NEWS

Turning plastic bags into stylish totes

Nancy White

Plastic bags are everywhere — the grocery store, the shopping center, under the kitchen sink, at the Transfer facility and all too often stuck in trees, in the ocean and on the sides of the road. Imagine if someone could take those bags and turn them into something both useful and stylish. 

Cohasset doesn’t need to wait any longer, 24-year-old Ashley Ulmer is making sturdy and fashionable totes from those ubiquitous plastic bags.

A 2005 graduate from William College and a 2001 Cohasset High grad, Ulmer has devised a way to weave environmental and social consciousness into something new. 

“It’s quite snowy [in Western Massachusetts where Williams is located] so I developed a knitting and crocheting habit,” says Ulmer, who had learned to do both from her grandmother when she was a little girl. When she took up the hobby again (with the help of a refresher course in the form of internet instructions), she discovered a new passion for it. However, she quickly realized how expensive knitting yarn was and her college budget couldn’t handle the cost. 

Not one to give up so easily, Ulmer consulted her professor, Peggy Diggs, to see if she had any ideas for other methods or materials Ulmer could use to knit and crochet. It didn’t take long for them to decide on one of the most plentiful (and cheap) materials out there — plastic bags.

“It’s a free material, which made it exactly what I was looking for,” says Ulmer, but the environmental undertones of the project were not lost on her, “I thought ‘this is a brilliant way to recycle.’”

After college, Ulmer tried out the 9-to-5 working schedule but realized quickly it wasn’t for her. This summer, she returned to her hometown and decided to start her own business, Be a Bag Lady. She has been selling the bags on the internet at www.beabaglady.com and at the Farmer’s Market on the Common. 

Even more than the re-useable bags now available at supermarket, Ulmer’s bags actually use the product that’s polluting. Literally billions of bags are produced and handed out free in consumer venues across the world each year. Each of Ulmer’s creations utilizes 100-plus plastic bags. 

“It doesn’t make a huge difference but it is 100 or more bags not out in the environment,” she says

Finding just the right method to create the bags was a trial and error process, but over time Ulmer figured out the most seamless method for creating the plastic bag “yarn” and then the tote bag itself. The time-consuming and laborious process, which can total about six hours per bag, begins with the creation of a skein of yarn. Ulmer lays out the plastic bag flat and cuts off the handles and bottom. She then cuts the bags into width-wise in about one-inch tubes, the tubes should be complete circles. Next, Ulmer intertwines two tubes together to create a seamless piece of plastic.