Introduction: Make Your Own Plastic Tote Bag From Recycled Plastic Bags

Picture of Make Your Own Plastic Tote Bag From Recycled Plastic Bags

Have you ever wanted to do something with all those plastic bags from the market? Maybe you don't have a recycling center that will take them near you. With a little time and creativity you can make some pretty cool stuff like this big tote bag.

I know that this may not be the first on this subject but maybe I can share some ideas not covered by others.

If you like my effort here please take time to rate it.

Step 1: What You Will Need to Get Started

Picture of What You Will Need to Get Started

You will need a ton of bags. I think I counted 30 bags by the time I was done with the tote bag. You will need an iron that can be set to low heat and some scissors, aluminum foil and something hard and flat. I used plywood.

Step 2: Prep the Plastic Bags

Picture of Prep the Plastic Bags

I am sure that there may be many ways you can do this but here is the way I have been using.

First I cut the bottoms off the bag.

Next cut the handles from the top of the bags.

I then cut up the side of the bag and open it up.

Next, cut the logos and any other ink from the bag. If you leave the printing on it will be difficult to add color and graphics later that stand out.

Now cut strips from the bag by making vertical cuts every 1.5 to 2 inches apart.

I like to place the different types of colors in separate piles.

*** Although I have yet to try this tip out myself one thing you can do is cut 3in diameter circles instead of strips. It would give the bag a different look altogether. Don’t be afraid to experiment with new styles!!!

Step 3: Making the Handles

Picture of Making the Handles

I made my handles with long cuts of plastic by cutting the bags longwise without cutting the ink areas out you can get plastic strips long enough to make strong handles.

First gather six long strips and tie a knot where you would like the handle to start and tie another where you would like the handle to end.

I take a single strip and wrap it around plastic strips starting at one knot and ending at the other knot.

With your iron on low cover the middle handle area between knots with foil and make a couple passes over the foil. Be careful not to touch the unprotected plastic with the iron.

Take a look at your progress if it looks like the layers are fused together flip the handle over and iron the other side.

Step 4: Setup for the Tote Bag

Picture of Setup for the Tote Bag

Layout two sheets of foil side by side. If you want to make a bag that is 25" tall by 20" wide you will need 50" lengths of foil by 20" across.

Start laying down your first layer diagonally over lapping the strips as you go. I used brown bags for my first layer because I had an overabundance of them.

Next I lay down my second layer diagonally as well but in the opposite direction then the first layer. For this layer I used all white. I guess I was thinking that a blank canvas starts out this way so I would do that as well. also I did not have a large variety of colors to play around with.

Now that you have two layers laid out you can add the graphics, etc.

Step 5: Personalize Your New Tote Bag

Picture of Personalize Your New Tote Bag

This is the best part.

I wanted to see how a grey strip across the bottom of my bag would look so I put gray plastic strips along the center line. Also I signed my name with a red sharpie on two strips of white plastic to see if artwork drawn on plastic bag parts would turn out and it did.

I also cut graphics from other plastic bags and used them on mine.

Arrange your graphics and colored plastic bag parts on the "canvas"

By the way because shrinkage occurs during the fusing process it is not reliable to use anything that is not able to shrink or bond to the plastic with heat. As you might be able to see I used a dollar bill as a test and it did not turn out the way I had hoped.

I think people in big cities will have the best bags to choose from for colors and graphics so those of us out in BFE will have to draw our own with sharpies.

Step 6: Cover Your Graphics With the Last Layer

Picture of Cover Your Graphics With the Last Layer

You will need to add one more layer of plastic bags to you project to seal in your graphics.
I try to save all the clear or translucent white bags for this step.

Step 7: Fuse the Layers Together

Picture of Fuse the Layers Together

Now we are ready to fuse the layers of plastic bags strips together creating a new purpose for old bags.

Carefully cover the main area of the project with two pieces of foil that match the size of the first two.
You will want the edges to remain unfused so we can join the two sides by fusing later.

Alright lets take that low heat iron and starting at one end move the iron over the foil in a pattern that applies heat to all areas you have the foil over.

As the plastic cools it will shrink a little. the shrinkage will cause bunching but you can fight the bunching by applying pressure with your flat object (plywood in my case) right after the heat is applied. Remember that too much heat is not good as it will create burn thru holes and unless your going for that crispy look you will want to avoid this.

once the top is complete and your graphics are sealed in you should flip your project over and run the iron over the opposite side.

Step 8: Fusing the Handles to the Body of the Tote Bag

Picture of Fusing the Handles to the Body of the Tote Bag

At the left and right ends of the bag we will need to add some handles.

I folded the unfused edge over to create a nice straight edge.

Now you will want to place you handle about where you would want it. Make sure when you do the other handle at the other end it lines up with the one you did at this end of the tote.

I tuck the unfused ends of the handle under the unfused ends of the edge and place a foil sheet over the area and fuse the sucker with the iron.

I do the same to the other end.

OKAY! on to the next step!!

Step 9: Fuse the Sides of Your New Tote Bag

Picture of Fuse the Sides of Your New Tote Bag

Bend the bag in the middle so that the handles meet.

You should have edges that still need to be fused on the sides of your bag.

I found that by using a square of plywood inside the bag area while fusing the sides helped keep the edge straight as I fuse.

Step 10: Done!

Picture of Done!

Now you should be done. And I hope your bag looks a lot better!!!
I would like to see some of the work others have done with this method so if you have made something by fusing plastic please show us by posting photos in the comments area!

Thanks a ton and please rate my instructable!!


LinuxH4x0r (author)2008-04-07

Cool! I do a similar thing with styrofoam. I will have to try this

user669 (author)LinuxH4x0r2008-04-08

Thanks! You can make tons of stuff using this method. I think I am going to try to make a Rain Poncho or coat. Also a shower curtain came to mind for future projects.

A shower curtain would be so cool! It would be a great attraction in a guest bathroom. Imagine all of the compliments you'd receive from visitors.

recycle plastic (author)2011-10-29

This is certainly creative! Recycling plastic products is great for the environment but as stated earlier be careful around the birds. I am wondering what do people use this for primarily? I know that looks are not everything but id like to hear what are the most common uses for these bags. Ill start ( this is speculative since I haven't personally made these yet) I think Id use them to organize some of my loose items in the garage. ( like my cleaner, towels etc. Perhaps put some of my camping gear in there. Also have you tested the strength? It would be nice to know approx how many pounds these can hold. Anyhow thanks for sharing and keep up the recycling!

lsutter (author)2011-06-30

Need more instruction on this step please? Also is there a way to make the bag more square rather than flat?

dmesser (author)2009-02-03

If you have birds in your home, be sure to do this in an area where they won't be exposed to the vapors at all. The fumes from plastic fusing can kill your birds.

CAP55 (author)dmesser2009-07-26

Hi: Just curious, what are you using to fuse besides an iron and foil? Gosh, no one wants to kill the birds............ Is there another method?

dmesser (author)CAP552010-12-31

I still use an iron and foil. Just be sure to do this away from the birds in your home and in a room that is ventilated to the outside air. That's just a good practice, even for yourself.

Sorry for the delay. I've been away for quite a while...

gjenkins (author)2008-12-26

I'd been saving empty cereal bags waiting for a something interesting to do and your project inspired me. I used a method I saw on youtube ( just cut the tops and bottoms off of 4 layers of walmart bags for each side. I placed pieces of a Steve & Barry's bag to fill on the clear window on the cereal bags and to make the bottom (with about 3 layers of the walmart bag btwn two pieces of S&B bag). I also cut out the cereal name and kangaroo and placed them inside the window as well. With an iron set on 3, I fused the pieces between sheets of parchment and used thick cardboard instead of wood. I used your no sew method to fuse the bags together and used bag scraps to fuse the handle on the bag. Fun project, next time I'll try it with gift wrap, newspaper or post cards. Thanks for a great instructable! Now we have a cool storage item for the kitchen.

KittyF (author)gjenkins2010-11-19

It'd be great if instead of just a few pics you'd actually make an instructible for this so we could see what you did.

user669 (author)gjenkins2009-01-13

That's a great lookin bag you made! Thanks for posting!

josephine L. de Guzman (author)2010-09-09

thanks for this bag. for now, i hane my project in science

cantthinkof bettername (author)2008-08-17

I use plastic bags as trash can liners.

I do too, but since I'm more careful about recycling than I am about making sure I have a tote when I get groceries I end up with more bags than I need for trash can liners.

So this might be fun.

livegrooveknit (author)2010-04-01

is that a real dollar bill fused in the top photo? how fun to think of things to fuse inside. i am a knitter so i could fuse in lots of little bits of yarn left from other projects. and i am going to have my kids draw all over the bags with sharpies before i fuse the layers. i don't know where you guys find such groovy-looking bags though. the ones i see here and there are all uggo. i have a goal of never bringing another plasty nasty into my house but i still have a small stash i am trying to use up productively.

Blueboyx31 (author)2008-04-13

I tried a small version of this before venturing into the bigger bag. The project was quick and fun. thanks for posting.

user669 (author)Blueboyx312008-04-15

Wow that blue looks really good! Now when I am at the store and see bags of bright colors I try to think what it would look like fused together! Thanks for sharing Blueboyx31! It made my day to see someone else's bag!!

Lance Mt. (author)user6692009-08-05

After seeing this, i am now commited to making one.

Lance Mt. (author)2009-08-05

(Quake/Unreal announcer) Unnnn-stoppable! GOD-LIKE

CAP55 (author)2009-07-26

I will be posting my plastic bag idea reallllllll soon............. you all inspired me!!!!

CAP55 (author)2009-07-26

'I just want to say that these items are absolutely wonderful and you people are so talented. Could someone tell me how to fuse the bags if not with an iron? God bless you all. I love this website..........


bacaboi (author)2009-01-13

I Fused these bags together. I used a nicer bag for the outermost layer, and a black bag for the handle and border.

mkmstrings (author)bacaboi2009-07-23


bacaboi (author)bacaboi2009-01-13

and this was a test. My aunt wanted me to make one since she uses the plain eco friendly bags from the grocerie store. She wanted something different.

user669 (author)bacaboi2009-01-13

That looks really good! I'm sure your aunt will be vary happy with her new bag!

jabshort1 (author)2008-06-06

To those who may be thinking of heating plastic bags... Please be sure to do this either outside, or in a VERY well ventilated area. Very volatile and toxic chemicals are released from heating plastic bags. Do not inhale the vapors released from them.

user669 (author)jabshort12008-06-06

I agree. As with any project, painting, cutting plywood, etc. you have to take precautions. Thanks for bringing this up. When making this project open a window. You might say to yourself that you can't smell any fumes but there are some there.

So here are a few facts....the MSDS sheets " Materials Safety Data Sheets" companies have to have available only say temperatures 450 or above cause Carcinogenic fumes.( I used to work in a factory where we extruded at high temperatures compounds such as PVC .) On the few occassions temperatures became to high ( causing actual smoke ) we were forced to evacuate premises til back under control and aired out. **So far their is no data listed nor available on any long term effects . So as long as safety measures are followed. My turned out hideous.

jaydeechick (author)jabshort12008-06-07

I have to strongly agree with you. I had a friend pass away from a form of lung cancer. He was dairy farmer, and a non smoker. He used to collect a truck load of old bread from the bread factory to feed to his stock when other food was short. He would then burn the bread bags in the paddock. He suffered the consequences and is no longer with us. Each to their own, but this is one instructable I won't be trying. The fumes from melting/burning plastic can and do kill!!!

Bom6at (author)jaydeechick2008-06-16

With all due respect to the memory of your friend, I doubt that the lung cancer is incontrovertibly due to burning bread bags. I wouldn't deny the possibility of it being a contributory factor...

user669 (author)jaydeechick2008-06-07

This project is a far cry from standing over a pit of burning plastic bags every Friday night chugging milk and wiffing plastic smoke. If your plastic bags start to smoke then stop what your doing and leave the area. Check your iron to make sure it's on the lowest setting.

headlessbubble (author)2009-03-11

mine didn't turn out as good as yours but this is a great idea! thanks

vyki (author)2009-01-24

I love this idea and will definately be trying it!

KreaKatri (author)2009-01-08

Hey! Nice instructable, and great idea :) I was wondering how long-lasting it is?

user669 (author)KreaKatri2009-01-13

It's very strong and will last a long time unless you over abuse it.

KreaKatri (author)user6692009-01-14

Okay, thanks! Then I'll have to make one :)

user669 (author)2008-06-14

Thanks everyone for the comments. I wanted to share a bag that was made with fusing and thread. I like this bag because the maker used the logos in a stylish manner. Check out the targets... With a little time and skill you can really get great results like eclipse_etc's bag.

eclipsed (author)user6692008-12-30

Wow! I just joined instructables a couple days ago, I am looking around at some tutes and I found a picture of my bag! Thanks for the compliments user669. (I am eclipse_etc on Flickr)

user669 (author)eclipsed2009-01-13

I didn't want people to think that they all turned out as ugly as mine did! lol Welcome to Instructables!

mtjohnson6 (author)2008-06-13

OK...all was good up until step 9. You did a whole lot of stuff, but only supplied a few words. It was hard for me to determine what you had done by just looking at the pics. I can see the wood in the pic, but I have NO idea what you are doing with it...Are you ironing on it? HELP I want to make one of these, but my "remedial" mind is having a hard time processing step 9. :(

i had the idea that you should use the equivalent of the type of seam that is used on the legs of jeans, but instead use melting instead of sewing, and then, of course, turn it inside out so that the seam is more aesthetically pleasing.

user669 (author)mtjohnson62008-06-14

Hi, Sorry I lost you on step 9. I placed the wood where I wanted the inside edge of the bag to be. The wood is acting as a guide to help keep the sides straight. Without the wood there I found it hard to fuse the inside edges nice and even. I use the wood on both right and left side of the bag. I am not ironing on the wood but along the side of the wood on the outer edge. Hope this helps!!

mtjohnson6 (author)user6692008-06-15

Thanks...I am a little closer to seeing the light...OK..can you post a picture of just the sides of the bag?? That would be a TREMENDOUS help. If I could see that, I could then figure out the rest, sorry but I tend to be a visual learner... Thanks...

user669 (author)mtjohnson62008-06-27

From what angle would you like the photo?

mtjohnson6 (author)user6692008-06-27

Just of the sides as you are holding it up in your hands and one of the sides taken from the inside. Thanks...

limpach (author)2008-10-18

Is that a symbol off a "Piggly Wigglys" bag?

ihaveapuppy (author)2008-08-14

I LOVE this! Easy to follow (I don't know if you updated after the other folks read it, but it's totally simple!), cute, and fun! I tried weaving the strips... didn't turn out so well; it got kinda chunky, but I might have just had the iron too warm. Thanks for the great instructable!

aeal121 (author)2008-08-13

I tried this. Thanks for the thorough instructions. I pretty much read through it and then improvised a few things for myself. I added side panels on my tote bag so that it holds more. Also, instead of doing the final exterior layer in white plastic, it looks much better to iron on one large sheet of clear plastic from a dry cleaners bag to seal the designs on. I cut yellow triangles out of the one yellow plastic bag that I had as the exterior pattern and it turned out great with the clear layer on top. I also used the big red star from a Macy's bag as part of the design. Another bit of advice, kick up the temperature of the iron to fuse the thick parts together (the sides to the body of the bag, the handles) because it's much quicker. Beware, this project took me three hours to complete by myself. WAY longer than I expected but it was fun and I love my new bag. I got comments on it at the grocery today! Definitely worth trying!

BeadSpinner (author)2008-08-01

I like that... just one more thing for me to try - not enough hours in a day!

marsuecom1 (author)2008-07-30

It seems that you must have left something out as it is very hard to understand just exactly what you did. Even tho' it was an ingenious idea, it is a not a neat bag to be taking anywhere. Sorry.

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