Fused plastic fabric diverts waste from the landfill, but is it green? Let’s weigh the pros and cons!
A couple of weeks ago, I fused plastic to make fabric for a couple of craft projects. Since I’m pregnant, I took the “well-ventilated area” thing seriously and carried my supplies, ironing board and all, out onto the back porch, then donned a very attractive white paper face mask while I ironed. While I was out there pressing and flipping my grocery bags, I got to thinking about whether this is truly a green fabric or not.
The Downside to Fusing Plastic
The reason that folks say to crack a window open when you’re fusing plastic is because heating plastic causes it to off-gas. Off-gassing is when a material – usually a synthetic one – releases harmful chemicals into the air. You can’t always smell these chemicals, but off-gassing from plastic is linked to all kinds of health problems, from respiratory problems to cancer.
Sure, when you take it outside and put on a face mask, you’re probably protecting yourself, but you’re still releasing that stuff into the air. What’s the combined impact on our air quality, and what would it be if more and more people began making fused plastic fabric?
The Upside to Fused Plastic Fabric
What’s great about fused plastic fabric is that it takes a single-use petroleum product that’s landfill-bound and turns it into something usable again.
Plastic bags, like other disposable plastics in our lives, do more than just take up space in the landfill. In fact, since plastic bags are so light, they often blow off of trash trucks and barges. Remember that inspiring scene with the plastic bag blowing in the wind from American Beauty? Those dancing bags often make their way into local waterways and eventually out to sea.
When they get into the water, plastic bags look like food to a lot of marine life. Animals choke on plastic bags or starve because the bags make them feel full, when what they’re eating has no nutrients to keep them alive. If they don’t get eaten, they make their way to one of the huge plastic gyyres – dead zones in the middle of the ocean, where nothing can live.
Diverting these bags from the waste stream is definitely a win for the environment.
So, what do you think?
I feel like there are strong pros and cons to fusing plastic for crafting, and I’m genuinely torn about whether the upsides outweigh the downsides of this material. Do you consider fused plastic a green fabric? If you make fused plastic, what safety precautions do you take, if any? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments, and please take a second to vote in our poll!
16 CommentsLeave a Reply
If the plastic gives off fumes, a paper mask does nothing for your protection. You need to use an industrial mask that looks like a gas mask. Paper masks only protect you from harmful DUST particles, not toxic fumes.
That is a bummer. 🙁 At least I was outside!
Yes, glad to hear that. : ) Stay safe.
Hmmmm interesting post… I think fused plastic is an attempt to make the best of a bad situation, so green in that sense, but better to just not use them in the first place!! It’s the sort of thing where I go “well, I’ve got heaps of these plastic bags, why not make some use of them instead of letting them go to landfill”, but it’s not a reason to purposefully use plastic bags over fabric ones…
Kate, that’s a good point – I have wondered if the downside to crafty reuse is that folks feel like it’s OK to consume more.
I tried the fused plastic thing once. I guess my idea of well ventilated was not enough. I wish I had had a gas mask or that I had never attempted the project at all. I think that using crochet, knitting, and weaving to make plastic bags into a useable material is better for everyone involved.
Yeah, I’m leaning the same way, Jessica. Now, I just need to learn to knit or crochet! 😀
I send the plastic bags to school so the teachers have them on hand to send home soiled clothes. They can also be used to protect books in backpacks from the rain.
You can stuff a few in an old prescription bottle and have the bags on hand to put soided diapers in or just have extra plastic bags in the car or purse for accidents.
Good ideas, PI! And no fumes involved.
I have enjoyed making practical and decorative items from fused bags including plastic from posted itemsand bubble wrap (ie not even bags that can be reused or not taken in the first place). But I stopped due to worries about how it could affect my health etc.I hadn’t realised it could be further affecting the environment too. It would be good to know more from a scientific point of view rather than our hunches. Thanks for this post.
Yeah, I would like to know how much additional off-gassing the ironing causes, as well! I couldn’t find any info on this, but I’ll keep an eye out!
I use my old platic bags for plarn, no fumes.
Awesome! All of the awesome plarn projects out there make me want to learn crochet more than ever!
Use them for plarn instead. That won’t produce any off-gassing. I know, not an answer, just a thought. Treat them as sort of a necessary evil (until they no longer exist).
I once made a rug from bread bags, it was a lot of work, but useful and machine washable. Now, where I live, the grocery stores collect bags for recycling. They collect bread bags, grocery bags, any bag with a 4 or 2, and zip-loc bags. So, I’ve been bringing any bag I can’t reuse there.
The question I have is, when these bags are recycled into plastic furniture or whatever, what are the byproducts? How are they comparable to the gases released when fusing them? With that information we could make a more informed choice.
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