The Green Sleep Project

Giving plastic bags a new life by turning them into sleeping mats for the homeless and educating youth on pollution and climate change.

Photo of Isha Patel
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Date You Started Your Project Started

01/17/19 (First steps taken after idea)

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?

Pollution, specifically plastic pollution, is a growing problem worldwide. In the past 50 years, plastic production has grown by 20%. However, there has not been any response to this growing problem, since only 9% of all plastic gets recycled. Recycling does not have much global buy-in due to its inconvenience and costly process. Plastic that is not recycled can take hundreds of years to decompose, leaching toxins and killing marine animals.

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

The Green Sleep Project aims to reduce plastic pollution, especially within aquatic environments, and reduce the number of marine life negatively-affected due to plastic bag pollution, by partnering up with local schools and businesses to take in used plastic bags and turn them into sleeping mats for the homeless community, who often lack a comfortable place to sleep. I started this organization/initiative to combat the continuous use of plastic bags and presence in marine habitats. The sleeping mats are waterproof, durable, and reusable, which prevents them from making their way back into marine habitats and harming aquatic life. This helps prevent the over 100,000 known cases of marine animal deaths that occur due to plastic bags, as they are toxic and a choking hazard. Plastic bags are cleaned, cut, and are woven/crocheted/ knitted together into a sleeping mat on which the homeless can sleep. The second part fo our climate change prevention is education. This is done by partnering with schools to teach the next generation of environmental/climate change activists eco-friendly habits through science and the arts. We allow them to explore their local community for pollution.

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

I have been raised to care about our Earth; our family is very environmentally conscious and has instilled in me the value of respect for the Earth and environment. This value, combined with my experience volunteering at the homeless shelter led to the creation of The Green Sleep Project. When I was volunteering at a local shelter, I was told that one of the main challenges they faced was overcrowding during winter and not having enough space to house all the people. My passion to tackle the problem of plastic pollution, long with this experience, lead to the creation of the first mat as a middle school project. The initial aim was to reduce plastic pollution by reusing plastic bags and crocheting them into sleeping mats for the homeless. Now, we have developed multiple ways to make these mats using fiber art techniques and we have launched an educational program to educate children.

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

Plastic pollution is a problem that is personal for me, as I live near Long Island Sound, where plastic pollution is a growing problem. My passion for environmental activism combined with this first-hand experience has lead to the creation of The Green Sleep Project. We are an organization run by youth, for youth (giving youth a chance to advocate & explore). We believe that if the youth does not make a change, change will not happen. If we do not make tchange, we have to live with consequences.

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

The Green Sleep Project has multiple areas of community involvement. However, our most popular one is mat-making. After presenting about The Green Sleep Project at an Earth Day Expo, I was contacted by a local institution because of their desire to get involved during their allocated youth community service time. Usually, I would help our prospective chapter partner with local grocery stores and schools to take in their used plastic bags. However, I helped this chapter hold a drive at their local church. I came in to demonstrate the process multiple times. The bags were cleaned, cut into loops, and were woven together into a sleeping mat, which was later donated to a homeless shelter of their choice. I help chapters pick shelters which they are closest to; LGBTQ shelters, local hospitality house, etc.. We personalize the environmental impact/learning experience to make it close to home.

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

A majority of the work done in the field of plastic pollution consists of ocean/river cleanups. While this method does prove to be beneficial in reducing plastic pollution, it is not the most efficient because it does not address the situation at its main cause, but attempts to solve it after the damage has been done. The Green Sleep Project has a two-step process through which plastic pollution can be controlled; creation of sleeping mats and the education of children on pollution, run by/for youth. The reusable plastic mats/bag drives help tackle plastic pollution before bags pollute water.

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

Since the establishment of The Green Sleep Project almost 1 yr ago, we have reused over 8,000 plastic bags and have prevented them from becoming marine debris. The plastic bags have been reused by the making of plastic mats. We now have five chapters across the nation. In addition to this, we have gotten a request to start two chapters; one in California and one in New York. We have also partnered with three local homeless shelters to direct the donation of our mats. For the collecting of the used bags, we have partnered with convenience stores, schools, and other institutions (ex.religious) to make the mats and prevent the infiltration of plastic in marine environments. In addition to quantifiable successes, The Green Sleep Project has developed a new method of making/weaving the sleeping mats (3x faster), in which large groups can also efficiently handle and weave the plastic bags.

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

In the near future, I see The Green Sleep Project having multiple chapters, located across the United States, allowing work to be done on a larger scale and faster manner. I also hope to partner with more schools as part of our Science Exploration and Arts Initiative, where we teach students in our local public schools about pollution/climate change and allow them to dive deeper through (microplastic) exploration and artistic advocacy. In the coming week, we will be publishing the first article in our blog and in the coming year hope to mobilize other youth to write for the blog. By the end of 2019, we will be opening a chapter in India and will be publicizing our 1.5C Pledge, working with schools to be under 1.5 C through composting, etc .

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

  • Legal Services

10. Finances: If applicable, have you mobilized any of the following resources so far?

  • Friend support
  • Family support
  • Mentors/advisors
  • Donations less than $100

How did you hear about this challenge?

  • Recommended by others
  • T-Mobile page or contact
  • Participated in previous Ashoka challenges
  • Email

Evaluation results

8 evaluations so far

1. Overall evaluation

5 - This idea rocked my world. It’s awesome! - 75%

4 - This idea seems really exciting. With a little more polishing, it’d be among my favorites. - 25%

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

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%! - 75%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 12.5%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 12.5%

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

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

3. Creativity

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 62.5%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 37.5%

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

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 - 16.7%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 16.7%

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

1 - This entry is weak here - 0%

No Answer - 0%

5. Connection

5 - Absolutely, 100%! - 62.5%

4 - I feel really good about this - very promising - 25%

3 - This has some good elements and some areas for development - 12.5%

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 Nikil Ragav

I've never heard of the plastic bag into mat thing - I just did some googling and found that it's a pretty new and small practice - awesome for coming up with it / finding it!

How comfortable / breathable are these mats?

I saw in one blog that a completed mat might require around 600 bags?

Is there a way you could make a machine kind of like a loom to make these mats (or at least to turn the bags into yarn?

I would totally donate my bags to make mats for shelters. I have a mountain sitting in my kitchen cabinets, and only grows every time I go to the grocery store.

I'd love to see more photos of the mats - it wasn't super clear what exactly you had made until I reread a couple of sections.

Photo of Isha Patel

Thank you for your comments Nikil! The mats are super comfortable! We actually had multiple strangers of all ages test out the mat to get their unbiased opinion and they loved it ( a video coming out on our channel soon!) I actually have a whole different way of making these mats, since the ones you have found online can only be made by one person, so there is more of a community involvement in the project rather than a one-person change. I really wanted it to be a community event where people could gather and help to make a mat. Although it did take some time to come up with a completely new method, the mats can be made more efficiently through our group weaving process (takes less time!). Due to our original method for making these mats, it actually takes around 800 bags, almost a thousand even for larger mats (which also means that our mats are more comfortable). Even though I would love to make a machine to make the mats or the plastic yarn (I definitely want to work on creating one), I (and the chapters that are part of this organization) love the community aspect of gathering and creating these mats. I would also love to put additional mat photos when I get the chance (thank you for the idea). We would love to take donations! Since most of our chapters are constantly active, we are always looking for more plastic bags! Thank you once again!

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