Mother Earth Living

Try This: Old Plastic Bags, New Again

Stylish, simple, eco-friendly projects for your natural home.
By Susan Wasinger
November/December 2007
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Laminating four to eight layers of plastic shopping bags together makes the perfect weight "fabric" for this quirky lunch tote. The graphics on the shopping bags become transparent as they fuse and give the final product a subtle collage effect.

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Each year Americans throw away billions of plastic shopping bags, which can take hundreds—even thousands—of years to break down in a landfill. Put those non-biodegradable properties to good use by turning bags into a hip, indestructible lunch tote. Use an iron to meld layers of plastic bags together into a tough, flexible "fabric" that looks cool, wears long and wipes clean.

1. Gather four to eight plastic shopping bags from your favorite clothing stores (most grocery bags are a little too flimsy for this project). Look for a pleasing mix of colors and graphics.

2. Cut the bags down the side seams with scissors and undo the bottom pleat to make a long rectangle of material.

3. Layer the bags one by one and secure with clothespins to keep them from shifting. Heat iron to medium high. Put a layer of baking parchment or wax paper over your ironing board and on top of the stack of plastic bags. Iron from the center outward, being careful to iron each section thoroughly for 30 to 60 seconds. Let cool, then flip the whole thing over and iron the other side. Let the paper cool until it comes easily off the surface, and check the fabric to ensure it’s fully laminated. If not, iron again.

4. Use scissors to trim laminated plastic fabric into a long rectangle about 9 inches wide by 30 inches long. Fold the rectangle in half and crease the bottom edge.

5./6. Fold down the front half of the material to create a rabbit-ear pleat or gusset along the bottom edge of the bag as shown in pictures 5 and 6. This pleat will create a nice roomy bag that can stand on its own. The excess material at the top will create the fold-over flap at the top of the finished bag.

7. Flatten and crease the bag into shape.

8. To make the side seams, place a wooden ruler or straight edge about 5/8 inch in from the edges. The wooden edge will ensure that the heat of the iron melts only the side seams together and doesn’t fuse too much of the bag front to the back. Make sure the top flap of the bag is open and doesn’t get ironed into the seam. Protect iron and board with parchment, and iron the seams together on both sides until they’re completely fused. Take special care to iron the sides of the pleat as there are several layers of plastic to fuse.

9. You can decorate the top flap by cutting fun shapes (stars, circles, words, initials) out of plastic bags and ironing them on. Take care to protect the other parts of your bag when you iron on the decoration so you don’t accidentally fuse other parts of the bag together.

10. Add a dot of self-adhesive Velcro to close the flap if you’d like. 

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