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College student turns plastic bags into mattresses in effort to reduce waste, help homeless

Posted at 5:34 PM, Jul 09, 2019

Each year, an estimated 1 trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide, with billions ending up as litter.

In an effort to change those statistics, a college student is turning one of the world’s biggest wastes into a way to save lives for those living on the streets.

“Me and my mom have lived through this," says Nataani Silversmith, who is homeless. "Sometimes our signs say 'blankets,' not even 'spare change.'”

While blankets can help protect people from Mother Nature’s fury, there’s nothing as strong as a mother’s love for her child.

“My life, I would give my life for my son,” says Nataani's mother, Lily Silversmith.

When Lily saw her son cold and shivering on the streets of Salt Lake City, they had to find some way to keep dry and stay warm.

“There were times when the cardboard would get soaking wet, but these would still be great, just fine, sturdy as can be,” Nataani says, pointing to a mattress made from recycled plastic bags. “And they would dry off in about an hour, rainstorm, no matter what.”

Nataani is referring to Bags to Beds, a product from a pending non-profit that turns plastic grocery bags into sleeping mats.

“They didn’t give us a dime and we didn’t ask for one. They gave it to us,” Nataani says about his experience with Bags to Beds. “Thank you, Bags to Beds. Thank you, thank you, thank you. Thank for saving me and my mom’s lives.”

Bags to Beds started at the University of Utah campus, where a now medical student had the idea of turning plastic bags into beds.

“I found out about how many people freeze to death in Salt Lake specifically every year; it’s over 100 people who freeze each year sleeping outside," says Kaitlin McLean, creator of Bags to Beds. "And I couldn’t wrap my head around that."

McLean started this project as a way to reduce waste, while also finding a way to help the homeless.

Already finishing and handing out more than 100 Bags to Beds, McLean’s hopes to have another 100 ready by this winter.

“Our goal is to make it so these resources are so widely available," she says. "That if a person needs a bed they can get a bed and to also reduce waste to the point where we don’t have plastic bags in waterways and killing animals."