The Plastic Bag Mandala Project is an ongoing interactive community engagement project that started in New York City in 2011 to address the issue of single use plastic bags. The project consists of a traveling participatory art installation piece, educational information, and workshops for primary school children with the aim of raising awareness and starting a conversation around the problem with single use plastic bags. A personal pledge was also encouraged as a powerful component of the mandala project allowing individuals to contemplate transforming their behaviors and habits.
My journey within design for sustainability started in Fall 2011 with a class called ‘Plastic Bags and NYC’ as part of Pratt Institute’s Graduate Communication Design program and taught by Gala Narezo. The goal was to examine the lack of legislation on plastic bag waste in New York State and to come up with a proposal to address the issue. From that class, along with Gala Narezo (then class professor) and Chantal Fischzang (then class TA), we founded the ‘Plastic Bag Mandala' Project as an alarm against single-use plastic bags.
On its first appearance at the Union Square Farmers Market (Spring 2012), market goers were invited to bring their used plastic bags in exchange for a new reusable bag and make a pledge to reduce single use and ‘ditch the bag’. We offered the general public information about plastic bag waste and the opportunity to sign a pledge to promise to reduce their plastic bag consumption. At the time the project was called #responsibleconsumption.
Educational information was made available about plastics and recycling so that they could better understand the issues. They were then invited to weave their old plastic bags into the 8x8 foot burlap canvas that had a mandala outlined on it while pledging to use the reusable bags instead of single-use plastic bags. A mandala was chosen as a symbolic reminder that we are all connected, and have a stake in each others’ well-being. The act of weaving their used plastic bag into the mandala required two people to complete and became an engaging physical expression of a binding promise.
The project began with one partner - The InterDependence Project (The IDProject) under the name "Responsible Consumption", and grew to include Bags For The People, GrowNYC, The Union Square Greenmarket and PS41. It now also includes the partners What moves you?; Green School Alliance; The Surfrider Foundation; Open Seas Coalition; BagITNYC; and Jennie Romer, the founder of Plastic Bag Laws.
As The Plastic Bag Mandala Project gained exposure, more plastic bags were tied into the canvas and more workshops were offered in New York and New Jersey schools. The Plastic Bag Mandala Project art piece has been displayed at Grow NYC at the Union Square Farmer's Market, FIGMENT- a participatory arts event for everyone, The New Green City Festival, the New Museum's 2013 Ideas City, The Children’s Museum of the Arts, Rudolf Steiner School and Pratt Institute’s Sustainability Crash Course.