For Nashville art professor Teresa Van Hatten-Granath, using cloth instead of plastic bags is more than an eco-deed—it’s an artistic expression. Americans use about 100 billion plastic bags annually, but fewer than 1 percent are recycled. To show her distaste for disposables, Van Hatten-Granath launched Green Bag Lady, an interactive art project that provides handmade totes to people who request them online.

Crafted from donated fabric and repurposed materials like old shower curtains, the sacks are free —with a catch: Recipients must promise to use the bags instead of plastic ones and send in a photo of themselves with their totes. Van Hatten-Granath posts the photos on the project’s website. 

“Artists make limited editions of pieces, number them, and sell them,” says Van Hatten-Granath. “In this case, I am making editions, numbering them, and giving them away. [Photos] also get the audience completely involved with the art piece.” 

Van Hatten-Granath stopped taking orders in mid-June to clear a 1,500-bag backlog, but wannabe baggers can download a pattern from her site to stitch their own sacks. She also holds events around Nashville, sewing for passersby and encouraging folks to kick the plastic-bag habit.

“I’m hoping people will start making bags in their own communities and giving them away,” she says. “They can pretend it’s their own idea. I don’t care, just as long as people start using them.”

Story by Jennifer Acosta Scott. This article originally appeared in Plenty in November 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008