The Coolest Way to Recycle Plastic Bags: Plarn
Plastic grocery bags catch a bad rap because they take so long to break down (and may never break down completely). But that near-eternal lifespan can work in their favor — and yours — if you give those bags a second life instead of throwing them in the trash.
Plarn — or plastic yarn — is waterproof, flexible, yet incredibly durable, just like the plastic grocery bags it’s made from. Because of its construction, a tote bag knitted or crocheted out of plarn won’t be completely waterproof — but it’ll be easy to wash, darn-near stainproof, and it won’t absorb water.
The process for creating plarn out of plastic grocery bags is simple yet time-consuming, so even if you don’t knit or crochet yourself, you can probably trade a quantity of pre-made plarn for the labor it’d take to create a bag out of it.
There are two primary methods for creating plarn:
- Snip the handles off your plastic grocery bag and cut it into one long, inch-wide spiral, working from the top edge down. Tie the resulting long strip of plastic end-to-end with its fellows, and wind the resulting plarn into a ball. Upside: You don’t have to spend time knotting short loops of plarn together, and the resulting “yarn” doesn’t have as many knots in it. Downside: Because you’re dealing with just a single strand of plarn, the resulting product isn’t quite as sturdy.
- Lay the plastic bag on the floor and smooth it out, tucking the corners in so it lies completely flat. Cut off the handles and the very bottom of the bag, then cut the remainder into inch-wide strips. Make all your cuts parallel to the top and bottom of the bag, so you’re left with a pile of inch-wide loops. Girth-hitch the loops together to make an unbroken stretch of plarn. Upside: You end up with parallel strips of plarn, so the end product will be sturdier than with method #1. Downside: Knotting all those plarn loops together takes a while, and you’ll have to deal with the knots as you knit or crochet (don’t worry, they’re not much trouble.)
What Can I Do With Plarn?
Working with plarn isn’t much different from working with regular yarn, although it may take some practice to get the tension exactly right. (Pull too tight and you’ll break the strand of plastic yarn.) Now that you’ve got some plastic yarn to work with, here are some of the best (free!) plarn patterns you’ll find online:
- Crochet Pattern Central is a comprehensive clearing house for crochet patterns of all kinds — and now they have a plarn section.
- MyRecycledBags is a true plarn pioneer. The author also posts free patterns and tutorials for crafting from other recycled materials, like old sweaters, T-shirts, or the ribbon from inside a video tape.
- Ravelry is the social networking site for knitters and crocheters. You’ll have to create a free account to use Ravelry, but it’s well worth it to access their wealth of patterns and discussion.
As you can see reusable shopping bags are, by far, the most popular use for plarn. But don’t let that popularity stifle your creativity; you can adapt any knit or crochet pattern to use with plarn, or even create your own. What about making a set of storage baskets, placemats, or even a rug for your mudroom out of plarn?
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