Recycling plastic bags into art.

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What is Upcycling?

Upcycling is the process of converting waste materials or useless products into new materials or products of better quality or a higher environmental value. Sara Bella* Upcycled turns plastic bags that are usually thrown away into recycled fashion, arresting wall art and/or usable products that never need laundering. Just wipe clean that recycled messenger bag, baby bib, iPad cover or bustier. You won’t even need to wash that strapless evening dress or your potato bag cowboy chaps (the only chaps that won’t ever smell like horses).

Did you know plastic bags were responsible for flooding in Bangladesh and Maylasia? They clog the flood drains, so when it rains, the water has nowhere to go.

The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that more than 380 billion plastic bags are used in the U.S. each year, about 1/3 of which are plastic shopping bags. While some are reused, many of these lightweights end up in landfills. Others become litter and fly away to entangle themselves in trees, tempt unsuspecting animals to ingest them, or float off in our waterways, often suffocating or poisoning sea life. These landfill-bound totables can take up to a thousand years to decompose, and still they leave toxic bits in our soils and streams.

Countries and cities are starting to pass legislation to ban plastic bags, but we have a long way to go. In the meantime, our products offer the option to upcycle.

Sara Bella* Upcycled’s line of 30 products (with more prototypes on the way) is made from fused recycled plastic bags that we turn into material. The process is wonderfully low tech. You just need a cheap iron (no need for steam), recycled plastic bags and some parchment paper so the bags don’t melt onto the iron. You heat together six to eight layers of plastic until they fuse together. This gives you a panel of fabric, which is now ready to be decorated with other more colorful plastic bags or pieces of plastic that can be applied as a random collage or cut out into deliberate designs. You repeat the process until you have enough panels to sew into a large piece of material that you’ll use to create your final product.

This is where the art comes in. The creative possibilities are endless. The only limits are those you put on yourself, so you just have to play and create. Don’t worry about getting it right. If you think you have goofed up, remember, you’re just using recycled plastic bags, so it doesn’t matter. Besides, some of my most inspired creations have stemmed from what I thought were mistakes.

So why not give this magical process a try and see what kind of upcyling ideas you come up with. In the process, you’ll be rescuing your share of plastic bags from the world’s landfills, dumps, rivers, oceans and storm drains.

Of course, a little guidance never hurts, so you just might want to start out by taking one of my classes.