Article 25

A Plarn to Save the World

In Uncategorized on 04/03/2013 at 3:10 pm

ImageThe “Plastic Bag Monster,” by Slovenian artist Miha Artnak, outside the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir.


A typo? No! Our civic duty

By Anne Skove



The word would make a fantastic “Mad Libs” noun. It would look nifty on a word-a-day calendar. It might not be acceptable for use in Scrabble or Words with Friends.

But what, pray tell, is “plarn?”

Here, we will pause to give you one guess.

OK, no.

Hint: It rhymes with one word from which it originates. A peek inside your brain sees a sort of organized alphabet soup thinking of rhymes: Barn? Darn? Tarn? YARN!

Yes, “plarn” is plastic yarn. You can simultaneously save the earth and make your own yarn. You could – nay, should – make plarn every single day.

Visions of spirals

How does one make plarn? Easy! You need plastic bags, a pair of scissors, and a few basic abilities such as folding and cutting. Fold a plastic bag almost in half lengthwise, leaving about an inch or two more on the lower half. Now cut horizontal strips from the fold to the edge of the top half. Do not cut all the way through. Cut strips about an inch apart. Once you have cut all the strips, gently unfold the plastic. There will be a “spine” of plastic consisting of the extra uncut inch, with “ribs” of plarn strips every inch.

Cut the spine diagonally at the top uncut portion, from one strip to the next down. Envision a spiral – sort of – and cut accordingly. This makes a longer strip without cutting any piece off. Continue for subsequent strips. When you are finished, you should have one long continuous strip of plastic. (If you don’t, you’ve done it wrong. Please keep trying.)

If none of this makes sense, or if you have succeeded in creating plastic confetti, please refer to YouTube. Typing “plarn” will take you to a simple plarn-making demo.

Now that you have plarn, what do you do? Make more plarn! While the process of making plarn is somewhat entertaining and mildly addictive, you probably need more than one segment to complete a project. To paraphrase the guy in Jaws, “We’re going to need a bigger ball of plarn.”

What project, though? Certainly, no one wants to wear plarn. It would feel like polyester from hell. Worse than hairshirts or hippie hemp! Googling “plarn” gleans totebags (although it seems like one could skip a few steps here and effortlessly NOT make a bag out of an existing bag), jewelry (which wedding anniversary is devoted to plarn?).

One lady in California makes bedrolls for the homeless (see: I’ve never seen one of these, but it appears to be similar to the sit-upon I made in Brownies. We didn’t have plarn back in the day, so we used newspapers and covered them with shower curtains. Perfect for sitting on the ground in Burnet Woods. Never tried it on the slide, though. If I had, I probably wouldn’t have lived to see the advent of plarn.

A search for “plarn” on Etsy brings up a basket, more bags (does no one see the irony here?), cell-phone holders, a bracelet, a non-cozy rug, wallet and plarn itself. That’s right – if you have trouble making your own plarn, someone on Etsy will do it for you.

Slaughterhouse jive

It seems strange that we try to make the classic collective cause – environmentalism – into an individual responsibility. Every home has its own green government-issue bin. We ask office workers and school children to use the proper disposals. We freak out over one person’s flaunting of the rules – tossing a newspaper (not this one – every issue of which is suitable for framing) into the bin marked “glass” or, heaven forefend, into the humdrum trash. We cut up the plastic rings that hold pop cans together so that bottle-nosed dolphins do not get their adorable faces caught. We smash cans so that small animals roaming the recycling centers don’t become trapped. We diligently compost our orange peels and coffee grounds.

Meanwhile, large companies poison entire rivers. Case in point: we used to live in a rural Virginia county that had no recycling. None. For awhile there were drop-off bins at the government center, but at some point they were taken away. At first it made me feel bad. Then I realized that all the cans in my house were not going to do as much damage as, say, Smithfield Foods, which was headquartered in the next county. In 1997 the company was fined $12.6 million, which was the largest Clean Water Act fine to date. It had dumped phosphorous, ammonia, cyanide, oil, grease and fecal coliform into the Pagan River. I couldn’t do all that if I tried (not that I would – I was too busy cutting up plastic rings).

On the other hand, a single plastic shopping bag (the type that could be reinvented as plarn) can cause costly damage to farm equipment. The fight to ban them has not yet reached Ohio. Here, if you’re lucky, someone will ask “Paper or plastic?” Most places are plastic-only. And forget the reusable bags – because that’s exactly what we do, forget them! Even the handy signage in parking lots of your more progressive grocery stores are not enough of a reminder. But forgetting a reusable shopping bag is not on the same scale as dumping pig parts into a waterway. Maybe rivers should have signage, too: “Did you forget your reusable slaughterhouse waste bag?”

Maybe the earth’s salvation doesn’t rest in a handmade plarn tote bag. But plarn is useful, easy to make, and a heck of a lot of fun to say.



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