Local Organization Recycles Plastic Bags to Benefit Homeless Vets

Plastic grocery bags have taken some hits in recent years.  First it was paper bags, which are more easily recycled.  Then it became reusable bags, which you can fill with your groceries again and again.  A new program in Marana, though, is helping plastic bags find redemption by repurposing them for homeless veterans. 

On Tuesday, December 15, David Morales, a veteran of the Vietnam War, presented this new idea to the Marana Town Council.  Holding up a colorful mat, he surprised his listeners by revealing what it was made from: plastic grocery bags.  Morales also had a pillow and blanket in tow, and was happy to pass them around.

“Pima County has 1,500 homeless veterans, and they benefit from every bit of help we can provide them,” says Mr. Morales. “When I returned from Vietnam, it was hard for me to find the support I needed, and I just want to make sure we’re doing everything we can to help these young men and women coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as the older vets like me.  They’ve served us, and now it’s time for us to serve them.  In combat, we never leave anyone behind, and we definitely never want to leave anyone behind at home.”

Each mat, pillow, and blanket is actually hundreds of plastic bags tightly woven together.  A three foot by six foot mat requires 600 plastic bags.  Since the program started, Mr. Morales’s organization, Disabled American Veterans, has collected thousands of bags for the program. 

The program first began when Jim Snodgrass saw a story on the news.  As Selective Placement Program Manager for the Federal Correctional Complex on Wilmot, Mr. Snodgrass appreciates opportunities to turn inmates’ time to a productive purpose.  Ten months ago, a group of pre-trial female inmates started processing these bags, converting trash that would otherwise sit in a landfill for an estimated 1,000 years into useful products that will benefit the homeless.  Since then, the idea has rapidly grown into a program that allows shoppers to recycle plastic bags, inmates to give back to their community, and homeless vets to keep warm.  While it doesn’t solve the issue of chronic homelessness, it’s a small step in the right direction.  “This offers us a small way to give back and say thank you to those who have served, and at the same time we’re providing a positive way for inmates to contribute to the community.” 

Once a mat is completed, Snodgrass hands it off to Tucson Veterans Serving Veterans, an organization which provides a direct veteran-to-veteran link that strengths this network as a whole.  TVSV has a strong connection with the homeless veteran community across Pima County, and is strategically positioned to provide the outreach necessary to ensure these mats are distributed as broadly as possible.

Anyone interested in recycling their plastic bags can drop them off at the Marana Municipal Complex, 11555 W. Civic Center Dr. or at the Disabled American Veterans office at 4145 W. Ina Road.  If you would like to host a collection box at your business, please contact the DAV office at (520) 791-9067.  They will arrange a regular day and time when they will pick up your recycled bags.