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'Recycling Grannies' get new use from discarded plastic bags
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'Recycling Grannies' get new use from discarded plastic bags

'Recycling Grannies' get new use from discarded plastic bags
Photo Credit: Patrick Dove/TCPalm.com via AP
In this Aug. 20, 2019 photo, Nannette Wall, left, 67, and Ethel Ford, 70, sit in rocking chairs in Sebastian, Fla., weaving strands of plastic bags, known as "plarn", to be used as material for handbags, coasters and sleeping mats. Known as the "Recycling Grannies", Wall and Ford are volunteers at the Sebastian Inlet State Park and both agree the plastic they use will not negatively impact the park that they love. (Patrick Dove/TCPalm.com via AP)

'Recycling Grannies' get new use from discarded plastic bags

It's volunteer work that could have an impact for centuries.

And it just involves some crocheting skills and a ton of plastic bags.

Nannette Wall, 67, and Ethel Ford, 70, sat in the middle of the museum at the Sebastian Inlet State Park, pulling at thin strands of plastic last month. The material is recycled plastic bags and is known as "plarn."

What it will become could be a purse, a coaster, or even a sleeping mat.

It's plastic that's being reused for a more long-term use. For Ford and Wall, volunteers at the inlet, it's plastic that won't negatively impact the nature area they love, the inlet, which straddles the Indian River and Brevard counties' border on State Road A1A.

"I absolutely love this park," said Wall, who lives in Vero Beach. "Within a month of coming here the first time, I became a volunteer. I'm here 12 hours a week, across two days."

Wall and Ford are known as the "Recycling Grannies" among the staff and volunteers at the inlet. The plastic bags they use are donated, with some being picked up from the grounds of the park. Similarly, used fishing line collected from the inlet is also incorporated into their craft.

A few dozen plastic bags can be woven into a small purse or a large grocery bag. But give the ladies 800 bags, and they can craft a sleeping mat, which they donate to the homeless.

"Just think about all those bags going into the environment," said Ford, who lives in Indian River County west of Vero Beach. "These bags would wind up at the landfill, get into fishes' tummies, and the birds would get tangled in them. Not any more."

Instead, the work being done by the grandmothers is for sale at the museum.

Their offerings go for as little as a $3 drink coaster to shopping bags and purses of various sizes, ranging from $10 to $50.

Half the sales of the plarn products will go to the Friends of the Sebastian Inlet State Park, of which Wall and Ford are members. The group runs the inlet gift shops and help to support the park in various ways, according to its web site.

Communities and businesses across the nation, as well as the Treasure and Space coasts, are stretching their minds around ideas of lessening the proliferation of single-use plastics, such as shopping bags, straws and utensils.

In Stuart, the City Commission is debating a ban on plastic straws, though it may carve out exemptions for some businesses. The ban, which the commission could vote on this fall after a series of workshops, would be the first on the Treasure Coast.

And curbside recyclers such as Waste Management are reiterating to customers that plastic bags are not a material they take in recycle bins. That means single-use plastic bags have few other destinations except local landfills.

"These bags would be at the landfill for a thousand years," Wall said. "Imagine how long they'll last if they're crocheted? They'll last forever."

The products Wall and Ford make tie in to the inlet directly. Besides being an environmentally friendly product that helps reduce pollution at the natural resource, the plarn bags are great for the beach, the ladies said.

"It's a strong, durable product, and you don't have to worry about it getting wet or sandy," Wall said. "You can just rinse it off in the water and it will dry."

Wall discovered plarn 25 years ago and made a few bags back then. Last year she saw an article about using plarn to make mats for the homeless.

"I said 'Oh my goodness, I can do that,' " Wall said.

That inspired her to pick up the craft again and she shared it with Ford, who was also interested.

Among the miles of beach stretching along the Space and Treasure coasts, the inlet boasts beaches on each side of the county line, access from the Atlantic Ocean to the Indian River Lagoon, a campground for recreational vehicles and tent campers, and a boat ramp.

"They have trails, the beach, the Intracoastal Waterway," said Wall, an Albany, New York, native. "You can swim and relax and enjoy the wildlife. I bring a good book and sit on the beach, or I collect sea shells."

Ford said she has enjoyed fishing and walking the beach at the inlet the past 10 years. Recent back ailments have prevented her from continuing those activities.

But her back doesn't prevent her from volunteering at the gift shop or crocheting plarn.

"This is my outlet," she said. "It keeps my mind active."

And the staff throughout the inlet are on board with the grandmothers' plan to keep the inlet safe, said Jennifer Roberts, inlet park manager.

Inlet staff bring any plastic bags they find to the "Recycling Grannies" for them to use for their work.

The public can also take plastic bags and drop them off at the front gates of the inlet.

"When we educate the public, they see what we're doing with the plastic bags and the fishing line, you see the light bulb go on in their head," Wall said. "You can tell that we've impacted someone. Maybe they will throw things away now in the appropriate place instead of poisoning our environment."

___

Information from: The Stuart (Fla.) News, http://www.tcpalm.com

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