Plastic bags — they’re not just for groceries or tossing out household waste anymore.

In a flash of brilliance that combines both humanitarian and environmental charity, a team of Alberta seniors are helping the homeless in their community by making sleeping mats out of plastic bags. The seniors, who all frequent the Innisfail Seniors Drop-in Society, where they learned how to make the mats, have already donated 12 of them.

“The socialization of people who might otherwise be lonely have now got a group,” the Society’s program coordinator, Eileen Reid, 58, told The Red Deer Advocate, “and it gives people purpose and people like to have purpose and they’re proud what they’re doing.”

Reid also explained the process of making sleeping mats out of plastic bags to the publication, which includes cutting the bags, “into rings, which are then looped together to make a plastic chain and then rolled into balls.” She calls it “plarn” — plastic yarn — and from there “they crochet them into these mats.”

She notes that not only do the mats offer homeless a cushion to sleep on, but they protect them from the wet ground and also keep bugs and other pests away. The mats are even equipped with handles so they’re easier for the homeless to carry. So far the project is proving so successful that those involved are reaching out to other senior’s communities to teach them how to make the bags.

“It’s actually bringing a tear in my eye to see that it’s making such a difference,” Val Audette, one of the seniors involved, noted.

“When I’m sitting there watching TV, I think I’m doing two good things — helping the homeless and reducing waste, ” Carol Dahmer, 77, added, noting she makes the mats at home. “It’s a real good feeling.”