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November 16, 2010

Laminate Plastic Bags to Make Tough, Durable Material, Tote Bags, Lampshades

Plastic Tactics
Recycle plastic bags into cool stuff

ToolGirl Mag Ruffman - Recycled Plastic Bag Lampshade
The longer we live, the less we tend to throw out.  For example, after my mum died we discovered about 20 pounds of plastic bags stashed in the basement just in case she needed them.  Twenty.  Pounds. 

Mum’s conscience told her, "Never throw out anything useable."  But to whittle down her plastic bag supply in the standard ways (returning borrowed items to friends, scooping cat deuces from the litter box), she would have had to live roughly 934 more years.

When my time comes I don’t want to be overly endowed bag-wise.  Since 90 percent of plastic bags end up in landfills, my life goal is simply not to be the lady who owns the other 10 percent of the world’s bags.

So I’ve started looking for ways to re-use my bags.  Let me tell you, bag tech offers a rich buffet of human ingenuity.  If you don’t believe me, visit the Instructables web site. Wow.

You’ll see instructions for turning plastic bags into dazzling new items:
•    Rugs
•    Super-tough fabric
•    Slingshots
•    Yarn
•    Kites
•    Messenger bags
•    Skipping ropes
•    Sculptures
•    Woven place mats

You can even melt down plastic bags to make your own handmade plastic shapes, creating the molds from stuff you have around the house.  It’s called plastic smithing.  Who knew?

One of the easiest plastic bag projects is making ‘fabric’ by laminating multiple layers of plastic into a resilient sheet that you can then use to recover lampshades or stitch on a sewing machine, designing unusual plastic hats that will earn you the coveted status of Disturbingly Creative.

Plastic bags in a range of colours
Parchment paper
A large towel
An iron

Cut the bottom (the clumpy seamy bits) and the handles off a plastic shopping bag.  Slice down one side of the bag and open the piece into a long rectangle.  Repeat with 5 more bags.

Plastic - Dominion bag being cut

Fold a towel to make a padded surface that will absorb the heat from the iron.

Place a large sheet of parchment paper (also known as ‘oven paper - don’t use WAX PAPER, it will melt into goo) on top of the towel.

Stack your 6 layers of plastic bag on top of the parchment paper.  Make sure that all of the plastic is inside the boundaries of the parchment paper; otherwise you’re going to gild your towel with plastic.


Cover the stack of plastic with another sheet of parchment paper.  Using a warm iron (every iron is different but a good place to start is just above the synthetics setting). 

The iron should gently melt the plastic layers together into a smooth sheet as you move the iron continuously over the top layer of parchment paper.  If holes appear your iron is too hot.  If the layers separate or have pockets your iron is too cool.

You can cut up shapes of contrasting coloured plastic bags and sandwich them between layers of lighter colours to get patterns that look random or quilted, striped or woven.  It’s dead fun. 


Plastic - quilting layout

Using bubble wrap between layers creates a snakeskin effect:


The lampshade in the photo (at top of post) is made of bags from the liquor store cut up into dainty pieces and laminated between white plastic.  TIP:  To secure the plastic ‘fabric’ to the lampshade frame, use heat resistant butyl, an extremely sticky gasket tape.  You can buy butyl at RV supply places or order online from www.go-rv.com.  OTHER TIP:  Do this project in a well-ventilated area since the warm plastic tends to emit a bit of an odor.

Once you’ve adhered the fabric to the lampshade it may have some puckers or bulges.  Shrink it tight by aiming a hair dryer at the lumpy spots for a few seconds.  Sweet, eh?

Well, that’s six bags down, 7,801 to go.



I think I'd just build a funeral pyre and return them to Gaia.


Did the bubble wrap pop when you ironed it or did melting it release the air too slowly?

tenis supra

I just sent this post to a bunch of my friends as I agree with most of what you’re saying here and the way you’ve presented it is awesome.


Hi Ginger,
The bubble wrap just sort of melts and expels the air without popping. I kept the iron on it too long and got a severely mottled effect, but I kinda like it and it's extremely tough.


Hi tenis supra,
Thanks for the encouraging words. It's really a fun material to work with.

Martha in Oregon

Has anybody laminated cloth between the layers of plastic bags? I'm going to try it.


Hi Martha in Oregon,
I haven't tried cloth sandwiched between layers. I know people who have tried seeds and they said it didn't work - the seeds prevented the plastic layers from laminating well. If you try it, maybe you could let me know if it works?


This is awesome! I didn't know that you could use laminate plastic bags to make plastic lampshades. I am definitely going to have to try this. Thanks so much for sharing!

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