San Francisco Department of the Environment

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In early March of 2019, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned the U.S. was running low on personal protective equipment (PPE), an amount insufficient to combat coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). As the CDC called for all N-95 respirators be reserved for frontline health workers, many flocked to disposable plastic surgical masks, which in turn, increases ocean pollution and litter in city streets. To help combat the COVID-19 and waste generation, SCRAPa creative reuse depotgathered its community of craftspeople to make more than a thousand reusable masks for San Francisco’s historically excluded communities out of fabric SCRAPthat would have otherwise been discarded in the landfill.  

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SCRAP stands as the nation’s oldest creative reuse center, established in San Francisco’s Bayview district in 1976, and is currently one of SF Environment’s Zero Waste Grantees. Zero Waste Grants are awarded every two years to non-profit organizations whose work in source reduction, reuse, recycling, composting, and outreach helps San Francisco reach its environmental goalsSCRAP does just that. As experts in creative reuse, they offer workshops on how to upcycle buttons, yarn, and other items to make new art creations and jewelryThey maka huge impact on the City’s zero waste goals, San Francisco-students and artists divert about 200 tons of arts and crafts materials headed to the landfill every year. 

Historically, SCRAP has been the go-to place for San Francisco Unified School Districts (SFUSD) teachers for free or low cost recycled material like textiles, paper, and other craft supplies for arts and crafts projects and lessons with their classroom. However, in early March of 2020, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, SCRAP closed its doors and paused their in-person workshops like Printmaking for Children, Mixed Media Techniques, and Teacher WorkshopsIn March, there was not a lot of information about the novel disease and no timeline set in place for re-opening, but there were three things that were certainPPE was in shortage nationwide,  increased use of disposable masks would create waste, and SCRAP had an abundance of recycled fabric at their reuse center. SF Environment and the Zero Waste Grantee quickly acted to serve its community. With a ten-thousand-dollar grant, SCRAP led the Face Mask Making Program to handmake reusable masks and distribute them to historically excluded communities in San Francisco’s Bayview and Tenderloin districts via partner nonprofit organizations 

Relying on their small network and word of mouth, SCRAP mobilized quickly. SCRAP community members, including donors, customers, artists, and friends, of all sewing skill levels, made hundreds of reusable masks to help combat the spread of COVID-19 and keep San Franciscans and the environment safe. Leah Fong, one of the mask makers who put her sewing skills towards a good cause said “During this pandemic, many of the most-at-risk residents may not have time to sew or buy masks. I wanted to help as much as I could with the extra fabric and materials I had at home because everyone deserves to have a mask to feel protected.” Any and everyone could volunteer to make a reusable mask; expertise in sewing is not required as SCRAP provides a variety of patterns for beginners to use. SCRAP also provided materials for volunteers from their reuse center, although many either had their own or had previously purchased SCRAP fabric from the depot center prior to closing–yes reuse!  


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Mask makers, like Laura Chinn-Smootunderstand what the impact the SCRAP mask making initiative has had on the environment and the community. Laura had been a SCRAP regular since the 1980’s. As a former SFUSD public school teacher, Laura relied on SCRAP for her classroom arts and craft projects. Laura recounted, “When I graduated from my 36-year SF public school teaching career, I knew exactly where to send my cool SCRAPs as I cleared out my classroom.” Upon retirement, she donated all her school supplies to SCRAP to give them a second life. Now Laura contributes to the San Francisco community by making comfortable and stylish masks witSCRAP. Laura makes each mask with care. She sews her masks for comfort and durability carefully selecting durable elastics, fun patterns , and always making sure to include instructions for care and handling.