroad.
“Plastic bags are sorted by size first, then piled up to cut off the bottoms and the handles, and slice the bags into strips. So you end up with a whole bunch of loops. And then you kind of chain-link the loops together and you keep going and going until you have a nice-sized ball of plastic yarn that you can work with.”
To bring the project to the community, the Enactus group taught volunteers to crochet and make plarn. The project received enormous support from students at high schools in Gander and Grand Falls-Windsor, along with the United Church, Newfoundland and Labrador Housing Corporation, Exploits Community Centre, Exploits Valley Dental Office, and many other local businesses and groups.
“It was like a ripple effect of positivity… in no time we had 300 to 400 children making plarn, and from there reaching our goal was just easy,” says Stephanie.
“Our initial goal last year was 20 mats and we made two mats. This year, things were very positive and as we paired with several community organizations, which helped us exceed our goal. Instead of 20 mats, we made 26 mats, which was just amazing.”
The encouragement the project received has propelled Stephanie and her classmates into winning the Scotiabank Eco living Green Challenge at the regional Enactus competition in Halifax this year. They were also awarded second place in the TD Entrepreneurship Challenge and Capital One Financial Education Challenge.
Stephanie’s hope is that this initiative, and other environmental ones like it, educates people of all ages around the world on the negative impacts of plastic on the planet. Along with a project guide – which includes details of host training, crocheting, collecting plastic bags, making plarn, and distributing mats – Stephanie has also created a Facebook page and a YouTube channel to share project information.
“It was really an amazing experience for me and my Enactus teammates to see the community take ownership to help eliminate plastic from going into landfills,” she says. “We have created a working guide for the project to help share our vision across the province and internationally with the help of internet.”