Introduction: Vacuum Form Upcycled Bubble Wrap

About: I want computers to be wilder. Running a Jungle makerspace in Panama.…

Bubble Wrap is just one of many plastics we commonly throw away that are made out of Low-Density Polyethylene (#4 LDPE). It's a pretty incredible material, food safe, super stretchy, resilient, cheap but we tend to just toss it out into the environemnt, and many recycling places DON"T accept it because it's too stretchy to shred. So here's a quick how-to for making sheets of garbage plastic that you can two quick things you can do with it!

Other garbage you can also use includes:

  • Six Pack Rings!
  • Bread Bags
  • Many disposable grocery bags
  • electronics packaging
  • cling film (for food)

It usually comes in thin, stretchy forms.


  • Bubble Wrap or other Scrap Plastic sheets (Make sure it is #4 LDPE)
  • A hot flat thing (We used a heat press, sometimes we use a sandwich press, or you can even use a clothes iron!)
  • Non-stick sheets
  • Teflon oven liners (Use the teflon sheets that are black and coated, not the tan ones that are woven, plastic gets in between them)
  • or Silicone Baking sheets
  • or Parchment Paper
  • Vacuum Former (We used a Mayku, but there are many! and cheap small ones used for dentistry that are only about $100!)

Step 1: Trim Sheets

Cut Sheets a bit bigger than the size you need them for the vacuum former. We cut ours to the size of the heat press.

Step 2: Heat Press Sheets

put your sheets of plastic between your heat-proof, non-stick sheets (like teflon sheets, silicone sheets, or parchment paper). We used about 9 sheets thick of bubble wrap. This was about the bare minimum you could probably use for vacuum forming. You can make it thicker or more rigid with more sheets.

Squish in your heat press or panini maker. We melted it at 260C for 12 minutes. You will need to tune the settings for yourself.

or if you just have a clothes iron, iron iron the outside of the non-stick sandwich on medium heat.

Step 3: Cool Flat

after the sheets have melted. keep them in their non-stick sandwich and cool them under some kind of weight. If they cool on their own, they will curl up.

Step 4: Use in Vacuum Former

preheat your vacuum former, and then insert your new sheet of plastic. Wait until the sheet has thoroughly, evenly heated up, and is drooping nicely, and then vacuum it!

It should make a decently tight seal around your object and pick up a lot of details. You can trim off the parts you want, and use it for whatever! This LDPE material will be much more flexible than traditional vacuum forming materials. A cool thing about it is that it will give a really interesting structure to the final form. Also if your plastic has imagery or printing on it it will stay on the final form. So you could experiment with the visual look.

Step 5: Other Recycled Plastics

You can vacuum form some other types of thermoplastic too. Like #5 Polypropylene (shown here) or #2 HDPE. The key is making homogenous sheets that are thin enough. You can see this 1mm recycled polypropylene does vacuum form, but because it is so thick it doesn't get all the details. So just keep that in mind for your designs :)

Step 6: Bonus: Sew Sheets!

The LDPE sheets are kind of like a fabric once they are fused together. You can easily sew the sheets together to make bags, decorations, or even clothing! This plastic will also be perfect for diffusing LED lights. Just imagine a cool textured outfit made from this material with embedded LEDs.

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