TUTORIAL: Recycled Grocery Totes

by Dana on July 6, 2008

Ready to go green? Then say goodbye to your old grocery bags by melting them into something cute. Afterall, plastic is the new plastic, right?

Skill Level: Beginner to Intermediate
Needed:
* plastic grocery bags (Target bags work best)
* Parchment Paper
* Fabric for handles and decor (optional)
* Iron

We’ll be fusing layers of old grocery bags together to create a stronger “fabric” for our new bags. Let’s get started!
1. Gather your mound of old grocery bags. After experimenting with various bags (and my iron) I found that Target bags work best. They result in a stronger finished “fabric”, with less holes, and a brighter white color:
I guess Target needs to add #6. Melt into an even cuter bag.
I chose to only use the white portion of my bags. I have seen many versions which include the store logos and look pretty cool. I referenced this and this when learning to fuse plastic. Some VERY impressive ideas in there. A dress? LOVE it.
Okay, so…..
Cut the bottom, top and sides off of your bag.
Lay the long rectangular sheet flat. Repeat the process with 8 bags and lay them all on top of each other. Then sandwich them between two pieces of parchment paper (one tutorial mentioned using Freezer Paper. Do NOT do this. It will fuse TO your plastic. You must use Parchment Paper):
This is the tricky part, so I won’t sugar coat it. It took five tries before I got this right and was very ready to GIVE UP. But I tried it one more time and it worked!
You need to play with your iron settings and the number of plastic layers you have. I found that the “cotton” setting on my iron and 8 layers of Target bags were the perfect balance (for me). Your iron will react differently, so start by ironing small portions of your bag layers to see what it does. It will get little wrinkles as it melts together. But it shouldn’t shrink and shrivel up too bad. If that happens, your iron is too hot.

I found that the best way is to start at the bottom and press the iron up, to get any air bubbles out. Keep your iron moving constantly around on the plastic. Periodically check under the parchment paper to see if it’s working. When the front side looks fused, flip the sandwich over and repeat the process on the other side. Whichever side you want to be the “right” side of you fabric, you should iron last. That will result in a smoother finish (while the underside will be more wrinkled)
When you’re all done, it should look like this, a large sheet of plastic:
Continue the process so that you have sheets of this new “fabric” to work with. I made 6 sheets for my 4 bags (which means almost 50 Target bags!)
2. Cut out your bag pieces. Take your long sheet and fold it in half to see how much bag you can get out of it. You can make your bags as small or large as you like.
With my sheets of “fabric” and judging how many bags I wanted to make, I chose these dimensions for my bag.
You will need:
(2) front and back pieces (11×11)
(3) side and bottom pieces (11×5)
(2) handle pieces (21×2)
(picture shows some finished elements that will be explained in steps below)
Cut out your bag pieces using a rotary cutter, cutting mat, and ruler.
3. Personalize your bag with words. Using your computer (or drawing by hand), print off the letters you want to put on your bag. If you own a Cricut scrapbooking machine, this would make the process much faster.

Trace the letters on to your fabric with a marker. If your fabric is lightweight, double-layer it or add interfacing to the back to give it more strength. I double-layered mine. Trace the letters backwards, so that there are no leftover pen marks when you flip them over:
Cut out the letters and sew them to the front of your bag. Start with the middle letter so that your word is evenly spaced on your bag:
I chose to use a contrasting blue thread:
Continue sewing all the letters to the front of your bag:
4. Sew your Straps.
Adding fabric to the straps is optional. I like the splash of color. So,cut two fabric strips slightly larger than the straps (makes it easier to sew them together, without having to be as precise).
Sew the plastic straps and the fabric together, on the outside of the fabric. You won’t be turning anything inside out with this project.
Then using a contrasting thread, serge off the edges of your straps.
* This is an optional step. If you don’t have a serger, just trim the edges of your straps OR zigzag the edges to keep the green fabric from fraying.
* Squeeze a dab of Fray Check on the ends of your serged edges to keep them from unraveling. I was out of Fray Check, so I just left the edges as-is. Over time though, they will slowly unravel at the ends.
To make your handles stronger and easier to hold, fold the middle portion in-half and sew it down:
Decide where you’d like the straps on your bag and pin them down:
Sew around your straps, in a square pattern:
Then sew an “X” across each strap, to reinforce the attachment:
It should look something like this:
5. Sew your bag together.
Serge JUST the tops of your Front, Back, and two side pieces.
* If you don’t have a serger, leave them plain or do a zigzag stitch.
Then, starting with your Front and bottom pieces sew the two together, right on the outside of the bag:
Do the same with the Back and the bottom piece:
Serge off both seams on the outside of the bag.
* if you don’t have a serger, leave it plain or do a zigzag stitch.
This part is slightly tricky. Sew one of the side pieces to the Front of your bag. Start from the top, go down……
…and when you get to the bottom portion, lift your presser foot and shift the bag a bit so it continues to sew all the way around….
….and then continue it up the Back side of the bag too:
Do the same with the other side of the bag. And serge off the edges.
* if you don’t have a serger, leave it plain or do a zigzag stitch.
And….you’re done!
If you’re up for more, try a medley of variations. One for each food group:
This fits a one Gallon Milk jug perfectly. I used to tell the checker No bags for the milk. But I really hate it when the jug leaves a milky residue on my car. So we’re baggin it classy now! And you can too. Enjoy!
Please visit us at MADE for more ideas and tutorials.

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{ 42 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Sandra January 26, 2012 at 1:37 am

What measurments did you use for the Milk Jug bag?

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2 Michael @ Blue Velvet Chair January 31, 2012 at 7:14 am

Love this tutorial! Shared with readers over at Blue Velvet Chair’s facebook page…who absolutely LOVE recycled and repurposed!
Michael

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3 Penny February 1, 2012 at 10:47 am

Awesome tutorial and great bags. I’m off to try this RIGHT NOW!!! So excited.

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4 Marilina February 13, 2012 at 1:33 pm

I loved your tutorial, will try to do it at home as soon as possible!!! Thank you for taking your time and sharing it!!♥

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5 Monica February 13, 2012 at 6:47 pm

Great tutorial! I am so happy you spelled it all out with pictures. I couldn’t visualize how to sew the sides/bottom on!

I tried fusing some plastic bags last night using wax paper, not parchment, and it worked fine. My bags didn’t melt to the wax paper and my iron was fine. Maybe you aren’t supposed to use wax paper on an iron though?

Thanks for the great directions!

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6 Donna March 25, 2012 at 10:38 pm

People used to clean their irons if they had melted something on them using salt sprinkled on wax paper and ironing.

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7 leslie March 19, 2012 at 2:52 pm

Just wanted to say these are sooooo flippin cute! As is all your stuff. I an just beginning to learn to sew, all self taught :) and your projects are very approachable and I appreciate that. Made my 6yo a circle skirt and it turned out decent. I am learning as I go. Thank you so much for sharing your beautiful ideas. Leslie

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8 DeVona March 21, 2012 at 5:01 pm

This is such a great idea!! Can’t wait for my bags to build up again, I would also like to know what size the milk jug bag is.:)

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9 Ariene April 1, 2012 at 7:11 pm

Make a page on facebook, I bet you’d have tons of fans!!!

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10 Ginny April 2, 2012 at 4:06 pm

This is so incredibly cool! I can’t wait to try this with the huge pile of grocery bags in my pantry. I like it so much, I included it on my blog… http://darlingadventures.com/?p=635
Thanks!

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11 Courtney Barnett April 5, 2012 at 1:46 am

what are the demintions for the milk bag???

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12 Sarah April 11, 2012 at 10:41 pm

super cute….but seems like a lot of work! Do you sell them anywhere? I’d love to buy them from you!

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13 Jodie May 30, 2012 at 10:06 pm

This is so amazing!!!!

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14 Vannesa October 1, 2012 at 8:37 am

Hello. I tried this for my project and its too hard

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15 Jen K. October 19, 2012 at 3:24 pm

I just made 2 bags with your tutorial, I was slightly tugging on the stitching to make sure it was strong enough, and the handles ripped off both bags along the top seam :(
I did not add a fabric layer to the handles.

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16 Roberta Dulay December 2, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Do you have any advice on how to mend one of these totes if the top layer is peeling bag? Can I just iron it again?

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17 Dana Delaney March 26, 2013 at 2:17 pm

Yes, you can mend these bags by placing parchment paper on your ironing board, the bag next, then another layer of parchment between your bag and iron. Just fuse the loose edges of plastic back down. This ability to repair will make your bags last for years. I have some that I made in 2008 that I am still using all the time!

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18 Amber December 28, 2012 at 5:40 pm

These are tres cute-ay, but what? You had HOW MANY plastic bags from Target? My whole problem is that I don’t actually need more reusable shopping bags. My mind is reeling. Thanks for all the cute tutorials and inspiration. I hope no one who reads your blog ever has 50 plastic bags from Target or anywhere ever again.

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19 linda December 30, 2012 at 10:46 pm

Wow! What a great idea! I wish I had seen this before they outlawed all the plastic bags in my county. Now I can’t even get the bags to try it.

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20 Sue January 21, 2013 at 1:21 am

What type of thread and what needle size do you use?
They are so fun!!

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21 B February 22, 2013 at 11:26 am

I’ve been researching “how to make plastic totes” and have made about three different bags from various newspaper, shopping, and target bags.
Here are some tips:
-Located near the bottom of the bags is the recycle logo with a number in the middle. Target bags (and a few of the newspaper bags) have the number “4″ – this type of plastic seems to work best for this project.
-Go to Target’s “Help Desk”, tell them what you are doing, and they will probably let you have a bunch of used bags (this is how I got my supply)
-You want a nice sharp sewing needle on your machine, so a #11 works well
-The dimensions for the milk bag is the same for the others – “11X11X5″ (Dana has that in her instructions)
-If you can adjust the pressure on the sewing machine’s foot (for a better grip) then have it set for lightweight to medium fabric
-If you don’t want to add fabric to the handles, make them a little thicker (either by folding or adding extra plastic, sew around the edges, and double up (by folding up on the ends of the straps by about an inch) on the ends for extra strength

PS – Thanks Dana, for your tutorial – the pictures were a big help!

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22 Dana Delaney March 26, 2013 at 2:20 pm

B; You can also use almost any plastic packaging such as bread bags and frozen veg bags! Even the plastic bags inside of cereal and cracker boxes!

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23 Geneva Schult September 1, 2013 at 12:13 am

The dimensions for the milk bag are NOT the same. Look at the original illustration. If the “greens” bag is 11×11, the milk bag is NOT. It looks like it is about 10″ tall x 7″ wide. And it is the same on the sides as the front (10″ tall x 7″ wide), making a square. The other bags are rectangles (11×11 on front but only 11×5 on sides).

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24 Linda Claussen March 26, 2013 at 12:12 pm

WoW! what a great idea. Love your site

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25 Kitty March 26, 2013 at 12:28 pm

If you run your serger off the end a half inch or so, then leave a tail of thread you can use a needle with the thread tail to draw the chain back under the stitching and it’ll never unravel.

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26 Pkae March 30, 2013 at 8:49 pm

THE best plastic bag to plastic fabric to plastic bag tut I’ve seen yet (and thanks to B for the extra news ;-) ). I like to quilt and am going to try quilting the plastic fabric before it becomes a bag … think it might be interesting in looks and use.

Love your site and kind of glad you are not also on FB … just too many places to go in the social web world when 1 will do ;-)

Thanks for all your effort to help all of us do better. :-)

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27 ATasteOfMadness April 14, 2013 at 11:35 pm

This is the greatest thing I have seen all day! I am so excited to make this soon!

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28 Rita Gnap April 23, 2013 at 3:11 pm

Wonderful! Where did you get the letters from?? Thanks for sharing!

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29 lynda - healthy crafty mommys July 18, 2013 at 1:14 pm

Very good tutorial I love this idea :)

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30 Reusable Shopping Bags October 10, 2013 at 8:02 am

Tutorial is awesome. However, I think you should use some other material instead of plastic to support fabric. As they have many environment hazards.

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31 Rosie October 15, 2013 at 11:02 pm

The idea is to Recycle the plastic bags that you have!
Love it!!!

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32 Ash January 19, 2014 at 12:22 am

I love this tutorial! Unfortunately, I don’t have a sewing machine! Do you think sewing it by hand would work?

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33 Josie McHale January 30, 2014 at 2:19 pm

WOW! Great idea! I have so many plastic bags (that are now taboo to use) from collecting them over the years. I hate to throw them away (can’t do that either). I love this tutorial on how to repurpose it into a fancy, great looking shopping bag!

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34 Sherri February 15, 2014 at 12:59 pm

So where has this site been all these years that I’ve been looking for a way to make tote bags from used grocery bags??? I was looking for a way to fold & weave the bags, however. The only worry I have is for my iron: what keeps the plastic off/out of the (steam holes) base of the iron?? And I don’t quite understand how to incorporate a fabric layer on the outside. Also, are other bags okay – I NEVER go to Target!! Thanks ever so much for the information!!

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35 Gwen Arias March 5, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Love your tutorial for making recycled green bags. I take sewing and have learned from my sewing instructor to make recycled bags out of animal food bags (i.e.; dog, bird seeds, rabbit food bags made of strong plastic). we made a lining for the bags out of cotton material to make them stronger. Hawaii is one of the states that have banned use of plastic shopping bags so we all have to use recycled paper bags or shopping bags made with fabric or other material. Aloha from Hilo

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36 Mary March 19, 2014 at 12:58 pm

I would never accumulate 50 Target bags or any similar to that size! And the typical plastic bags from the supermarkets are smaller, but lots of them. How would they work? Not sure ironing them is that easy and you do NOT want plastic sticking to your iron as very hard to remove. You also could recycle fabrics into bag shapes with handles and just line the insides with fewer plastic bags?

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37 Laurie March 25, 2014 at 10:52 am

I really liked the idea of this project but the plastic bags did not fuse well when I ironed them. Also, going to stores specifically to get a large quantity of unused plastic bags seems counterintuitive to the idea of reducing, recycling and reusing. (You are increasing the demand of plastic bags.) Perhaps using up your personal stash of bags and asking friends/neighbors for their old bags might be a more resourceful way of using up bags.

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38 Sally March 25, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Seattle also has banned plastic bags so this will be great!! The old Fred Meyers bags were getting kind of …. Icky. ;)

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39 Ford GT for sale March 26, 2014 at 11:56 pm

Ford campaigned their own cars and engines at the Indianapolis 500, and part of the deal would have kept Ferrari entirely out of North
American motorsports. The very term doesn’t really bring up visions of Chevys or Hyundais do they.
A custom cloth interior option was new and a glove box was added and replaced dash storage bin.

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40 Lisa April 28, 2014 at 4:09 pm

Why would you to the to trouble of collecting (or asking for) 50 (FIFTY!) target bags to make this when you could make bags just as useful from fabric you gave probably lying around in your house? Look in your linen closet. This just seems like “going green gone mad!”

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41 Toby April 29, 2014 at 6:51 pm

Totally agree with Lisa! Some fools will purposely collect bags to make these silly totes! The same thing can be made with old clothes, sheets, etc. Or you can use plastic bags from shops as garbage bin liners. A+ for effort but I find this idea quite ridiculous and a waste of time.

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42 Alice Lau December 1, 2014 at 12:24 am

Does anyons know if there’s a subsititute I could use instead of parchment paper?

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