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How To: Fuse Plastic Bags + Make a Sunglasses Case!

Reuse and recycle: Make fabric from old plastic bags

As Earth Day approaches (mark your calendars! April 22nd!), I've been thinking about ways to reduce and reuse the things I don't need in my life anymore. I'm pretty good about recycling what I can - cardboard, papers, and bottles go in the curbside recycling, and compost I take to the local natural foods store. Plastic bags go to grocery stores with those plastic bag bins up front, along with other random thinner plastics like cereal bags, plastic wrap, and bread bags. If you don't have access to a plastic bag recycling bin, you can reuse your plastic bags by fusing them together to create a waterproof, flexible fabric!       

How to fuse plastic bags (and how to make a sunglasses case!)

 This fused plastic fabric is great for making things that need to be durable or waterproof. Once you've made your plastic bag fabric, you can use it to make lunch sacks, wallets, or make a sunglasses case like I did.

Materials

  • Plastic bags (shopping bags, cereal bags, pet food bags - the thinner ones work better)
  • Wax paper, parchment paper, or freezer paper
  • Iron and ironing board
  • Scissors
  • Thread and needle (if sewing with your fabric)

What you'll need to make fused plastic fabric

Step

Flatten out your bags, and trim off any seams or handles. The goal is to create a flat piece of plastic. For this project, I used a combination of plastic bags and a used plastic drop cloth that I didn't need anymore. 

Step

How to fuse plastics

Sandwich the flattened plastic between two sheets of parchment paper, wax paper, or freezer paper. If using wax paper, lay the paper wax-side in. 

Pre-heat a dry iron to a temperature somewhere between medium and medium-high (you may have to do some experimenting to see what works best for you). Iron across the surface of the sandwiched papers and plastic, keeping the iron moving. Avoid letting the hot iron sit in one place for too long. After 15-20 seconds, flip over and repeat the ironing process on the other side. 

Step

CAUTION: Plastic will be hot for this step!

Peel back the waxed paper to see how the plastic fusing is going. The plastic should be one coherent sheet. If it is not, continue ironing. If the plastic is sticking to the paper, or if the plastic is forming holes, your iron is too hot.

If you want to bump up the thickness of the fused fabric, wrap the plastic "fabric" in another layer or two of plastic bags, and repeat the ironing process. You can continue to add as many layers as you like this way.

Step

Fusing plastic bags to make fabric

If you want more funk in your fabric, cut colorful pieces of plastic or text from plastic bags, and iron to the top of the finished plastic just as you did before - between the two pieces of waxed paper.

Step

Reuse and recycle: How to fuse plastic bags

To make this sunglass case, cut two rectangles from the plastic fabric, rounding the corners on one end. Stitch* around three sides, leaving one narrow end open. 

* Because this "fabric" is made of plastic, any holes put into the fabric will remain permanently. If you want to pin this fabric in place as you stitch, use washi tape or masking tape to hold pieces in place rather than putting pinholes in your project. 


Fuse old plastic bags to make this sunglasses case!

How to turn plastic bags into fabric!

You don't have to restrict yourself to plastic bags from the grocery store! You can fuse any type of thin plastic, from ziplocked bags to package wrappers. Don't forget to open a window before fusing, though!

 

Ditch plastic bags altogether by making a few of these reusable, upcycled farmers' market totes!

Upcycled shopping bags

 

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Nate on Feb 08, 2013:

No matter what I do, I just cannot seem to do this successfully! I have followed the instructions to the letter (setting to Rayon, keep the iron moving, iron each side evenly for around 15 seconds), but on the first go, the plastic is hot and flattened out, but still very much separated. So I repeat the steps. Still hot and flat, but not fused. I do this several more times, even bumping the heat up one notch...and by the time I actually get the plastic to fuse completely, it's badly shrunken, very wrinkled, and sometimes has holes. Even then, some areas may not even be fused, despite being ironed evenly! I don't know how you people do it.


Mistie on Jan 18, 2012:

Love this idea! I have tons of plastic bags I've been trying to decide something creative to do with.


Nick on Feb 05, 2011:

Don't throw away the cut offs, they can be platted or knitted into rope or string, from there made into bags and even handbags again :)


Kathy Malone on Jul 13, 2009:

Cool Bag Do it yourself Tutorial!


Julie B on May 12, 2009:

Hi just wondering.... i'm able to successfully fuse the pastic together but the part i have trouble with is the sewing... the material is too stiff and it's really hard to turn it right side out once it's sewed together?!?! any suggestions? Thanks


Anonymous on Apr 25, 2009:

The future brain dead unite,think about it,breathing hot plastic fumes....


Atomic Shrimp on Apr 22, 2009:

This is such a cool idea - definitely going to try it - I've been recycling plastic bags by shredding and knitting them (linked), but it takes forever - I like the fast results of this method. 


Sandra @ Pepperberry and Co. on Apr 21, 2009:

Hi there!

I just wanted to let you know that this tutorial has been featured on Pepperberry and Co.'s '9 Crafty Ways to Celebrate Earth Day'.

Happy Earth Day!


Sandra


And Calliope on Nov 12, 2008:

Slightly concerned about this after seeing a comment about toxic fumes from melting on plastic on the Etsy page. What do you think?


haleyer on Jul 23, 2008:

This is so NEAT!   I will try it tomorrow.  I usually stash away the 'cool' plastic bags in my room and I always feel bad using them up to put my lunch in or something...now I have something useful to do with them.


lesley on Jan 03, 2008:

I don't know how I managed to miss this. They look so cool! I also think this would be an excellent project when you need to occupy a bored and unpleasant teenage girl.


wizodd on Dec 08, 2007:

Very interesting. You probably want to stick to one type of plastic, Though most of them (if not all) are theroplastic (can be modified by heating e.g.fused,) different plastics have different melting points (and behaviours when melted!)

Some experimentation is required. By using all bags from a single merchant of course,  you will more than likely be using the same type plastic.

Good ventilation is essential! fumes will be annoying at the very least, highly toxic at the worst. Outside is a GREAT idea. (Of course you are now turning some of the plastic into air pollutions....)

The melt point for average commercial low-density polyethylene is typically 105-115 °C.

You may be able to make thicker materials, but at some point you will run into problems because the pressing time will increase as the number of layers increases. Ideally, you would know the plastic, the melting point, and have a press set up at that temperature--like a dry-cleaners press. 

Plastic bags also make excellent kite making material, in particular there is a Vietnamese crossed stick kite design that is extremely easy to make and possibly the easiest kite to fly. (I'll try and find instruction for it and post them.)

<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org">TYVEK</a> is a spun  flashspun high-density <a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Polyethylene">polyethylene</a>
 fibers. If your bags are polyethelene, most are, it will be a similar, although not as tough material.

<a href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plastic_shopping_bag#Composition">Shopping bags are made of</a> 

 

 


jeaner on Nov 10, 2007:

This looks really cool and I can think of fun things to do but BIRD OWNERS DO NOT DO THIS ANYWHERE EXCEPT OUTSIDE AND AWAY FROM ANY WINDOWS! The fumes will kill them. If there are people in the house with ashma then this is definately something that needs to be outside.


optimist on Nov 02, 2007:

As with all these plastic bag crafts, some places - like Ireland - now use biodegradable plastic bags (which in Ireland you have to buy so that there are not too many of them about) and in about 6 months it will be a heap of little fragments. Not sure how this would affect the fusing process, but be aware!


bhartzer on Sep 27, 2007:

This is definitely one of the ultimate recycling ideas...maybe we need to tell those folks in the cities who city councils that have banned plastic bags that they should start making real stuff like this from plastic bags.


eastteak on Sep 27, 2007:

Interesting concept...I wonder if you could fuse the bags together and make something like a tarp or even a drop cloth for painting?


cindyAtStaged4more on Sep 20, 2007:

ahh thanks for this, i always wanted a bag like this ;)


frontier on Sep 19, 2007:

ok, I did this this weekend, and a suggestion: DO IT IN THE BACKYARD. I opened a window, and still coughed for 24 hours. The fumes are silent but deadly. Basically, it seems to me, unless I did it wrong, that it makes tyvek. Very cool. Also, there is a topic on some other craft place where a woman suggests using silk taffeta for the top and bottom layer. Made it very easy to peel off. Just don't breathe.


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