Make Your Own Plastic Tote Bag From Recycled Plastic Bags




About: Chemical Engineer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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!

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!!

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    75 Discussions


    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    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!


    8 years ago on Step 9

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


    10 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    2 replies

    Reply 9 years ago on Introduction

    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?


    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    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...


    10 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    2 replies

    Reply 8 years ago on Introduction

    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.

    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.

    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.


    11 years ago on Introduction

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

    2 replies

    Reply 11 years ago on Introduction

    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!!


    9 years ago on Introduction

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