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  • Writer's pictureGreen Iowa AmeriCorps

Members in Action: Upcycling and Sustainability

Kate Kemper

Over the course of my AmeriCorps term, I have become increasingly aware of the un-sustainability of my lifestyle. Sure, I bring reusable bags at the grocery store and only use bar shampoo and conditioner- but from accidentally leaving lights on to food waste, I could definitely be doing better to conserve energy and resources.

Unlike aluminum or glass, plastic can only be recycled a limited number of times before it becomes unusable. Plastic bags specifically can only be recycled through designated locations, like drop-offs at grocery stores, because they are so thin that they clog up recycling machinery. These bags are also so light that you will literally see them “drifting through the wind, wanting to start again.”

If you’re anything like me, you have a stockpile of plastic bags in a closet or the trunk of your car because you always forget to take them into the store with you. That’s OK! If you crochet, knit, or weave, you can make “plarn” out of that plastic bag collection! “What in the world is plarn?” you may ask. Don’t worry- I’ve got you covered!

As the Education Coordinator for the Des Moines Green Iowa team, I’m always looking for engaging activities and programs to do with our various community partners. One day I was scrolling through Pinterest (where all great ideas are housed) and I came across something called “plarn.” I discovered that plarn is yarn made from plastic bags, a plethora of which we already know I have lying around the house. I realized that I had found a great way to a) reuse something that would eventually end up in a landfill and b) fulfill my New Year’s resolution of crafting/upcycling more. I called my mom and had her search my childhood bedroom for the crochet hooks I knew I had somewhere, and once they arrived in the mail I got started with my plarn creations!

I started crocheting a basket out of plarn in January. Since it’s going to be rather large and I don’t have a whole lot of time to devote to it, I’m just now beginning to construct the walls of my basket. I’ve been able to use all kinds of plastic bags, from grocery to newspaper to garment. This has given me the ability to bring many different colors into my basket, which I love. Below are some recent pictures of my basket (with a pencil for scale):

So far, I estimate that I’ve kept around 35-40 plastic bags out of the landfill by crocheting, and I’m sure that my basket will contain well over 100 by the time it’s finished. If you maybe don’t need another basket in your life, you can make many different things with plarn, including rugs, bags, and even slip-on sandals!

Repurposing and upcycling are great ways to keep items from going in the landfill and construct unique pieces for your home or office. Creative reuse is sustainable, cost-effective, and fun! I love being able to be innovative and conserve resources both during my day as a Green Iowa member and on my own time. I enjoy coming home after a day of energy audits to Netflix, my couch, and my basket crocheting! If you’re looking for ideas for upcycling projects or have questions about plarn crocheting in general, there are two very reputable resources for you: or me, at

Happy conservation crafting!


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