Piedmont woman starts program to transform plastic bags into beds for homeless

GREENSBORO, N.C. -- In most homes, the life of a plastic bag isn’t that exciting.

It usually ends up in one of two places – stored away in a pantry or in a room as a trash can liner.

Tori Carle wanted to show people plastic bags can have a more impactful purpose.

“We’re not completely destroying the plastic bag, you can still tell it’s a plastic bag, but we’re taking this and we’re making it into something really cool,” she said.

After searching Pinterest, Carle learned the bags could be turned into plarn or plastic yarn, and plarn can help crochet some important items – including a sleeping mat for someone experiencing homelessness.

She was inspired to bring this idea to Greensboro.

“I would teach residents how to make these, they would give them to me, then I would distribute them to the police officers,” she said.

In early summer 2016, she partnered with the Greensboro Police Department and shelters to launch Operation Bed Roll.

Carle, an education recycling specialist with the City of Greensboro, felt the partnership with Greensboro police was key to making sure people who needed the sleeping mats would get them.

Police officers often interact with people in the homeless community while on assignment.

By keeping the bed rolls in their patrol cars, officers could distribute them to people in need immediately – as opposed to people only going to shelters to get them.

In 2016, Carle led more than 80 workshops and helped more than 3,000 people either learn about Operation Bed Roll or learn how to create a sleeping mat.

“The flood of love of Greensboro wanting to do this program was astounding,” Carle said.

Carle was recently honored with The Triad Branch of The US Green Building Council’s “Fearless Leader Award” for an emerging professional under 30.

The Carolina Recycling Association also honored Operation Bed Roll with its 2017 award for an outstanding program.

Since Operation Bed Roll began, other communities in North Carolina and in other states have reached out to Carle for guidance on offering a similar program.

The Operation Bed Roll program in Columbia, South Carolina, is modeled after the Greensboro initiative.

For more information on workshops in the Piedmont and how to get involved, visit the City of Greensboro’s Operation Bed Roll website.