NCJW Michigan Helps the Homeless, and the Environment, With Sleeping Mats Made of Plastic Bags

Carrie Kushner makes plastic thread. (Courtesy NCJW)

NCJW | MI Green Committee members wanted to find a practical way to reduce plastic waste from plastic bags and learned that it was possible to make comfortable sleeping mats out of plastic bags.

P.lastic Bags Make Plastic Mats is the name of a new initiative by the National Council of Jewish Women, Michigan (NCJW | MI) that aims to address the problem of plastic pollution while helping Detroit’s homeless sleep better.

NCJW | MI Green Committee members wanted to find a practical way to reduce plastic waste from plastic bags and learned that it was possible to make comfortable sleeping mats out of plastic bags.

“Plastic bags are not recyclable by the roadside, and plastic pollution is a huge problem,” said Cathy Cantor, co-chair of the Green Committee. “We think we don’t want anyone to use plastic bags, but if you have them – and most of us – we can do something good with them for the homeless people of Detroit.”

Marilyn Mossman, also co-chair of the Green Committee, reiterated that the goal is to reuse plastic bags rather than use new ones. “We have been offered new bags by companies, but we don’t want them. We don’t want people to take their purchases home in plastic bags, and after all, we want all single-use plastics – like bags, bottles, mugs and straws – to be replaced with compostable, biodegradable or washable products, ”she explained.

Volunteers will do their part tikkun olamto fix the planet. Information leaflets for the project provide astounding statistics: According to the EPA, around 500 to 1 trillion plastic bags are produced worldwide each year, which use billions of pounds of fossil fuels and billions of gallons of fresh water. The bags result in billions of pounds of solid waste as well as millions of tons of CO2 released into the atmosphere each year.

Additional problems are that plastic bags never completely disintegrate; Plastic bags increase the risk of severe flooding by clogging rain drains and other sources where water collects; and plastic bags also pollute the oceans and coasts, killing hundreds of thousands of bird and marine animals.

It makes sense for the Green Committee to find a way now to reuse the bags and do something good. “I wish we didn’t have a homeless problem, but we do, and at least making the mats with the pockets makes these people’s lives a little easier,” says Mossman.

To make the mats, NCJW | MI has asked for donations of used, clean plastic bags, which will be delivered flat to their office when possible. Then volunteers make the yarn – known as a plann – by cutting the bags into strips and rolling them into balls. Others who enjoy knitting or crocheting use the tarp to make the mats, which are then returned to the NCJW office. Further information on the project can be found at https://ncjwmi.org/plastic-mats.

10 mats have been made to date, all of which have been donated to Corner Shower and Laundry, a Corktown nonprofit that provides free shower and laundry facilities for the homeless or otherwise in need. Susan Goldsmith, who is both a board member of Corner Shower and Laundry and a member of NCJW | MI, said the mats were gratefully accepted.

“Our guests live on the street, and these mats give them a little pillow, some padding, and help protect them from the elements. It’s a bit of comfort that they wouldn’t otherwise, ”she said.

Corner Shower and Laundry board member Marilyn Mossman and Susan Goldsmith unload mats.
Corner Shower and Laundry board member Marilyn Mossman and Susan Goldsmith unload mats. Courtesy NCJW

NCJW’s Green Committee started in 2019 with a group of about 10 board members who were interested in environmental protection.

“We are a group of active, committed and environmentally conscious volunteers who want to educate the public about how we can fight global warming,” says Cantor. Since then, the Green Committee has grown to about 25 and includes many NCJW general members who all want to work on the issue.

The group has organized talks, including a program on climate change hosted by WDIV-TV meteorologist Paul Gross and another on plastic waste with National Public Radio journalist Laura Sullivan.

Cantor and Mossman represent NCJW Green on the Great Lakes Plastic Pollution Solution Coalition and are working with individuals from many organizations to make greater contributions to reducing plastic pollution. In the summer of 2021, NCJW | MI members were invited to take part in Plastic Free July, part of a global initiative to reduce plastic consumption.

“We sent out an email to encourage our members to take the pledge and avoid plastic as much as possible,” says Mossman. “We hope that any of the habits developed this month, such as not using straws or reusable grocery bags, will then become a year-round habit.”

Anyone who wants to get involved with Plastic Bags Makes Plastic Mats can send an email ncjwgreen@gmail.com. Plastic bags can be dropped off at the NCJW | MI office located at Suite 306, 26400 Lahser Road, Southfield MI 48033, or by calling 248-355-3300 ext. 0.

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