To transform a heap of waste into a sleeping mat for a young person experiencing homelessness, it takes between 600 and 700 plastic shopping bags and 15 to 20 hours of an individual’s time. “It’s a labor of love,” says Concord Academy student Audrey Lin ’19. But it’s one she has convinced others to take on along with her through her senior project — teaching groups to make plastic yarn (or “plarn”) from discarded single-use plastic bags and to use it to crochet lightweight, portable, bug-free, waterproof sleeping mats.
The project unites her love of craft with her passion for environmental advocacy, says Audrey, who co-heads Woolpack, CA’s student knitting club. She’s concerned that the use of plastic packaging is increasing. “We have this belief that plastic can just be recycled and it’s fine,” Audrey says, “but that’s not really true.” She is quick to detail the problems with recycling today, from the too-easy contamination of batches and the fact that now Chinese recycling companies are no longer accepting U.S. shipments to the health repercussions facing workers inhaling plastic particles. “It’s a really dirty business,” Audrey says. And when plastic isn’t recycled (most bags aren’t), it has a devastating effect in the oceans, where the toxins it absorbs spread up the food chain — no small issue since, according to the United Nations, more than 2.6 million people rely on marine life as their only source of protein.
The idea of using plastic bags to create sleeping mats wasn’t Audrey’s, but it was one she had learned about and couldn’t find many people working on in the Boston area. While she attended student leadership training at the Experiment Leadership Institute last summer, which brought her to northern India to learn from public health and community development organizations, she decided to take it up as her cause. Over her senior year, she led a long series of workshops at the Hatch Makerspace in her hometown of Watertown, Mass., the Umbrella Community Arts Center in Concord, the deCordova Museum in Lincoln, and the crafting studio Gather Here in Cambridge. She also set up a booth at the Wayland Farmer’s Market to broaden her reach.
“It’s really important to take these plastic bags out of the trash and put them to a better purpose.”
– Audrey Lin’19
While she is still quantifying her reach, the video demonstrations she created to teach others have had an impact — it wasn’t uncommon for people to arrive at her workshops having already learned her construction techniques online, and many brought their own supplies and took home projects to finish.
Though she doesn’t plan to continue giving workshops in person past the school year, her twin loves of knitting and the environment will continue to set her course. She plans to split a gap year before college between a New Zealand sheep farm and mobilizing for climate change with the Sunrise Movement.