Environmental activist Michael Montondon wants to save the environment by helping people get a good night’s sleep! Michael is the founder and CEO of Bags Into Beds, an organization that upcycles plastic waste into comfy mattresses and pillows. Bags Into Beds then donates its pillows to organizations that work with people without housing, ensuring that their products help those in need.
Michael was first inspired to start Bags Into Beds while traveling in Mexico. While there, Michael was “exposed to an amazing group of people who were doing something similar,” he tells In The Know. “I saw them taking these plastics and putting them into canvas sacks, sewing them up, and giving them to children who would otherwise be sleeping on the ground.”
When Michael returned to the United States, he bought his first sewing machine and began making his first upcycled mattresses, drawing on his knowledge of camping equipment and bedding. “Through my experience with outdoor camping equipment, I had a better understanding of like, ‘Okay, how can we portion out this material so that it stays supportive under somebody?’” he explains. “Before I was making pillows, I was making these mattress pads for women at the Downtown Women’s Center.”
Michael’s process involves shredding soft plastics and using them to fill pillows and mattresses. “We have a 5-step manufacturing process,” he tells In The Know. “The first is getting the plastics here. We focus on number 4 soft plastics, and use that plastic because it’s largely unrecycleable.”
Michael receives plastic donations from manufacturers and businesses in the area. He also works with an organization called Crafting For Change, which provides Bags Into Beds with unique, handmade pillowcases for its upcycled pillows. “They’re an incredible organization that links seamstresses from all over the country and they united to create pillowcases for us, and alleviated a massive constraint on our operations,” he explains.
For the last four years, Bags Into Beds has been producing mattresses and pillows using upcycled number 4 soft plastics. They have not only upcycled thousands of pounds of plastic, but have provided hundreds of pillows to people in need. “Just in the last 6 months, we have repurposed about 1,600 pounds of soft plastics, and made about 550 pillows that are in use at Hope of the Valley’s tiny home communities around Los Angeles,” Michael explains.
When it comes to saving the environment, traditional recycling techniques only go so far, according to Michael. He believes that more creative solutions are needed. “Recycling at large, it’s not working, and our infrastructure in the US doesn’t have the ability to process all of our waste,” he claims. “We have to really get creative and find ways of diverting plastics from natural areas and incorporating these used plastics in more products.”
Michael hopes that his work encourages others to come up with creative climate solutions—and take action! “For anybody with an idea that might impact the environment or climate for the better: Just start,” he says. “Start, and if it’s good, people will see it and hear about it and they will help.”
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