UP Bags (Upcycled Plastic Bags)

UP Bags (Upcycled Plastic Bags) aims to repurpose plastic bags already in circulation and make them into other usable day-to-day items.

Photo of Sierra RyanWallick
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Written by

Are you employed by T-Mobile or related to an employee of T-Mobile?

  • No

Eligibility: Date of Birth

July 30th, 1997

Help us stay in touch!

484-949-4338 1813 Flint Hill Rd. PA: Landenberg (19350)

Date You Started Your Project Started

September / 1 / 2019

Project Stage: Select the description below that best applies to your approach.

  • Start-Up (first few activities have happened)

1. The Problem: What problem are you helping to solve?

Plastic pollution is a massive problem with an estimated 500 billion to 1 trillion plastic bags consumed worldwide each year and only one out of every 200 plastic bags are recycled. Plastic bags end up clogging landfills and polluting our oceans and environment. Since there are so many plastic bags in circulation already (and simply reusing them only extends their life for three or four uses), a repurposing solution needs to be available.

2. Your Solution: How are you planning to solve this problem? Share your specific approach.

My solution is called UP Bags (Upcycled Plastic Bags), where we repurpose plastic bags already in circulation and make other useful items out of these bags. One approach is to create plarn (plastic yarn) by cutting up plastic bags into long strands of plastic that can be crocheted or knit into items such as sturdy bags, purses, outdoor pillow cases, rugs, place mats, animal leashes, yoga mats, sleeping mats for the homeless, woven baskets, etc. These items can then be sold (or our sleeping mats for the homeless can be donated) online and at community events to provide jobs for crafters and raise awareness about plastic pollution and how to repurpose plastic bags. Our supplies are free because we collect plastic bags from the community, so we are simultaneously helping to lower plastic bags in circulation and keep plastic bags from entering the pollution cycle in our environment. We also provide jobs to crafters and high-quality items to community members who feel good about using an item that decreases plastic pollution and is an alternative to less environmentally friendly options. In this way, we can raise awareness about plastic pollution, as well, through selling our items.

3. Personal Journey: What’s the story behind why you decided to start this project?

For as long as I can remember, I have wanted to help people, nature, and animals. When I was 8, I sent 200 bracelets with my youth group to an orphanage in Belize because I was too young to go on the trip, but I still wanted to help. When I was 10, I started a nonprofit that makes and sells items at community events and donates 100% of the sales to charity because I wanted to help animals and raise money for them. Since then, I have raised over $77,000 for charity through this nonprofit. I am always coming up with ideas and ways to make an impact, so when I learned more about plastic pollution, I decided I needed to do something. I immediately interviewed people about their view on plastic bags and researched ways of repurposing them. With my skills as a crafter for my first nonprofit, I knew I could make items out of plarn, and thus, UP Bags was born!

4. Selfie Elevator Pitch: Include 1-minute video that answers the following “I am stepping up to make change because...”

5. Example: Please walk us through a specific example of what happens when a person or group gets involved with your project.

An example of how someone could get involved with my group is for them to collect plastic bags so that our crafters can have a continuous supply or someone can become a crafter and make items for us to sell. They can also raise awareness about plastic pollution by helping to sell our items at events or hold a plastic bag drive in their community. There are so many ways for anyone to get involved (school groups, church groups, sustainability groups, Girl Scouts and Boy Scouts, grocery stores, etc.)! Through this group effort, we would decrease the number of plastic bags in circulation in our community, raise awareness about plastic pollution, and provide environmentally friendly items where people can support the community and the earth by buying our items.

6. The X Factor: What is different about your project compared to other programs or solutions already out there?

Our X factor is that I have experience in selling at community events with crafters making items and raising awareness about a cause. Using my knowledge of 10+ years of running a nonprofit, I can take those skills to create this similar organization. I also have yet to find an organization that accepts plastic bag donations from the community to lower plastic pollution, employs crafters, and raises awareness about plastic pollution in their organization's model. So, I believe this would be a new and novel approach that could be duplicated in other communities and with other groups.

7. Impact: How has your project made a difference so far?

So far, I have researched the topic and completed community interviews at a local growers market to gauge interest in my target market. The responses were positive towards our solution to a community and global problem. I have also prototyped designs of knitting and crocheting with plarn, the best way to make plarn, and also researched many different items that we could make with plarn. I have already started keeping track of how many plastic bags we use to make our items (50 bags have been repurposed in our prototypes so far), which is an easy and impactful stat to measure because it shows how many plastic bags we are directly taking out of our community and repurposing. According to my estimates, each item we make could repurpose between 10-100 bags, which goes a long way in taking bags our of community and environment!

8. What’s Next: What are your ideas for taking your project to the next level?

My next step would be to create prototypes in each item with which I could gauge my target market's responses, so that I know which items our crafters should begin making. I have over 200 crafters that I have worked with for my other nonprofit, so I can start working with them to prototype items as well. As soon as I have enough items in inventory, then we can start selling through social media to measure interest on designs, etc. By creating different prototypes, I can also start approaching community groups to help us collect plastic bags, find more crafters to make our items, and find more designs to expand our inventory. Once I have a solid inventory, I can start selling at community events and really get the ball rolling!

9. Which of the following types of expertise would be most useful for you?

  • Program Design

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 1 [optional] Which of the following categories do you identify with?

  • White (for example: German, Irish, English, Italian, Polish, French) (6)

Help Us Support Diversity! Part 2 [optional] Do you identify as part of any of the following underrepresented communities?

  • Disability community
  • LGBTQ community

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Participated in previous Ashoka challenges

Evaluation results

3 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 33.3%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - It didn’t make my heart beat faster. - 0%

2. Changemaker Quality

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 33.3%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 33.3%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 66.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

4. Commitment

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 100%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 100%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 0%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 100%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 33.3%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 0%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 66.7%

2 - This doesn’t inspire me so much - 0%

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer or No Connection - 0%


Join the conversation:

Photo of Shannon Stephens

Hello Sierra! Thanks so much for submitting for the Changemaker Challenge! I really loved hearing about your current non-profit, and how you plan using your existing network and skills to create UP bags. You've definitely already established yourself as a Changemaker and I'm confident you will achieve your goals! An idea you may want to consider for the future is potentially using the funds you've gained from selling the plarn items to research plastic replacement options or support policies which restrict the use of plastic goods. Thanks again for sharing your idea and I wish you the best of luck!

Photo of Sierra RyanWallick

Hi Shannon! Thank you so much for your feedback and kind words! I LOVE that idea! It would be the perfect way to give back even more and create even more impact! Thank you so much for the idea!

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