Thursday, March 24, 2011

Melting snow and melting plastic

I'm struggling with how to write a post about plastic bags and not do any of the following:
1) rant
2) preach
3) spout statistics
or 4) include a scary picture of a dead marine mammal.

So I'll simply give you a picture I took this week of my polluted view of Merrymeeting Bay and challenge you to make whatever change you can in reducing your need for plastic bags.
 I'll write again about reducing and recycling these bags another time, but for today I want to show you a way to reuse your plastic bags.

Back in 2009 I saw Betz White on the cover of Craft Magazine  wearing a rain hat and carrying a tote bag made from fused plastic bags. Betz White is one of my favorite green crafters and has a great eye for design combined with a great ethic of recycling. One of her books is listed in my sidebar.  Then the fused plastic bags thing popped up again here, and I found another blog post from Betz White here, and I knew I had to give it a serious go.  You can find several You tube videos on how to do it, but I think etsy covers the how-to's pretty well   here:

In a nutshell, you smooth out stacks of six or eight layers of plastic (3 or 4 bags, with handles cut off) and put the stacks between two layers of paper. I used parchment paper, but I'm told you can use any kind. With your iron, you will be melting them slowly and gently, moving your iron around in circles.  The bags fuse together nicely and create a bigger, heavier type of material that you can then sew with like fabric.  It's still plastic, but it's stronger and heavier. You can do all sorts of things with it. I decided to make little pouches with zippers. You can see that you can make nifty designs by choosing colors and cutting out shapes

A few hints that others may not mention. 1) go slowly and start with your iron on a medium setting like "silk". If it's too hot it will shrink up too quickly and may make holes. 
2) Do this in a well ventilated space with windows /doors open, fan going, or ideally OUTSIDE.   You are melting plastic, and although I have never smelled a bad smell while doing it, I know it can't be good to breathe this in.

3) I found that if I sorted my plastics by number (2's together, 4's together) I had better luck and the plastic all behaved the same. 

4) Sewing through the fused plastic is very simple and doesn't require any special needle or thread, but you can't really rip out stitches and restitch in the same line, since the holes remain and weaken the seam. 

I've been collecting the yellow newspaper sleeves that come around my Portland Press Herald, and had some nice yellows and oranges.  Then I got some blues from Betsy who gets the Brunswick Times Record, (and New York Times?)... and voila! A whole rainbow.  That one tote bag took me just about an hour to make and used up about 50 of those newspaper bags.  It's strong enough to carry books or groceries. 

Working with the newspaper sleeves inspired me to call the Portland Press Herald (Maine Today) folks and see if they do any kind of recycling program for these bags. A really nice woman named Sharon Leeman explained that there is no "organized" recycling program, but many of the carriers do reuse the bags that customers return to them.  She said that the carriers each buy their own bags so she said it made sense ( $ ) for them to reuse them if they were willing.  She herself donated a empty appliance box at the "depot" where the papers are distributed to collect the returned bags, and encouraged people to take them for reuse or recycling.  Nice job, Sharon! I asked her about the colors and she explained that although the colored plastic costs more, they switch to yellow and orange in the winter to make the papers easier to see in the snow.

So I hope I didn't rant or preach. I plan to leave a very friendly note for my carrier on Sunday asking if he would reuse bags if I gave them back to him. If not, I'll make more of these bags, and look to reduce my plastic use in other ways. I hope you'll try it too.


  1. What a GREAT post, Kate! No ranting...just the plain old truth! Thanks for the gentle reminder to be better about bringing my OWN bags!!!!

    Now to get Hannaford to spice up the colors on their bags...


  2. That MMB pic is almost pretty, sad, eh?

    LOVE LOVE LOVE your fused plastic fabric!

  3. Sharon GlezenMarch 26, 2011

    What does one use in Bowdoinham to pick up the excrement from one's dog(s)? Perhaps in Bowdoinham one just does it in the woods and lets Nature do her thing?
    I do like the fused plastic thing...sure to set off my smoke alarm located over the ironing board. You'll just have to give me a wee lesson on how to put in a zipper again.

  4. I read about people who pick up poop with their newspaper bags. Those same people also put their shoes into these bags when they pack suitcases. We B'hammers don't use suitcases because we live in paradise and who needs to leave paradise?

  5. love those bags! another great idea!

  6. look at you with the zipper bags!!!!!!!


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