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Design: Repurposing and Reusing plastic bags March 27, 2013


Saving plastics to save Mama Earth: How to reduce, reuse and repurpose

Saving plastics to save Mama Earth: How to reduce, reuse and repurpose

Fusing plastics into household items: Coasters“Paper or Plastic”? When I think of hauling my groceries up to my fourth floor walk-up, I skittishly mutter “plastic” and shamefully carry back 6-10 plastic bags of groceries every 2 weeks. I was reusing them (categorized on their tensile strength) for wrapping lunch boxes, parcel fragile glassware, provide water-proofing in projects and picking up after my dog. Several months back, I came across a cute trick on Pinterest and landed on Bao’s craft page http://www.relevedesign.com/. So can plastic really be used to make crafty dinner table items? Let’s try.

Things you need:
  • Scissors
  • Plastic bags
  • Printer paper or parchment paper
  • Household iron (hold the steam, make sure it is on “dry” )
  • Clean work surface
  • Towels
Here’s how
Pic 1 Step 1 Cutting plastic bags

Pic 1 Step 1 Cutting plastic bags

1. Cut of the handles and bottom of the plastic bags  and make it into a rectangular shape.

Pic 2 Step 2 layering plastic

Pic 2 Step 2 layering plastic

2. Lay a towel straight on your work table, for heat insulation (Picture 2 shows whole layout)
3. Lay a sheet of paper (I used printed paper and the results were not as good see Picture 3 below) on the towel, with printed face down

4. Lay 3-4 sheets of plastic rectangles on the paper, preferably with the print (color or text) facing each other and not the paper directly.

Pic 3 printed plastic on paper

Pic 3 printed plastic on paper

5. Cover with another sheet of paper, again the print should face up (not facing the plastic). Please make sure the plastic does not touch the towel underneath or your iron. It will melt and ruin the iron.
6. Next press down in the middle for about 6 seconds and gently but firmly smooth out in a radial way (this will make sure you don’t trap air bubbles.
7. Once you have ironed it completely on one side, let it sit until cool to touch then flip the whole thing to the other side. The towel stays in place, whole thing refers to the plastic sandwiched in the 2 sheets of paper.
8. Iron again like step 6, but this time you can go a little faster, but keep your hands steady because the paper can be slippery
9. Let cool, then slowly peel off the paper from both sides

 10. Cut the new reinforced plastic to shape and enjoy your new washable coasters and table liners

Pic 4 Overheated plastic with holes

Pic 4 Overheated plastic with holes

Want more challenge?
  • Feel free to add more plastic and make it even thicker, you will see going beyond 11-12 is difficult, but give it a shot, because every plastic is different!
  • Try inclusions like maps, or quotes in between the sheets– kind of like laminating them; just make sure they are placed centrally, because as you probably have figured out, plastic doesn’t stick to paper and for the item to be useful, plastic has to have plastic to melt into
  • Try with printed colorful bags or statement bags from your favorite brands
  • Cut the fused sheets into 1″ circles and make earrings or bracelet charms
  • Stitch multiple sheets of fused, reinforced plastic and make bags with them (yes, crazy but delicious!)
Faux pas and things I learned:
  • Parchment paper is really the way to go. Works so much better than printer paper, remains intact much longer
    Pic 5 Edge distortion

    Pic 5 Edge distortion

    and hence you don’t have to throw them away

  • Clear plastic melts faster (like waaay faster)
  • Overheat will distort your plastic and create holes (sometimes amusing and rather desirable shapes) (Pic 4: overheated plastic with holes)
  • If printed plastic faces the paper, it can get sticky and distort the surface of the plastic when peeling  (Pic 5: edge distortion); you can always cut it off but it wastes material!
  • If printed paper faces the plastic, the paper will tear, but you can wash off the paper from the plastic using a scrubber and dish soap (Pic 6: scraped Limited table mat)
  • Metal inclusions (like sequins or chocolate wrappers) get insanely hot and will destroy your plastic and can burn you. They get heated much faster than plastic and stays hot because the heat can’t escape through the plastic very fast.
  • For the brief few seconds when plastic stays molten, it is hot and can give you painful burns, so patience pays off.

    Pic 6: Scratched mat (had paper stuck to it once)

    Pic 6: Scratched mat (had paper stuck to it once)

  • Your final product is NOT microwavable (not sure why you would want to microwave it)
  • It is not dishwashable (but an one-off cold cycle in the dishwasher will not kill it–the keyword here is “cold”)
  • How to use it? Coasters for coffee mugs and/or dinner/snack plates are ideal. Please dont put a very hot vessel on it, you don’t need a gooey, sticky mess underneath on your saucepan, trust me!
I owe it to my Food Microbiology background to tell you this: Soiled plastic that has come in direct contact with raw animal product (meat, broken eggs, or juices seeping from meat packages) should end up in the trash, NOT your recycle bin, definitely not your craft table. Protect your hygiene, then go save the earth.
Always be careful with your iron, switch it off when not in use and let cool before stowing away.
Here are some of my favorite fused plastics:
Get your NYC on! :Coasters from Repurposed plastic

Get your NYC on! :Coasters from Repurposed plastic

Comical bags, anyone? :from repurposed plastic

Comical bags, anyone? :from repurposed plastic

Fishy: from repurposed plastic

Fishy: from repurposed plastic

Before I end, let me thank Bao (of Releve Design) once again for sharing great ideas on reusing plastics into fabulous craft items. So much to learn, so little time!

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One Response to “Design: Repurposing and Reusing plastic bags”

  1. […] Originally posted on Unstreamlined. […]


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