Recycling plastic bags into art.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to frequently asked questions about our upcycled handbags, totes, and more.  

What is Upcycling?

Upcycling is defined as:
Upcycle:1. The process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or a higher environmental value.

I also like to think of my upcycling as a better process than recycling because we don’t have much of a carbon footprint with our work. We don’t have to break down a product, i.e. plastic bottles, to then make it into another material which is then processed heavily to make a final product. We simply use a little electricity for the heat press/iron and the sewing machine. The rest is purse and simple man/woman power.

What are all the materials that make up your products?

The materials used in my products are at least 95% rescued trash. (This is the wording on my sew-in “contents” labels.) That means that they are made of plastic bags (and vinyl banners/billboard material in some cases- like in the satchel lining and pockets) that have been discarded by people, stores, etc.

Where do you get them?

The plastic bags come from my neighborhood and other conscious folks in my community in Bend, as well as from some distant folks who get beautiful bags traveling or from their newspaper deliveries. (My friend in Seattle sends me her blue New York Times bags and my brother in Brooklyn has been known to send me fun New York bags and empty candy bags during Halloween! The environmental center here saves bags for me as well as some other shops and businesses. I even get bags through the drive up teller drawer at my bank!)

The banners come from various printers that make banners and when they make printing mistakes, they send me the bloopers. I also get used ones from my community- the Old Mill District has given me hundreds that have hung here in Bend, as well as the University of Oregon’s recycling center in Eugene.

I collect bags of all kinds, but not grocery type bags. If I get those in the mix, I sort them into a pile that I take to Safeway where they collect bags to send up to Portland- to Trex, the makers of plastic decking.

I also collect food wrappers, like chips bags, frozen fruit and veggie bags, bags from candy, dog treats, dog food, and lots of feed sacks like pig feed, chicken feed, bird seed, etc. (The feed bags and food wrappers are not used in Dave’s Bread products, just in our Whacky Wrapper Tote bags as seen on our website.)

The only other material in the wallets is thread and velcro. There is no glue or coating. Nada. Nothing but bags, heat, sewing.

We do use new webbing materials for the handles of our tote bags. I can’t seem to find a reliable, consistent source of used webbing.

How long do these products last?

The products last a long time and are very durable. We have found that they do wear well, but printing on bags does eventually wear off with time and friction. Thus, for the Dave’s wallets and satchels, we will fuse (heat) a clear plastic bag as the top layer of the panel of material we create so as to protect the great graphics on the Dave’s bread bags. The plastic material can’t tear. It can puncture, so no sharp objects should be placed in an upcycled product!

A brief description of the production process:

The production process goes like this: (I will have a short video out soon. It is in the works.)
1. Sort bags.
2. Flatten bags.
3. Fuse 7 layers of plastic together with a heat press. I use a mangle- an old fashioned iron like your grandmother used to press her table cloths. Maybe….

The top layer is the design layer (or, in your case, the second to top layer is the bread bag, the top layer will be clear) In order that the iron/heat source doesn’t touch the plastic bags, we use parchment paper as the barrier. It can be reused many many times and peals off of the newly fused plastic material easily.
4. Trim the panels of plastic material
5. Cut the material into the pattern pieces needed to create the products- a wallet has 6 pattern pieces of plastic material, one piece of velcro (hook and loop sides), thread.
6. Sew the pieces together in a specific order and voila, a Sara Bella* Upcycled product is made.

How many plastic bags have you rescued from the landfill?

We rescued approximately 31,000 plastic bags to date.

How about banners?

We rescued about 300 pounds of vinyl banner and billboard material in 2010.

Can people custom order a bag, wallet, or fashion piece from Sara Bella* Upcycled? Can we send you our own bags to use, like the one’s I got during my travels abroad? How much would it cost?

Yes, you can custom order anything you want, and yes, I will use your bags if you send them to me. I will have to assess the project and then quote you a custom price for your order. I am always happy to work with people on creative and fun projects!