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Associate Spotlight: Janet Saunders Tackles an Environmental Menace

POSTED UNDER By Our Associates

Recycling isn’t an option in the community where Janet Saunders lives, but she doesn’t let that stop her. Saunders is a human resources administrator at Macy’s Logistics and Operations Martinsburg Fulfillment Center and has combined her love of knitting and her passion for reusing whatever she can into a creative upcycling endeavor that’s beautiful and useful, as well.

One of the more challenging items to recycle is the ubiquitous plastic shopping bag – they’re everywhere, and most of the time, consumers must take them back to a store to recycle. In many communities, even that’s not an option. That’s a real problem from an environmental standpoint, as more than a trillion single-use plastic bags are used each year – nearly 2 million per minute, according to the Earth Policy Institute.

And while we call them “disposable,” they’re really not. Plastic bags take up to 1,000 years to break down in landfills. They’re also among the most frequently found items in coastal cleanups, according to the Center for Marine Conservation, and they pose tremendous threats to marine life (for example, fish and sea turtles frequently mistake floating plastic bags for jellyfish and ingesting them has dire consequences – usually death).

Saunders takes this environmental menace and turns it into something useful, practical, beautiful and sustainable: she crochets them into reusable tote bags and other items. “They’re very durable,” she said. “I’ve used them to carry books, and I see people walking around with them – they really stuff them!”

She got the idea about seven years ago, when a member of her knitting group brought one to a meeting. Intrigued, Saunders got a copy of the directions, collected her first batch of plastic bags and started working. And people started to notice. Friends began asking for them, and before long, she was taking them to craft shows and regularly selling through her entire inventory. “They’re great for the beach,” she laughs. “Sand falls right through, and because they’re plastic, they’re also waterproof. They’ll last forever … unless you melt them!”

It takes between 70 and 90 bags and about 10 hours to make a single tote bag, including the time she spends cutting the salvaged materials into strips. The materials she uses in her creations are endless – everything from newspaper sleeves to produce bags to old video tapes, which she takes apart to salvage the magnetic tape inside. “We recently had a safety appreciation meeting at work and covered the tables with plastic tablecloths. They gave them to me afterward, and I’ve already used them.”

The color combinations, themes and patterns are endless as well. Saunders has created bags in the West Virginia University colors, breast cancer awareness-themed bags with a pink ribbon, and themed bags for baby showers, birthdays, holidays and other special events. She’s made items as large as a rug and as small as a credit card wallet, and each one is unique.

The surrounding community has gotten into the act as well, saving plastic bags for her. “I’ll get a call from one of my friends saying ‘I’ve got a trunk full of bags for you!’ and I tell them ‘I’ll be right there!’ The more we can keep out of the landfill, the better.” Even in areas where community recycling isn’t available, as where Saunders lives, there are options. “I reuse as much as I can, both at home and at work. Everybody has to start somewhere, even if it’s just little stuff.”


You might also like:

The Executive Go Green Challenge: Barbara Harmon

Associate Spotlight: Chelsey McGuire’s Take on Upcycling

Recology and the Art of Upcycling


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