TRAASH: Recycled Plastic Bag Coasters

DIY Plastic Bag Coasters

My adventures in repurposing began with fusing plastic bags. Fusing plastic bags involves melting numerous layers of thin plastic together to create one thicker piece of plastic. This new piece of plastic can then be stitched on a sewing machine just like fabric. I love the look and colors of fused plastic bags so much that I sew them into wallets, pencil cases, and coasters. That’s actually how TRAASH started.

Melting plastic bags may sound a little crazy. I’d like to take credit for this idea but I can’t. A few years ago, I accidentally stumbled across instructions for fusing bags together while on the internet. Immediately excited by this idea, I found some plastic bags, plugged in my iron, and spent the entire Sunday trying to melt bags together. My first attempts were unsuccessful, but I experimented with temperature, pressure, and the number of layers. I mention this because I don’t want you to be frustrated if your fusing doesn’t work on the first try. Below are some tips and instructions based on the way I do it but if for some reason they don’t work for you, experiment on your own and try again. Here’s a few pointers to get started:

  • Not all irons are the same. You may need to adjust the iron’s temperature.
  • Use a hard surface instead of an ironing board. I use a high wooden bar table. I also prefer to stand while working so I can apply significant pressure and not be hunched over a low table that hurts my back.
  • Choosing the amount of plastic bag layers to use is important. Too many will be difficult to melt together, too few will melt quickly and develop holes. In this project I used 8 layers. Note: the number of layers is not the same as the number of bags.
  • Plastic shrinks slightly when heated.
  • While melting plastic, open a window and turn on a fan. I work in my kitchen where I have both a ceiling fan and open windows.
  • The supply list is split into two parts: required and optional. The optional items are for the edging of the coasters, which you can opt to do or not.

Supplies

Required:

  • A dry iron. If there is water in the iron, empty it out and turn the steam option off. I turn my iron to #3 Polyester/Rayon setting.
  • Wax paper
  • Scissors
  • Ruler
  • Sharpie marker
  • Plastic bags – I used 2 bags; a happy face & a “thank you for shopping here” bag.

Optional:

  • Tacky glue
  • Bias tape – I used 1/2 inch single fold.
  • Sewing machine

Stephanie Romano Ironing

Here we go:

  1. Cut off the handles and the bottom of the bags where they are glued together.
  2. Turn the bags inside out. This is important because the ink from the bags will stick to the wax paper and it will be difficult splitting them apart.
  3. Flatten both bags. Fold them in half and place one on top of the other creating 8 layers of plastic (4 from each bag). When the bags are melted together, most of the images and writing can be seen through the layers.
  4. Sandwich the plastic between two pieces of wax paper making sure that the wax paper is longer than the plastic on all four sides.
  5. Start ironing. It’s important to keep the iron moving. Slide the iron from side to side horizontally and then vertically while applying pressure. Then turn it over and do the same thing on the other side. Flip back and forth a few times so the plastic melts evenly. If too much heat is applied, little holes or pits will form in the plastic. The wax paper is slightly translucent, so you will be able to see if this is happening. As mentioned earlier, it may take a few times to get this right so don’t worry.
  6. After flipping and ironing both sides two or three times, peel back a corner of the wax paper to check if the bags are melting together. The goal is to have one piece of plastic. If the layers are separating, go back and iron more. Also check for air pockets. Some areas may melt faster than others causing them to appear to be melted together when they actually aren’t.
  7. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until there’s one thick piece of plastic between the wax. Remove the wax paper but don’t throw it away. Cut the plastic into squares for the coasters. I made a stencil using a piece of cardboard that measures 3.5 x 3.5 inches. Don’t trace too close to the edge. Draw a line around the stencil with a sharpie marker and cut. I included a photo of what holes or pits look like in the plastic. If there are any holes, don’t use that area.
  8. Reusing the wax paper, iron each square individually in order to make sure all of the layers are fused completely. As discussed in step 6, sometimes air pockets may form. This step is just precautionary.
  9. Your coasters are finished! Make yourself a drink and start using them.

 

The coasters look great on their own, but you may want to add material to finish off the edges.  Here’s where the optional supplies come in. When I make coasters, I sew an edge using a different color of fused plastic. I cut the edge pieces one inch wide and fold in half around the front and back of the coasters and attach with a sewing machine. I included a photo of a set of coasters with green edging to provide an example.

DIY Plastic Bag Coasters with Edging

If you do not have a sewing machine, you can also glue on edging using bias tape and tacky glue. Bias tape is a narrow piece of fabric and can be purchased at craft or sewing stores. Measure and cut four pieces of tape (per coaster), apply glue, and fold it over on the edge of your coaster.  Half the tape should be on the front and the other half on the back. Check out my photos for an example. I glued on blue bias tape to add a little pop of color to the coasters. It’s your choice whether or not to add edging.

I hope you enjoyed this project and I encourage you to keep plastic bags from a landfill by repurposing them into coasters or something else equally as wonderful. If you’d like to see what else I’ve made with fused plastic bags, check out my Etsy shop.  I also encourage you to share this project and post photos on Facebook.

Speaking of sharing, the winner of last month’s TRAASH DIY Project Idea is Agnieszka Wszolkowska. Her idea of repurposing wine bottles into vases will be used as part of August’s DIY project and she wins the art supplies donated by School Specialty/Sax Arts & Crafts Division. Thanks Agnieszka for your repurposed idea!

Photos by Stephanie Romano

Stephanie Romano

is an artist, mother, teacher, and writer who has made Jersey City her home for the last 15 years. She creates items from recycled vinyl signs and upcycled materials under the name TRAASH.