One group is using the bags to help the homeless.
It started as an idea to give a few ladies a social outlet. It has turned into a social enterprise that is helping the less fortunate and protecting the planet.
The "fifties-plus" seniors group at the Immanuel Lutheran Church in Palatine meet each week to chat and catch up. During the summer, they usually take time off. But this year was different.
"Some of the ladies were saying well it would be nice if we could meet over the summer just for conversation and lunch and then I heard about this project so we learned how to make the mats," said Ruth Schmoldt, Immanuel Lutheran Church.
It took some trial and error.
"My first one was a little uneven on the sides," said Leona Krause.
But eventually they got the hang of it.
"Oh, I put stripes in all of mine," said Lois Zima.
The women are crocheting sleeping mats that are distributed at soup kitchens. The mats are six feet long and thirty inches wide. They provide cushion and protection for someone who may be sleeping on cold, wet pavement or on the floor of a homeless shelter.
"If we can supply some place for somebody to sleep that's a good thing," said Charlyn Hetzel.
Each mat uses between 500 and 700 plastic shopping bags keeping thousands of bags out of landfills.
"They hate putting plastic bags into a recycle bin and hope that they get recycled," said Schmoldt.
The women work without complaint while their husbands offer moral support even though each mat requires at least 35 hours of intricate labor. They consider it a labor of love.
"I don't think we thought of it as work. We just thought of it as a good thing to do. As Christians, we're helping somebody else," said Charlyn Hetzel.
The ladies say when people hear about their project, they get overloaded with donations of plastic bags. They would much prefer that people keep those bags and start a similar project in their own church, synagogue or other organization.
To see a how-to video to help you get started, click here.