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Don’t Throw Out Your Plastic Bags, Turn Them Into Rope

Rope has been made by people for thousands of years from just about anything flexible, from roots to vines to daisies. Some ropes are better than others, but one really strong material to make it from is actually found in most people’s waste cans. It’s grocery bags from Walmart or other big-box stores. In this article you will learn how to make a sturdy rope, help the environment, and rid yourself of the problem of plastic bags all at the same time.

There are no special tools needed. In the end you will have a durable and very useful product, and you’ll convert a pile of plastic bags in almost no time at all.

Those Horrible Plastic Bags

First, some figures on plastic bags. 5 grams per bag, times 500 billion bags produced per year, is 2500 metric tons of plastic bags.

About 1% of these get recycled.

Take a moment to let that sink in. The rest get tossed into landfills, or worse, end up choking wildlife.

If you want more scary facts about plastic bags, check out this fact sheet.

Even with all of the clever hacks out there, It’s hard to beat knowing that you’ll never need to buy a hank of rope ever again, especially if you do a lot of shopping.

How to Make String

There are two ways to make a long cord from plastic bags. You can braid the bags together, or you can twist them into a type of twine.

A thick rope can be braided or twisted out at a high rate of speed. The process is relaxing, and because it doesn’t take very long, very satisfying.

If you want to make smaller string, you can follow the same steps, but first cut the bag into narrow ribbons, an inch or two wide. It’ll take longer, but you’ll end up with a finer string. Probably best to start big and reduce the pile before digging into the little stuff, though.

No matter how you do it, there are some tips that remain the same:

  • Take the bags by a bottom corner and squeeze them out gently from there to make a strand to add to your rope.
  • Always start with loose strands of different lengths.
  • Don’t put more than one splice point in the same place, it’ll make a weak point in the rope.
  • You don’t need a ton of strength. Looser braids and twists are easier on the hands and still give you a fine product.
  • If you need a piece of rope for something, cut it off from the starting point so that you can keep going on the loose end when you get more bags.

Braiding Plastic Bags

  • You need somewhere to pin the end of the rope while you braid.
  • Your strands will need to be three different lengths. The easiest way to achieve this is to fold one about a third from one end, and pin the fold with another full length bag.
  • Start braiding, just like you would braid hair, but you’re braiding bags.
  • When one of your strands is near to the end, about two inches or so, line the remainder up with another bag, and braid the two together. This is a splice.
  • The braid will hold your splices together, just keep the splice points spaced apart from each other.
Braiding plastic bags into a rope

Twisting Plastic Bags into Rope

  • No pins needed. Grasp the first strand of bag about 1/3 of the way from one end. Hold both hands around the spot, a couple inches apart, and start twisting the short segment until it twists itself into a little loop.
  • Grab the loop with your left hand and hold it securely.
  • Now two strands should be aiming towards the right from your hand. With your right hand, grab the top one and twist it up, about an inch from the loop you are holding with your left hand.
  • While holding the twist in place with your thumb and pointer finger, grip the other strand with your other fingers.
  • Flip both strands half a turn, so bottom goes to top and top to bottom.
  • Adjust your left hand grip to grasp the pieces of bag where they meet.
  • Repeat. Just remember that whatever direction you twist, you will flip the opposite direction.
  • Once you learn the rhythm, this action will become second nature, and you’ll be able to twist rope in this fashion quickly and easily.
Twisting plastic bags into a rope

Now you have Rope!

No matter what method you choose, plastic bags make a super strong cord that can be used for just about anything normal rope would be used for. A smaller rope with strips of material can make a bank line, clothing line, or small cordage for lashing things together. Larger rope can be used to hang heavy objects, as an anchor line for a boat, or whatever.

You can make a loom and use the bag rope to make textiles by weaving it into cloth. You could also try knitting with it, replacing yarn with Walmart bags. If you really want to ramp up the craftiness of your rope project, you could even weave long strands together by hand to make little baskets. Perhaps make a heavy duty shopping bag out of it, just for the irony. Weave your flexible rope around sticks to make stiffer baskets for holding art or kitchen supplies.

If you can make it with string, you can probably make it with shopping bags. Just don’t use it for oven mitts or pot holders, as the plastic will melt at high temperatures.

Need more bags? Ask your neighbors. I’m sure they’ll give you all you want for free.

As a bonus, you now have a basic survival skill, as any kind of long, limber fibers can be twisted together in the same fashion to make strong cordage. Plus one for the environment, and another for finding a good use for all those horrible plastic bags that seem to be everywhere.

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