Recycled Plastic Fabric

Introduction

While trying to think of projects that would be good to do for our 2010 Earth Day event, we thought of trying to duplicate the creation of fabric from fused HDPE plastic bags that has been done by other groups in the last few years. We made our first attempt at our weekly meeting on April 1 and were mostly successful on the first try. Our first sheet of material had a few holes from excess heat but it did fuse and form a strong, workable material.

Video Tutorial

Here’s a tutorial on how we’re making basic plastic fabric from HDPE or LDPE plastic bags.

Goals

Our initial goal is to come up with some interesting variants on the basic plastic fabric described elsewhere online. We all know how to make plain plastic fabric so we’ll try to come up with ways to make awesome plastic fabric.

After we’re able to get a consistent end product, we’ll try using the fabric for a variety of projects. One of our members is planning to build kites with the material. We also hope to field an entry in the recycled fashion show that’s held at the annual EPA Earthfest event in Dallas, TX.

Fusing HDPE/LDPE

To fuse HDPE, the temperature must exceed 230 F (110 C) for an extended period of time. It should begin to melt instantly at 248 F (120 C). LDPE will melt at lower tempratures. LDPE will fuse when exposed to 176 F (80 C) for an extended time or instantly at 203 F (95 C).

Tools and Materials

  • Iron – use an expendable iron as it may be permanently damaged by the plastic. Since goal is recycling, consider buying an old iron at a thrift store or a garage sale. It should be easy to find a serviceable iron for $10 or less.
  • Paper – parchment paper or thin brown shipping paper seem to work. Newpaper may work, however, you may get some transfer of newsprint onto the finished plastic fabric, so a paper with no printing is desirable.
  • HDPE or LDPE plastic bags – grocery bags are usually HDPE (High Density Polyethylene, recycle type 2) and garbage bags are often LDPE (Low Density Polyethylene, recycle type 4). HDPE is thinner but has a higher tensile strength. LDPE is thicker but not as a strong.

Progress

First Experiment

Our first experiment was an attempt to duplicate the basic HDPE plastic fabric using grocery bags. We had no idea how much heat to use and the plastic got a little too hot, which causes holes to open up in some layers.

Our first attempt at making HDPE fabric

Transparent and Translucent Fabric

After a few more experiments to get a better handle on how long to apply heat, we were cranking out all sorts of results including transparent, tinted, and translucent fabrics.

First production samples of LDPE/HDPE fabric

Questions

  • Can you mix HDPE and LDPE? Yes, we’ve tried this and works fine. In some cases the results are better than using only one material. We’ve had the best results when we sandwich alternating layers of the two types.
  • Can you repair the resulting fabric if it tears? Yes, we’ve successfully applied small patches using an iron and parchment paper. If fused properly the patches will melt into the surrounding fabric and become almost unnoticeable.

References

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