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Swimming Through a Sea of Plastic Bags: Sara Wiener at Sara Bella Upcycled creates useful, environmentally friendly products out of trash




If you walk beyond the showroom at Sara Bella Upcycled, which is currently located upstairs above O Mo Mo in the Old Mill District, you will likely see a sea of plastic bags. Sara Wiener, owner of Sara Bella Upcycled, swims through the bags, creating one-of-a-kind products including tote bags, wallets, aprons, wine carriers, belts, and more. The greatest part about swimming through the sea of bags every week is that you do so knowing that the bags won't end up polluting our oceans and killing the sea life.

Before opening Sara Bella Upcycled in 2010, Wiener operated Sara Bella Custom Outdoorwear, which sold Polar Tec polar fleece clothing. Wiener ran the business for 14 years, but closed because she felt burnt out. After closing the business she spent the next couple years doing development work in Africa. One night a family came over to her house for dinner and brought their food in a bag that sparked Wiener's interest. The family's middle-school-aged son looked up online how to make a messenger bag out of black garbage bags.

"I was so excited by the concept of using trash to make really durable, useful, practical products that I just went right into my studio and started playing with it and just spent hours and hours fusing plastic bags. I ended up coming up with some great ideas," says Wiener. "It's a great way to educate people about their trash. It's a great way to educate them about what's happening in the environment as a result of plastic bags."

The process of creating an upcycled product begins with sorting and flattening bags. Then Wiener and her helpers, which include her right-hand-woman Karlin Hedin, fuse together seven to eight layers of plastic bags to form a sturdy panel of plastic fabric. The fusing can be done with a regular clothing iron, but at her shop Wiener uses a heated press, which is much bigger than your average iron. Panels are then sewn together with other pieces to create interesting products. Wiener primarily does all of the design work, but Hedin also contributes her talents. Sara Bella Upcycled has also partnered with Dave's Killer Bread, using Dave's old bread bags in the creation of unique upcycled products.

According to Wiener, the key to the process of upcycling these bags is environmental impact and education. To date, Wiener estimates they have prevented 18,000 bags from ending up in landfills and in the "Great Pacific Garbage Patch," which is a heap of floating debris in the Pacific Ocean estimated to be twice the size of Texas. Not only do they recycle plastic bags, but also plastic banners from local businesses such as Bend Broadband, the Old Mill District and Lay It Out Events.

As a former elementary school teacher, education remains an important part of Wiener's life, only now she concentrates on recycling and the environment. She has taught the process in San Pancho, Mexico, in order to empower the women there to do something with their trash. Because of the minimal need for tools, and the trash that is already there, the women were able to create an income-generating project as a result. Locally, she has gone into the schools to teach the concept of upcycling.

"The kid generation, high school kids all the way down to elementary school, they get it. They're the generation that has grown up with recycling and so they really get the concept of why I am working with trash."

Not only has Wiener's work been a welcome and necessary addition to the Bend community, but she also has been involved in other aspects as well. For nearly six years Wiener served on the Human Dignity Coalition's Board of Directors. Twelve years ago she started the Procession of the Species in celebration of Earth Day, which The Environmental Center now runs. Additionally, Wiener works with CORIL (Central Oregon Recourses for Independent Living), bringing in people with disabilities to help work in the shop, helping to give them independence and productivity in the community. Wiener has done an outstanding job of educating the community and helping to make Bend a better place.

At the end of March Sara Bell Upcycled's sea of plastic bags will move to Northwest Crossing, which will put them on the ground level, increasing their visibility. There, Wiener and company will continue to save the world, one plastic bag at a time.

Sara Bella Upcycled

2748 NW Crossing Dr., Ste 120, 541-420-4961

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