A blight becomes a conversation piece

| 03 Mar 2014 | 04:30

“This bag is going to last forever,” said Amelia Bunzey, of the six-year-old handbag she brings to the office where she works part-time. “It may not look good forever,” she added, but it will, in some form or another, outlive us all by an order of magnitude.

Although it looks like it’s wicker, on closer examination you can see that Bunzey’s cavernous handbag is in fact made of that ubiquitous scourge of throwaway society: thin film plastic bags. She collects clean, used bags, cuts them into strips, strings them together to make balls of yarn, and uses this material – called “plarn” – to crochet funky handbags and, recently, straps to hold yoga mats. She sells her creations on Etsy, a website for handmade goods.

“It’s neat to make a bag out of 100 bags, knowing that all those bags won’t be on the side of the road somewhere,” said Bunzey, 42.

Bunzey made her first bag to cheer up her daughter Madelyn, then 7, on a day she was home sick from school. Madelyn was looking out the window in the car on the way home from the grocery store, “and there were all these bags in trees around,” Bunzey recalled. “She got a little verklempt.”

Bunzey promised Madelyn they’d look up recycling projects when they got home. They went online, discovered plarn and got to gathering up the garbage bags and bread bags that were lying around the house. Bunzey already knew how to crochet, so she winged it. The result is the bag she’s still lugging around.

She started hitting up friends, her mom, neighbors at the bus stop, for plastic bags. Any bags that had held wet or smelly stuff, she put aside and used for cat litter.

“When I get a certain color – browns, blues, greens… very rarely you find green ones.” ShopRite’s yellow is “fun to stitch in there. It’s not earthy, but it’s fun.”

On family car trips upstate, Bunzey would have her two kids cut strips in the backseat while she crocheted in the passenger seat. (“Of course when they’re younger you can get them to do whatever. This is pre-iPad,” she said.) It turned into a little business.

When she got into yoga, the light bulb went off. She started making yoga mat straps, which took a few hours as opposed to a few weeks to make, and which she sells for $20. The yoga scene provided a simpatico clientele that appreciated the concept of up-cycling.

Friends tell Bunzey she should expand, hire someone to make more bags. “But then it’ll all be the same, and then a machine will be doing it. When I go to T.J. Maxx and they have recycled baskets out of newspaper, I’m like, are those really recycled newspaper? They all look the same.”