Recycle Plastic Bags Into Usable Plastic Sheets

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About: 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, and all around Mad Genius

Intro: 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.

4 People Made This Project!

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127 Discussions

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ooohlaa

3 years ago on Introduction

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.

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Ardutronicoooohlaa

Reply 8 weeks ago

This is HDPE, there shouldn't be a big danger in melting it. You probably melted PVC (also known as vinyl), which can't be melted and reused since it decomposes and releases toxic chlorine gas.

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RonH13ooohlaa

Reply 2 months ago

It obviously wasn't too bad. Otherwise, they wouldn't have tried to eat it.

How do you know that the geese were actually stuck? Maybe they were practicing for a three-legged race and some do-gooder just came by and ruined their practice session!

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goldenskyhookRonH13

Reply 2 months ago

There are literally thousands of different kinds of plastic, each with its own toxicity level, or amount of fumes. It just isn't reasonable to label all plastics as dangerous because you had a bad experience melting one particular kind. This 'ible is offering a great solution to a problem that exists in our very real world. I, too, use reusable bags whenever possible. That doesn't mean this isn't a great idea. In fact, it actually lessens the risk of some animal getting caught, since it reuses hundreds of these bags. I see these things flying around in the wind every day on the roads. I, for one, would MUCH rather see somebody using them to make backpacks or whatever. Until the day when we actually DO ban plastic bags, I applaud the efforts that find fun ways to reuse them.

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RowanCant

2 months ago on Step 9

Cool that you are recycling plastic bags, but the idea is to reduce first. It would have been way cooler if you were recycling a whole heap of soft packaging that you can't avoid, but getting plastic bags in order to recycle them really isn't the point of recycling. The idea is to reduce plastic. Thicker and harder plastic to use in projects is not a good enough reason to use more plastic bags.

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ArdutronicoRowanCant

Reply 8 weeks ago

If you read carefully, he says: "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." He didn't buy them, he used the ones he had used for the store's purchases. Yeah, there are reusable bags, but they might not be available in his region. And recycling them is better than simply tossing them out in the trash.

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Ionut RazvanRowanCant

Reply 2 months ago

I think he got them only to make this instructable and prove the point.

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JavedH

2 months ago

My cousin has a factory in Pakistan where he makes plastic sheets by recycling the plastic bags. The sheets are made quite think and then converted to mats and slippers.

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goldenskyhook

2 months ago

Just spitballing here, but I wonder...

If you were to place a flat, black surface out in the direct sunlight, and press these little guys out with a clear sheet of acrylic, you might be able to accomplish this with ZERO electricity. In sunny areas, such a surface will get HOT! I'm not sure of the exact temperatures, but I'll bet it's enough to do this project.

1 reply

You would probably need some kind of solar concentrater such as using mirrors to reflect more light onto the surface.

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one.relicvandim199

Reply 2 months ago

Do a bit more research... There are plenty of bricks for sale out there that are rated for heats of this temperature and higher. As long as your not putting a basic landscaping brick from a Big Box store in the oven, you'll be fine.

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Advising Elf

2 months ago

Looks useful. Good job.


As an aside, this illustrates the difficulties with recycling. There is a bit of labor and energy involved with this process, as well as quality control. It shows how much better it is to "reduce" and "re-use".

I'm not bashing recycling; it has its place. It's just not the panacea it's made out to be.

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bgreen3Advising Elf

Reply 2 months ago

Agreed. I specialize in energy usage and sustainable manufacturing. The amount of electricity required to heat the iron and heat the oven far offsets the gain of recycling the plastic in this manner. Somewhere, far in the distance, a coal fed power plant is belching out fumes to recycle a couple plastic bags.


Really not trying to be a debbie downer, but this is probably at least 1kW of energy per sheet of material.

Still a fun project, though! Maybe we can develop a solar furnace that can weld these sheets together with zero carbon footprint.

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KnittersSerendipity

2 months ago on Step 8

I think this is a great idea to create the stiff inner base needed for handbags, or a support for a handbag inner structure. Fused thinner I would think it could be sewn sandwiched together with fabric and sewn.

My safety concern is to be sure you are doing the fusing in a well ventilated room. If any plastic does get melted on your iron’s surface, heat the iron to a higher temp and clean the iron with extra fine, fine steel wool.

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MichiganDave

2 months ago on Introduction

Thanks for this. I have done something similar. My variation was to squeeze out some drops of hot glue from a hot glue gun on some of the sheets of bags before using the iron. The iron liquefied the glue and the sheets stuck to each other more strongly. I used them to make a small blanket to place over my legs during a cold Michigan winter when I was sitting outside. It kept sharp wind from my legs allowing me to stay outside longer.

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avgjoe25

2 years ago

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.