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It's In The Bag! Reusing and upcycling your plastic shopping bags...

Got plastic bags? Many businesses offer or sell reusable shopping bag swag, but we still haven't totally eliminated the old standard disposable sack. If you have any of these lying around, reuse them as much as you can, and then up-cycle them. This is important work, and one of the best ways to honor the earth and leave a smaller environmental footprint. Even the rattiest plastic bag can be made into something cool: a heavy duty tote, an apron, place or door mats, even a shower curtain; the list is endless. Use extra care when doing this work with children as ironing and cutting are involved. Here’s what you’ll need:

  • Assorted plastic bags (garbage, food, store) in different colors, sizes, patterns
  • Scissors
  • Wax paper
  • Iron
  • Ironing board or table covered with a heavy towel

Cut the plastic bags so they lay flat (no handles or folds at the bottom). You'll need between five and seven layers to make one sheet of material, so plan ahead to make sure you’ll have enough! In order to know how many plastic bags you will need, you have to decide what you are making. A tote bag (which will require sewing or stapling) will require more than a change purse. Of course if you use large bags, then you will need fewer. We made an apron, and used five medium store bags for the fabric, and four smaller bags that we cut designs out of to decorate it.

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Place wax paper on the ironing board/table, lay your neatly piled plastic on top...

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...then top off with another sheet of wax paper.

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With the iron on high, iron over the wax paper. You may need to lower the heat if your iron gets too hot and the wax paper can’t be easily separated from the melted plastic. (Hint: do a sample piece first to test the heat setting. Remember to allow a minute for the plastic to cool before you try to lift off the wax paper!) Check to see that all edges are ‘fused’ or melted so that you can’t peel the individual layers apart. If they do separate, place fresh piece of wax paper and iron once more.

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Cut out the pattern for what you are making. We chose a chef’s apron. If you can’t make the pattern yourself, download one from the internet. We could have traced a cloth apron to make our pattern. For a bag, maybe you have an old resuable shopping bag that's no longer good for carrying stuff--reuse it here to create a pattern for making new bags. (Hint: Trim the edges after the bags have been fused as they may be rough.)

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Next, look for colors, images and words you’d like to incorporate. Cut out what you’d like to use. IMPORTANT! The last layer of plastic bag MUST be placed colored-side DOWN, or the colors will run. This means that your images will come out backwards. For pictures, this is fine, but if you are using letters, place a white, clear, or light colored plastic as the first sheet, then your design or letters colored side up, and then the next four or five layers.

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Once our pattern was cut, we laid out the design we wanted, using the red circles and a smiley face. You will need fresh wax paper on top and bottom when you melt these onto the fabric.

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Once it was cooled, we punched holes for the ties. These were made from red ribbons and simply fastened with a knot. (Hint: you can add other decorative touches, like gluing ribbon around the edges, maybe adding sparkles, etc. We recommend Gorilla Glue or some other very strong adhesive; white glue won’t work. Alternatively, you can create straps and ties from the fused plastic material--but they will have to be sewn on.)

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Collect unusual looking bags and ask others to save them for you. A particular design may inspire you to create something; a holiday bag might look great as a tree skirt, sports logos for a gym bag, or orange, black, green and purple plastic to make a cool trick or treat bag!

There are many websites with ideas for what you can make with fused plastic bags--some even have step by step video instructions! You may need some additional skills such as sewing, crocheting or knitting. Visit www.etsy.com for some super workshops for making up-cycled stuff, and www.myrecycledbags.com for how to make "plarn"--plastic yarn!

by Natalie Zaman and Charlotte Bennardo

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From 2006 to 2010, www.broomstix.com was an online magazine for families following alternative spiritual paths. Relaunched in 2013, Broomstix has a new format, but the same, simple goal: to be a positive community resource where folks can share their knowledge and talents.

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