Schools across District Five are participating in Sonoco Recycling’s Operation Bed Roll by collecting plastic bags and repurposing them into bed rolls for the homeless. Students are joining in to help collect plastic bags, make plastic yarn (plarn) out of the bags, and crochet the bed rolls. Each bed roll takes between 500-700 bags to make and they raise the temperature of a sleeping surface by 20 degrees. This project helps the homeless while also keeping plastic bags out of nature and out of recycling facilities where they can damage machines. Dutch Fork Elementary School, Dutch Fork High School, Irmo Elementary School, and Irmo Middle School are all taking part in the project.

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“As a recycling educator, I’m really interested in educating people about not putting their plastic bags in bad places and we want to give them an option to do something really good with their plastic bags,” said Sonoco Recycling’s Jane Hiller. “We are joining with the community to work on this Operation Bed Roll project. We’re hoping to get people all over Richland and Lexington counties working on this and our goal is to make 100 bed rolls by June.”

Irmo Elementary School has begun collecting bags and Dutch Fork Elementary School Academy of Environmental Sciences held a plarn making session for teachers who want to start an after-school club for students. Kindergartners in Emily Perkins class at Dutch Fork Elementary have already begun collecting bags and creating plarn. The students fold and cut the plastic bags into strips and then loop them together to create a string of plarn. The plarn is rolled into balls and crocheted into the bed rolls.

“As part of social action, my students wanted to do something that could help others and also help the environment,” Perkins said. “Once we heard that homeless people could benefit from these bags, we wanted to help. We also knew that these plastic bags are often thrown into the landfill or sent to the recycling center which can jam the machines up to seven times a day. They want to help others that are less fortunate and give them something soft to sleep on instead of the cold cement. A person laying on the ground or cement will lose body heat quickly and having the bed roll will help reduce the amount of body heat lost. The students have enjoyed learning how to make the plarn and are excited to see the bags made into a bed roll for the homeless.”

Irmo Middle School International Academic Magnet worked on Operation Bed Roll as part of their learning expedition on homelessness. Students brought in over 1,000 bags and learned how to make plastic yarn. They wove the plastic into 30 plarn balls of varying sizes and donated these to a charity group in Guatemala who crocheted them into bed rolls.

“Students spent the night at the school one night to simulate parts of homelessness,” Science Department Chair Regan Moore said. “They experienced laying on cold concrete at night and discussed the need for mats like this. Through this experience, students were able to build empathy for others. In our homelessness simulation, students looked deeply into stereotypes and data about homelessness in our global community.”

Special education classes at Dutch Fork High School have collected bags, made plarn, and crocheted bed rolls. They have completed four bed rolls and are halfway through with the next three. They are visiting the Sonoco Recycling plant in March to further students’ understanding of recycling.

“After seeing the finished product, students’ enthusiasm grew and they all ask daily to work on this project,” Teacher Sharon Assey said. “When the students realized what they were making and how they are helping the homeless, they are quite proud to be a part of this endeavor.”