Introduction: Recycle Plastic Bags Into Usable Plastic Sheets

Plastic bags are something that we all have lying around. Most of these bags can be recycled. You can even recycle them yourself at home. In this project I am going to show you how to fuse plastic bags together to make thick sheets of plastic that you can use in your craft projects.

Step 1: Watch the Video

Here is a video walkthrough of the project.

Step 2: Materials

Here are the materials and tools that you will need for this project.


Materials:

Plastic Bags (such as HDPE grocery bags)

Baking Parchment Paper (rated for at least 400 degrees Fahrenheit)

Tools:

Iron

Metal Baking Sheets

Scissors

Heat Resistant Weights

Oven

Step 3: Acquire a Lot of Plastic Bags

The first thing that you need to do is acquire a lot of plastic bags. In this project, I used a total of 64 plastic grocery bags. It took quite a while to collect this many bags. Every time I went to the grocery store I just saved the bags and I kept them in my pantry.

All the bags need to be clean and dry. So if there is any food residue on a bag, you can't use it. If the bags have any water on them, let them thoroughly dry out before storing them.

The bags that I used were "High-Density Polyethylene" (HDPE). This is the standard in most American grocery stores. "Low-Density Polyethylene" bags can also work but be aware that they have a much lower melting point.

It doesn't matter where you get the bags from. Different stores may use different color bags but as long as it is made out of the same kind of plastic, it will work.

Step 4: Cut the Bags Into Sheets

Next you need to cut the bags into sheets. Start by cutting the bottom edge just above the seam. Then cut off the handles by cutting a line straight across just below the top edge. You now have a plastic tube. At this point, you can make the tube into a sheet by cutting a slit down the side. I wanted to have a plain white sheet with no writing or logos. So I also cut off the whole front panel of the bag. Repeat this for each of the bags.

Step 5: Fuse Four Plastic Sheets Together

Now you are ready to start combining the plastic sheets. Start by tearing off a large piece of baking parchment. Then lay it on top of a heat resistant surface. My normal work table has a plastic finish on top. So I decided to work on a scrap piece of wooden construction board.

Next lay the plastic sheets on top of one another. Try to line them up as well as you can. Then place another large piece of baking parchment on top of the plastic sheets.

Turn on your iron and set it to the medium temperature setting. Press the iron down firmly over the center of the plastic sheets. Slowly slide the iron across the paper toward the edge. Press down firmly as you go. Iron over the whole sheet.

After you have ironed the whole sheet a few times, lift up the top piece of parchment and check to see if the plastic sheets are fused together. If the sheets can still be easily separated, your iron may be set to low. Turn up the temperature a little and iron over the sheets again. If however you see holes melted in the plastic, then your iron is too hot and you should turn it down a little. You want to use the minimum heat required to fuse the bags together.

Once you have done this, you should have a single four-ply sheet of plastic. Repeat this process with the rest of your bags, making as many four-ply sheets as you can. We will combine these later into thicker sheets.

Step 6: Fuse Together Thicker Sheets of Plastic

To make thicker sheets of plastic all you have to do is combine the four-ply sheets that we made in the last step. Through trial and error, I have determined that the four-ply sheets are the best thickness for fusing together. With individual sheets it is easy to accidentally melt holes in them. With sheets that are thicker than four-ply, it is harder to get them to fuse together properly.

So take two four-ply sheets of plastic and place them between the pieces of baking parchment. Iron over them, pressing firmly as you go. You may need to increase the temperature of the iron slightly to get them to fuse together. When you are done, you should have an eight-ply sheet of plastic.

To make your plastic sheets even thicker, continue fusing on more four-ply pieces of plastic. With each additional four-ply sheet that you add, turn over your stack so that you alternate between the front and back sides. If you kept fusing on layers to only one side, your sheet might warp and start to curl. Adding layers to both sides helps to prevent this. Continue adding layers until you reach the appropriate thickness for your intended project.

A four-ply sheet can be used to make light raincoats and bags. An eight-ply sheet can be used to make a heavier coat or bag. With twelve or more fused sheets you can make backpacks and laptop bags. Twenty-four layers will give you thin sheets of hard plastic that you can use to make models and hard crafts. Sixty-four layers will give you 0.1 inch (2.5mm) hard plastic that you can use to make containers and rigid parts out of.

Step 7: Press and Re-Melt Thicker Sheets to Strengthen Them

In between each layer there are gaps and bubbles that will make the plastic weaker and more flimsy. If you want to make plastic sheets that are very hard and sturdy, it may be necessary to press and remelt them. To do this you will need a pair of matching metal baking sheets and some heat resistant weights such as bricks.

Set one metal baking sheet down on top of your work surface. Then place a piece of baking parchment on top. Then set your combined plastic sheet in the center of the parchment. Place another piece of parchment over it. Then add the second metal baking sheet on top of that. To press them together, add your weight on top.

Then place it in an oven that is set to 400 degrees Fahrenheit (about 200 degrees Celsius). Let this sit in the oven for half an hour. Then take it out of the oven to cool. Leave the weights on top. This will help prevent warping. When everything has cooled to room temperature, remove the weights.

Inspect the edges of the plastic. If they have fused into an almost solid piece then you are done. If not, then you may need to repeat this step and increase the temperature to 425 degrees or 450 degrees.

Step 8: Trim the Edges

The edges will probably be jagged and not uniform. Take a pair of sharp scissors and trim the edges until you are left with an even thickness all the way around.

Step 9: Build Something With Your Recycled Plastic

Now you just need to think of a project for your recycled plastic. You can use it as sheet plastic for making crafts and models. You can use it with a vacuum former. You can use it to make welding rods for HDPE plastic welding. Use your imagination and have fun.

Comments

author
avgjoe25 (author)2016-04-13

One recommendation. Using your 2 x 2 sheet layering, you can do an offset of about 1/4 inch and that would allow you to add length and width to your plastic - similar to tongue and groove boards. Fusing the offset overlaps allows to you create lengths of 12" x (X)" or 20" x (X)" sheets.

author
craftvideos (author)2016-04-10

How did you use those plastic sheets? Please show us in your next videos.

author
namindu made it! (author)2016-01-21

Thank you. that's very useful.

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author
tomtheswanson (author)2015-12-16

Very useful! Thank you for the detailed instructions.

author
Alpha_one (author)2015-11-13

Thanks, but I think its still inefficient ways. wasting time and energy I mean

author
BobDohse (author)2015-11-01

Great instructions. Very comprehensive. Thanks.

author
Nwhis (author)2015-05-06

How exactly are people not concerned about the fact that you're melting plastic?

Doesn't plastic give off toxic gases when you melt it?

author
funny1048 (author)Nwhis2015-07-11

nope in fact i have melted down a lot of other things aside from plastic bags i have melted milk jugs detergent containers and other containers the important thing is that they are hdpe this type of plastic will not smell or release nasty fumes in fact i couldnt smell anything at all as long as you are not overheating it just remember not to melt any other types of plastic such as pvc or styrofoam which is polystyrene these will smell bad when melting and release fumes

author

Not all plastics. High Density Polyethylene gives off minimal fumes at these temperatures. If inhaled, the can irritate the lungs but are not highly toxic. If you work in a well ventilated area you will be fine.

author

Thanks for the info.

Maybe I could just do this with all of my plastic bags and make a house out of it by stapling sheets together :P

author

Never knew that.When I was reading I was like,"What?Ironplastic?!"

Thanks for the information.

author
TessaAnne (author)2015-07-06

I have run out of plastic in the middle of a project and love this re-use idea.

For those of you who are truly interested in a sanitary reduction idea, talk to your local seamstress or quilter! I've been making bags for friends for years now that are easy to wash. I now live the SFO bay area and most only have feel good practices about recycling. I'm the only one on my street with the little itty bity trash can and the great big recycle can. My daughter went to college in a town that banned plastic shopping bags many years ago, before it was popular! Any idea should be considered for it's merits and balance. This may not be a perfect re-use, but it is a re-use. Recycle the rest :-) Positive thoughts on a problem can find solutions, let's build on the positivity.

Thanks for this idea!

author
Rhinowoman (author)2015-06-28

This is way too much work for the return.

author
sahilr1 (author)2015-05-22

nice

author
vandim199 (author)2015-05-21

Let me just put a brick in the oven and see what happens

author
Leonardo7 made it! (author)2015-05-14

I just made a small rest piece. Find out out the range on my iron that worked best. I'm vert pleased with it. The comments about the fumes are helpful. I was concerned about that. Great tutorial. The pen is for scale.

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author

Awesome. Thanks for sharing.

author
danneauxs (author)2015-05-05

very nice. I needed something like this.

author
busyday86 (author)2015-04-29

Could you give me some ideas of what kinds of crafts you could use these sheets for?

author

You can make heavy duty shoulder bags. You can make backpacks. You can make raincoats. You can cut them into shapes and then fuse the cutouts onto other pieces of plastic to add some decoration to them.

author
jimvandamme (author)2015-04-24

I was recently in Nicaragua where cooperatives were making all kinds of stuff out of scrap plastic. But they didn't know what to do with all the plastic bags that just blow all over.

author
gadsden (author)2015-04-21

Just yesterday I was wondering if this could be done...now I know. Thank you!

(To the snarky and smartie-pants commenters: Please remember that those who share their ideas are being generous and helpful. You, however, are being mean and condescending. So please be nice - or be gone.)

author
cyberdove (author)2015-04-19

2 hours work for a piece of $.29 plastic.

author
jim_lewis1 (author)2015-04-16

This is a neat way to recycle plastic bags, however the most important step in the 'Reduce, Reuse, Recycle' mantra is REDUCE. Avoiding the use of plastic bags is far more effective than trying to find ways of reusing/recylcing them afterwards. Ultimately it all ends up in the ocean.

author
Light_Lab (author)jim_lewis12015-04-16

Your heart is in the right place Jim unfortunately it is not that simple, bags are not the main issue. It would be great to eliminate ALL packaging but currently we need it for hygiene and practical handling. A simple weight for weight examination of the packaging in a standard shopping bag full of purchases shows that the shopping bag is a mere drop in the ocean (pun intended).
Despite the uninformed urban myths, all organic polymers do breakdown in the environment eventually; the rate depends on exposure to UV and oxygen. Admittedly the process is not as fast as some would like but polymer decomposition doesn't rapidly release greenhouse gases either. Polymer film, such as that used to make shopping bags, breaks down much quicker than plastic bottles.
If you are going to eliminate the plastic bag what are you going to substitute?
Before you say "the shopping bags sold in supermarkets", those that I have seen are made from polypropylene another polyolefin, enough to make around 20-40 film bags. PP in air and UV actually breaks down faster than PE and so the bags eventually rip and we dump them. Then they end up buried in anaerobic garbage dumps protected from oxygen and UV where ironically they last much longer than PE film.
Before you say "paper", be aware that a study done a couple of decades ago showed that the Complete Life Cycle of paper products was more energy consuming and damaging to the environment than plastic. That was before the concerns of greenhouse gases from paper decomposition and burning was taken into account; also before the concerns of using potential food producing land for such materials in a world where food production is becoming an issue.
What we need is a completely new paradigm of product supply to consumers. Sadly unless the government applies pressure to the right hip pockets it seems a long way off.

author
namora (author)Light_Lab2015-04-17

You have totally ignored the fact that paper is infinitely recyclable and has no reason but indifference to end up in a landfill. Please consider that the world ran just fine before all these plastic "conveniences" popped up in the sixties and seventies. I have been using my plastic and canvas reusable bags for five years now and they are holding up just fine but I don't hang them on the clothesline either.

author
ScottE4 (author)namora2015-04-18

Actually Paper is only CLAIMED to be infinitely recyclable, However every time paper is pulped the fibers shorten and its viability as anything but tissue is lost. Sadly things like news print and any other paper needing bleaching is rarely used as tissue due to the fact that bleached papers cause sensitivity issues on mucus membranes and there is No telling where the tissue pulp will be going, for sanitary tissues or gift wrap. HOWEVER there IS a better use, If you have alternative energy heating sources. Paper can be soaked and turned into a wood alternative for use in wood burners. A while back I saw two different paper log rollers on here. Not to make a political statement, BUT if our government would legalize Hemp (I didnt say POT as not all hemp is marijuana) and our paper industry would transition (literally no equipment change, just stop using the BIG wood chippers) There would be even les paper in landfills, better paper and MORE home made logs for heating as one acre of hemp makes the same amount of paper in one year as one acre of wood does in 20, not to mention hemp linen, hemp rope Jute cord and this is from a plant nobody can get high on...

author
Light_Lab (author)namora2015-04-17

Paper is certainly not infinitely recyclable and I have not ignored the fact that some paper is recycled. If I had I would have lost my job years ago. Yes some paper fiber is recycled but unfortunately very little and what does the majority is mostly recycled only once. It is not through indifference that most paper ends up in landfill. Paper that has been in food contact is not recycled; wax coated cardboard is not recycled. Paper fibers are gradually degrading as they are reprocessed and reused; they degrade in use by the same processes that lead to their rapid decomposition in landfill.
It may surprise you to know that the greatest market for paper recyclate is Chinese toilet paper (where I have had personal contact) and it certainly is only used once there.

author
ihart (author)jim_lewis12015-04-16

Hi Jim,

How is it exactly that plastic bags will end up in the ocean?

It seems that all methods to carry groceries have their disadvantages. Producing and shipping a paper bag to carry groceries is certainly more environmentally harmful than a plastic bag. Using the Chinese store-brand thick "re-useable" bags has issues of it's own. These are made from plastic and become smelly/moldy. They last for a few weeks at most in our home. You have to remember to keep them with you when you go shopping which is certainly not convenient. They are wasteful and not recyclable.

Thin film plastic bags as used in this Instructable ARE recyclable. They can be saved up and brought into many supermarkets which is what we do.

author
LesB (author)ihart2015-04-16

First of all, see my comment to jim_lewis1.

As far as environmental pollution, these plastic bags are so light they get whisked to wherever the prevailing winds take them. They interfere with wildlife and are just a general environmental nuisance.

For shopping I use the cloth reusable bags and toss them in the laundy them occasionally. They last for ever.

author
1860skygypsy (author)LesB2015-04-16

You're right about that. Where are you getting your reusable bags? B/c mine don't last long either. Laundering breaks them down even faster. I definitely do not recommend buying them from where you shop, I don't know WHAT they're made of but I bet it ain't from renewable resources.

author
LesB (author)1860skygypsy2015-04-16

I bought most of mine at Trader Joe's. Whole Foods and Sprouts have them too, as do many supermarket chains. They are made from a sturdy cloth and I yet have one go south.

author
dougstrickland (author)ihart2015-04-16

Whether or not these plastic bags are recyclable, the vast majority of people don't recycle. This 'ible doesn't suggest a particular dogma around reduce/reuse, rather shows a useful conversion of what is otherwise Trash. Also, get up to date on your facts regarding these bags ending up in the ocean:

"What is the Pacific Garbage Patch?

Simply put, it's a swirling mass of plastic in the middle of the Pacific ocean that is big enough to qualify as the planet's largest landfill. Roughly located in an area between 135° to 155°W and 35° to 42°N, much of the world's trash has accumulated into this part of the Pacific Ocean based on the movement of ocean currents. (http://bit.ly/plasticIsland)

author
jim_lewis1 (author)ihart2015-04-16

Educate yourself:
http://www.plasticoceans.net/

author
nthompson11 (author)ihart2015-04-16

You should know not to feed the trolls, it just makes them worse. We, the "sane" people, who hold on to plastic bags hoping one day that someone will recycle them, know that this is a GREAT idea, I was going to buy plastic sheets for my molding projects, but now I will bake my plastic bags into sheets.

author
LesB (author)jim_lewis12015-04-16

By making plastic sheets from plastic bags, one is REDUCING personal consumption by not having to purchase plastic materials for project enclosures, etc. So this project incorporates the first two steps of the mantra. If one recycles the leftover scraps from this process, then all 3 steps are incorporated.

author
hugbear (author)2015-04-17

Hi!

Is there any particular reason for ironing first and not just skipping to the oven phase?

Thanks!

author

Ironing is a faster method. It also works better for making thinner sheets. You don't need to use the oven method on anything less than 20 sheets. But if you wanted to make thick rigid plastic, you could go straight to the oven.

author
ooohlaa (author)2015-04-17

Anytime I melted plastic of any sort by accident, the fumes were horrible. I had to open all the windows for fear of my animals breathing it in. Seems to me this would be toxic. Why can't we just use and re-use and re-use canvas bags purchased for this purpose. I have 3 and a string bag and do not need to use bags from stores. Also it is true that plastic bags and fishing line hurt wildlife, recently two geese were stuck together by getting their feet stuck in a plastic bag, and a kind stranger disentangled them. Same with marine life. They also find them in sea life's stomachs. Horrendous.

author
nancyjohns (author)2015-04-17

クール!

author
ElectroFrank (author)2015-04-16

I would like to have some definite information on the UV resistance of this plastic, to know if the items I could make would last outdoors.

Also, Wikipedia says HDPE can be used as 3D printer filament. Do you think this recycled stuff would work ?

author
tovey (author)ElectroFrank2015-04-17

You could always paint your project with paint that contains UV protection and insure that you have sealed it from oxygen. This would allow your project to last much longer in outdoor use.

author

HDPE is extremely problematic when used for 3D printing filament. HDPE is very viscous and sticky when melted. It also shrinks a lot when cooled. That is why most 3D printers use PLA or ABS.

author
Light_Lab (author)ElectroFrank2015-04-16

All polyolefins degrade in UV and oxygen and most have additives to improve their resistance to the environment and heat during processing. It makes little sense to have the additives to protect against UV and oxygen in polymers used to make bags that are intended to break down in the environment, but as far as I know no manufacturers have made the step of leaving out the additives. This would require a different polymer manufacturing stream as most of the additives are added as the polyolefin is made.

Having said that, even with a typical additive package all polymers will eventually break down. Manufacturers don't want polymer products to last for ever in use as they would do themselves out of a job. Ironically polymers last much longer buried in anaerobic garbage dumps protected from oxygen and UV.

author
jmengel (author)2015-04-16

I love these kinds of ideas in principle, and find myself doing such projects but in the long run this kind of small scale recycling is a net negative. The energy required to iron these sheets together, or post-fuse in the oven is more than required to make a new bag. A plastic bag requires about 500kJ of energy or about 140Wh to make from the natural gas in the ground to your store and is about the same as having your iron or oven running for 10 minutes. Reduce, reuse, and at the end of usefulness industrial scale recycling or even power generation through combustion of these bags is the way to go. These bags as a petroleum product are actually a fairly energy dense fuel. Will the car of the apocalypse run on bags? Can you imagine Mad Max harvesting windblown bags from a fence to fuel his Interceptor? One can dream...

author
skinnyjake (author)jmengel2015-04-17

This is a great comment. I guess it depends what they are used for. My work shed needs a new roof. Would this be a feasible material instead of standard asphalt shingles?

author
skinnyjake (author)skinnyjake2015-04-17

The shed is shaded year round. I'm sure the sun would be brutal on these otherwise.

author
pfred2 (author)jmengel2015-04-16

My problem with your industrial scale recycling proposal is I get no personal gain myself when my post consumer waste is industrially recycled. With something like this I end up with a plastic sheet that I might use. Everything I put into my recycle bin is making someone else rich though.

author
bombastinator (author)2015-04-16

To do this on a larger scale there is a device called a bedding iron. It's a set of steam rollers you run a whole bedsheet through. That and some sort of bag cutting jig to make that task less arduous, and you could do quite a bit of it.

author
namora (author)bombastinator2015-04-17

Sounds like a cottage industry to me, go for it and let us know how it works out.

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Bio: My name is Jason Poel Smith I am a Community Manager here at Instructables. In my free time, I am an Inventor, Maker, Hacker, Tinker ... More »
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