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Upcycling Plastic Shopping Bags

Kelly Ann Butterbaugh

There can never be enough trashy treasures in the world. When craft supplies are free and working double duty to keep landfills free, the urge to make more and more grows. Yet, few crafters realize that free fabric and yarn comes home with every trip to the grocery store. Take stock of your plastic shopping bags and consider "upcycling" them.


Plastic Yarn

Today the conscientious consumer brings canvas grocery bags with him/her to the store, but there are times when the dismal plastic bag finds its way into the home. Some grocery stores offer recycling programs for their plastic shopping bags, but why not give them one more purpose before returning them? By crocheting plastic shopping bags into large tote bags you could create fun and frugal waterproof swimming totes. The best part of these totes is that they're essentially free, so if your kids leave every bag that you send to school on the bus it's no great loss.

The trick is to make "yarn" from the plastic shopping bag. Start cutting a 1/2 inch wide strip from the top of the shopping bag all the way down in a spiral pattern to get the longest single strip possible from each bag. Then, crochet away using any pattern you find for a tote bag.


Interested in making other trash to treasure waterproof items? Simply start stripping your bags into plastic yarn and find a pattern.

Plastic Fabric

Since you've now discovered that plastic shopping bags are a free source for waterproof yarn, experiment by using them as waterproof material as well. Cut the side of a bag open so that it lays flat and remove the handles. Then, place several bags together between two layers of parchment paper and iron it on the rayon setting (or whatever is closest). Iron both sides in a well ventilated area. The plastic will melt, fusing the bags together into one piece of "fabric." Be careful handling the hot plastic and parchment.

When fusing, any ink on the bags will melt off during the process. Place a clear bag on top of the patterned bag when fusing. This keeps the ink from melting into a large mess but allows you to see the design through the clear bag once the stack is fused together.


Now you have plastic "fabric" for any items you want to create. Consider creating place mats. Using real fabric strips, create a frame of fabric around several layers of your plastic bag fabric, folding the fabric under to create an edge. These place mats can be made in whatever sizes you like, and they can be used for children's play mats during crafting.

If crocheting isn't your talent, try sewing the fused plastic bag fabric into a tote bag, a purse, or a lunch bag. Some creative uses for the fused plastic fabric include stitched raincoats and notebook/photo album covers.

For quilters, look at portions of the grocery bags as pieces of quilting fabric. A crazy quilt design made out of fused plastic grocery bags is more than interesting. Create a tablecloth for your patio table out of the waterproof fabric. Consider purchasing a large piece of clear acrylic, creating a fused plastic mosaic design, and framing it behind the acrylic by screwing it to an outside patio wall. Landscape designs can be made from the various colored bags found at the stores.


The options for plastic grocery bag recycling are endless. Turn this environmental threat into something beautiful and relax on the days when your fabric shopping bags are forgotten. Turn trash to treasure and turn negatives into positives with your crafty know how.

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March 9, 20110 found this helpful

Love, love, love this article! Well done. Would be great to see some pictures of what you've made.

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March 13, 20110 found this helpful

I reuse mine by folding up and putting in an empty tissue box. I keep one in the bathrooms for trash can liners.

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March 11, 20140 found this helpful

Great ideas - however, you must bear in mind that most plastic shopping bags nowadays are biodegradable. It would be a shame to put all that work into a nice craft item only to have it eventually "self-destruct".

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March 11, 20140 found this helpful

It's called "Plarn". :) I used them to make a carry pouch for an elderly friend's walker. She didn't have a basket on it and had difficulty carrying her purse and her Bible for church. She loved it!

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