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Thursday, September 8, 2011

Up-cycling Plastic Bags

by Amanda from Amanda Brooke

I have a confession to make.

I sometimes forget to take my re-usable bags to the shops and I come home occasionally with plastic bags. I also accept plastic bags from friends and family that may contain items they are passing on/back to me. As a result of accepting plastic bags, we now have a collection housed in a purpose-made, plastic bag holder in our pantry and they are staring to overflow.

During the week I made a firm decision not to have a single plastic bag in our house and I don't want to see the ones we do have going into landfill. So what do you do with a collection of plastic bags?

Well, I've started making one of these. This is a great up-cycled plastic bag 'sheet' to keep in the boot of your car for a myriad of uses. Ultimately I will use mine if I am traveling with plants/wood kindling/straw etc but you can place damp towels on it after a trip to the beach or it makes a useful mat to sit on when traveling, especially if the ground is damp or a chair is dewy.

An Up-cycled 'Car Boot' Sheet

Firstly you will need quite a few bags. You might like to use up what you have and then ask some friends and family if they would like to join you in being 'plastic bag free' and pass on their bags to you. You could make one of these as a practical gift too.

You will need:

  • If you are using regular supermarket style bags you need 6 to 8 for each 'layer'. If using the thicker style plastic bags (department style) you will need around 4 to 6 for each 'layer'.
  • Scissors, baking paper, sewing machine (nothing fancy), an iron and a safe work surface

1. Using a pair of utility scissors, cut the handles away from each bag.

2. Cover and protect your work surface in baking paper.
Smooth each bag out and stack in a layer on your protected surface.

You can see the baking paper at the bottom of this plastic bag layer

3. Position another sheet of baking paper over the top of the stack of bags. Using a moderate (not too hot) setting on your iron, press the stack so the plastic bags melt and adhere to each other. If your iron is too hot the plastic will bubble and if not hot enough the bags won't seal. Please note: Your stack will over heat and bubble if you try to add each bag one at a you do need to do them in complete layers. I had to fiddle quite a bit with my iron settings, to get it at the best temperature and you might like to experiment with some smaller pieces first.

I worked from the inside to the outside and held the iron down for a few seconds before moving to another area

You absolutely do not want your iron to come in contact with the plastic bags or your bags with the work surface either.

4. Continue to iron each stack of bags until you have enough 'shapes' to make the size sheet you wish.

This is a sheet of bag layers after ironing

5. Cut each shape out with straight edges. Position shapes on floor and arrange so you are pleased with the layout.

Sewing the seams

6. Pin and machine sew each shape together by overlapping one bag edge over another and join using the largest zigzag setting on your sewing machine. This is supposed to look 'scrappy' so don't worry too much about perfect edges etc. The plastic sheets warp a little too, so that makes it hard to get perfect edges.

The front

The back

No more plastic bag collection guilt and you now have a practical sheet to protect your car boot. You can also make bags, like this one my mum made for my son's soccer boots. We have used this for two soccer seasons now and it is still going strong!

I understand this post might be a little hard to consider, as like many I wish that plastic bags didn't even exist. BUT if they are there (as in my case), and you obviously don't want to throw them into landfill, you can make something useful, re-usable and practical.

This idea and the sheet in the first photo came from my mum. She was inspired by a tutorial on an episode of Better Homes and Gardens. I haven't seen this tutorial, so if you have and wish to add any further suggestions or ideas please do so in the comments.

After making my 'plastic sheet' I will give my plastic bag holder another purpose, perhaps a lost sock holder.
Now I just need to think of an idea for up-cycling lost socks!

Amanda x


Digigirl said...

Great way to use up bags! FYI, you can also recycle grocery bags and plastic snack / freezer bags (aka Ziploc) at most grocery stores. They have a bin at the front, and you just stuff 'em in. That's what I do with mine when I get them. No matter how good I am about using my reusable shopping bags, a few plastic bags always seem to sneak in somehow or another...

Patty said...

Very neat idea! I think at some point I'll make some reusable grocery bags this way. It seems like a great answer to the plastic bag problem. Thanks!

Sarah in Indiana said...

That's a great idea. Sounds like a very handy thing to have in your car. A few ways to repurpose socks: I usually cut a slit right down the back middle and across the toe to make a more or less rectangular rag. Of course, you could also make sock puppets or monkeys, and another option is to use one for a sock bun.

jessieimproved said...

This is a great idea! I try to cut down on the number of plastic bags in my house too, but this seems like a great way to upcycle the plastic bags that our free newspapers come in. We can't stop them from coming into our yard so at least now I can do something with the plastic!

McVal said...

I just saw this idea on an episode of Sew It All and saved that show to show my kids for future 4H projects! We're going to make bathroom trash liners out of them. I like this idea!

Kristy said...

Great idea. I'll be passing this one on!

Re the socks I find they make great 'hand mitts' for polishing/buffing/wiping etc. Wet a little and wipe down or use your favourite natural wood polish, or bicarb in the sink whatever.

rhonda jean said...

great post, Amanda. What a wonderful idea. Thanks.

Megan.K. said...

This is a brilliant idea Amanda. I too try to not bring plastic bags into the house, and yet somehow they still turn up(often from op-shop purchases!)

Francesca said...

Great idea, Amanda! In Italy plastic bags were banned from Jan 2011.

Tania said...

Brilliant idea. Will definitely keep this in mind for camping..sounds great for beach trips or picnics.

Lindsey said...

OH, my. This is awesome. I have a paper bag under the sink that is starting to overflow with bags, despite my best attempts to always use reusable or carry things out by hand.
I am totally going to do this.
How cool.

Anonymous said...

You can also cut plastic bags into strips lengthwise, intertwine them (like when you play with rubber bands), and crochet or knit with them. Or use festive colored ones cut into short strips, then tie them to a hanger that's been formed into a circle to make a weather-proof wreath.

Heather said...

I know this is a month late, but in case anyone reads the comments later, there's an excellent tutorial on this here: