In 2008, Lou Leelyn was in a San Diego undergraduate community college finishing her pre-reqs for nursing school, crafting on the side, and believing her life was going to continue down the Nurse Practitioner route. Always a crafty gal, always having projects in process, the artist-crafter was begging to come out. At the time, knitting was one of her current passions as it was easy to do on the city bus on the way to school. Living by the beach made it difficult to knit sweaters so she switched gears and learned how to crochet in the hopes of making beach bags. While sifting through crochet patterns and tutorials online, she came across a video on turning plastic bags into yarn, called “plarn”. The plastic upcycler awoke! .
Lou was “hooked.” Her family was getting a little concerned as the acquired bags reached the thousands but was lovingly supportive. Little did they know, they would need a larger house (and a barn!) to store the tens of thousands of bags about to head their way.
Back then, it wasn’t so chic to be green, in fact “Go Green” hadn’t even been coined yet. Lou was the weirdo in the grocery store with her own reusable bags (many of which were crocheted plarn). She would rarely see others carrying their own bags. Surrounded by strip malls and take out food, she started to realize that post-consumer plastic was really deeply a problem. Everywhere she looked, plastic bags and convenience packages were being used and tossed faster than it was possible to keep up with. Her attention to the abundance of plastic in the world was piqued. Everywhere she went, she noticed things that could be changed, from the styrofoam coffee cups, the white bags at the store, the million fast food restaurants available, the plastic that was washing up on the beaches and caught in the trees. She had only just begun the journey and it was starting with her own habits and her own household waste.
No matter what her house did to minimize waste, there were always some amount of plastic bags that would pile up. Lou was ready to see what else she could make with the plethra of plastic and other trash lying around. After the fiddling went on for a little while, (insert epiphany music here), Lou stumbled across this video. Little did she know that ten years and over approximately 75,000 collected bags and wrappers later, it was time to put nursing school on hold and pursue a mission that would not only envelope her community, but the whole country.
After moving with her amazingly supportive family to Massachusetts, she has found a home among communities that believe in shopping locally, eating farmers’ market food, consuming less, and living sustainably. Lou drives her mission by including workshops, teaching in schools, attending green and recycling conferences, and speaking engagements all over New England. You’ll no longer find her traveling up and down the east coast to craft fairs and festivals but she is still spreading the word about reducing plastic bag consumption, recycling the plastic you can, and upcycling the rest. Join the mission and get involved!