When Deborah Kelley-Galin shows her turquoise-colored bracelets to people, she says they can’t believe that the faux-stone was created using plastic bags.
The Mancos woman has patented a process to recycle Ziploc-type freezer and sandwich bags. The process is similar to the geologic forces that create layers of rock, Kelley-Galin said, and transforms large amounts of bags into material that imitates stone.
“I didn’t have a problem, I just had an abundance of bags,” she said. “It was second nature to me to come up with something that was resourceful.”
Kelley-Galin noticed the issue while working as a museum curation assistant and archaeological illustrator at the Anasazi Heritage Center in Dolores. Discarded bags from tourists were building up on public lands.
The process is tricky because bags of this type are designed to be nonreactive with other materials, she said. It took years to secure a patent, but Kelley-Galin said she has recycled nearly 1,800 pounds of bags.
The material behaves like elements of nature, she said.
“The same forces of nature guide my process as what guides geology in nature,” Kelley-Galin said. “There are all sorts of things in nature we can observe and harness.”
Since 2013, Kelley-Galin has been selling her bracelets exclusively at the gift shop of the Anasazi Heritage Center. She has collected mostly bags that have accumulated on national monuments, parks and other public lands. Her process connects the culture with the land and pays tribute to the resourceful attitudes of the Ancestral Puebloans who occupied these areas centuries ago.
“My main vision is that it revives early relationships between people and the land,” Kelley-Galin said. “People don’t see the connections. This is a way to see the material that’s collecting (on public lands) as a resource.”
The material has artistic and industrial potential, she said. Since the imitation stone resembles turquoise, artists may be able to use the material for their projects, Kelley-Galin said. As precious stone quarries become more and more scarce, the process could provide another artistic resource, she said. Any color of stone could be replicated with the process, though turquoise is of special interest because fewer mines are producing it, Kelley-Galin said.
It has other aesthetic potential, such as use in architectural façades, Kelley-Galin said. The process could be used to make a denser material, but Kelley-Galin is unsure whether it could be used as a building material, she said.
Kelley-Galin’s invention could potentially solve the problem of accumulating bags on public lands, she said. She hopes the process is used to create things in a meaningful context, she said.
“If every institution, park or national monument accumulated these bags, we could really affect the community,” Kelley-Galin said.