Tutorial: How to Make Environmentally Friendly Reusable Sandwich/Snack Bags

[24 Jul 2009 | By | 76 Comment(s) | 74,706 views ]

tutorial : Make reusable sandwich bags - dabbled.org

In my house, we (and by “we,” I mean me and my uninterested husband and kids that I am forcing this on) are doing our best to be better stewards of our environment.  So when Dot asked me to be a guest poster on Dabbled while she sunbathes on an exotic beach being served fruity cocktails by 22-year-old buff cabana boys (I am now thinking I got the raw end of this deal), I immediately racked my brain to come up with a crafty “green” project.

And thus, the reusable sandwich bag project was born. Here in the South, school starts ridiculously early – like next week.  So since we are heading back to school, I thought it would be the perfect time to make


these bags.  These bags are the perfect size for holding sandwiches, cookies, crackers, chips, apple slices, grapes and all the other lunch staples.  And while you might not want to store watermelon or last night’s pot roast in them, they work really well.  Not to mention, they are simple to clean and can keep untold amounts of plastic bags out of the landfills.  So without further ado . . .

Reusable Sandwich Bags

Materials for one sandwich size bag

  • 7”x 15” piece of plastic or vinyl lining (This is located in the home fabrics section of most craft stores.  This is a much easier project if you buy the plastic lining that DOES NOT annoyingly sticks to itself.)  If you want to make snack size bags, cut your plastic into a 7” x 8” rectangle.
  • Construction paper/cardstock/heavy duty paper template – 6.5” x 10” will work
  • 7” piece of sew-on velcro
  • (2) 7” pieces of Decorative Ribbon

Step 1.  Place your vinyl right side up on your working surface.  On each of the short ends, you will sandwich the vinyl between a piece of velcro and a piece of ribbon(ribbon on outside or right side edge, velcro on inside edge).  Pin in place.

ribbon, plastic, velcro

Step 2.  Stitch the ribbon/vinyl/velcro together.  The end product looks and works best if you hem both the top edge and bottom edge of your velcro.

Step 3.  Fold the vinyl in half (wrong sides together) so that you have a 7” x 7.5” rectangle (7” x 4” for snack size bags) with the velcro on the inside.  Place your paper template inside the folded plastic so that ¼” overhangs both sides (template will overhang top).

Step 4:  With your iron set to a medium heat, fuse the vinyl together on the edges using your paper template as a guide.  DO NOT place the iron over the entire piece of plastic.  Instead use the tip of the iron to seal the edge.  When you’re done, let the pouch cool for 30 seconds and then remove the template.P1050325

Step 5:  Stitch the now sealed sides using a 1/8” hem.  Be sure to hem the entire length of the bag, including the ribbon/Velcro portion (I suggest backstitching this portion as well) to ensure your bag can endure repeated use.

P1050348This project is easy, fast and cheap.  You can easily make a dozen bags in an hour, and when all was said and done, the cost for each bag comes in at just under 30 cents.  And best of all, most vinyl is dishwasher safe on the top rack (test a single bag first to make sure).  Enjoy!

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76 Comment(s) »

  • Vanessa [] :

    Wow!!! I can’t believe I didn’t think of this. What a great idea. I like plastic bags, but loathe the fact that they get thrown out. I’m going to make these for the Hubby’s lunches. THANKS!

  • Lisa [] (elsewhere) discussed this :

    Dabbled » Blog Archive » Tutorial: How to Make Environmentally Friendly Reusable Sandwich/Snack Bags http://is.gd/1MUDM

  • Jo Hamilton [] :

    Hi! These bags are really cute, but you might want to check to make sure that the vinyl you’re using is not made of PVC (which it most likely is). PVC is brimming with phthalates which you definitely don’t want in contact with your food. Toys have been recalled for containing PVC and so forth. It is not among the friendly chemicals of the world.

  • Heidi [] (author) :

    That’s a great point Jo and one I should have covered in the post. I did use food-safe plastic for my bags and encourage anyone who makes these to make sure the plastic they use is food-safe.

  • Anne Weaver [] :

    This is brilliant!!! Definitely getting added to my “must sew” list! I posted a link to your tutorial on Craft Gossip Sewing:

  • Liz [] (elsewhere) discussed this :

    Want to make dozens of these! http://bit.ly/3pk6ZK

  • Stephanie [] :

    How do you figure out which kind of plastic you are buying at the fabric store is safe for food?

  • Heidi [] (author) :

    Most fabric stores have an information tag on each fabric – it should give you a breakdown of the materials used to make the plastic. If you’re not sure, ask the salesperson. Also, if you use ziploc bags, you will most likely feel comfortable using many of the plastic materials they sell for tablecloths in craft stores. Any plastic, including store-bought bags, will have chemicals and it is a personal decision. You could also use PUL fabrics (search online for these), which are considered food-safe or just plain muslim if you want to avoid plastic all together.

  • jannypie [] (elsewhere) discussed this :

    I *love* this DIY for reusable sandwich bags- these are ones I would use! http://trunc.it/17oli

  • sanztosi [] :

    ho fatto un post sul mio blog x il tuo fortissimo tutorial
    a presto Moni

  • Lisa [] :

    Are ribbon and Velcro dishwasher-safe?

  • Lori [] :

    Thanks so much for this great idea. I remember I have a brand new, clear plastic table cloth that was given to me. Now I know just the reason I still have it! It says on the label that it is 100% crystal clear vinyl…still wondering if this is safe for foods. But, oh, the savings on ziplocks! I don’t like throwing out something we’ve used once…..

  • Heidi [] (author) :

    @ Lisa – I have washed mine several times now and have not had a problem with the ribbon or the velcro. I would try one in the dishwasher first and see if it comes out ok.

    @Lori – most vinyl does contain PVC, so you may want to find a different plastic if you are concerned about food safety – but you could use the vinyl for storage bags you don’t plan to use with food (I put my kid’s craft supplies in baggies as well.) I used a plastic sheet that said it was PVC-free, but I also have vinyl bags and do use them for some food stuff occasionally. You can use PUL fabric or a PUL sheet to laminate the fabric of your choice. ALL plastic has chemicals though, so if you use zipper top bags, you are probaly already exposed to many of them.

  • anna [] :

    is PUL food-safe, though? I thought it wasn’t… but I could be wrong about that.

  • Heidi [] (author) :

    From everything I have read PUL is considered food safe – of course, many times, what they say is safe today could be changed tomorrow. If you are concerned you could try muslin.

  • Kate [] :

    Lovely idea, but try as I may, I could not find food-safe clear plastic. So, I found blackout liner at a chain fabric store for just $6.99/yd. It’s a cotton/poly blend, wipes clean easily and is machine washable. I stiched it back to back with some cute fabric and voila! It’s not clear, but it is still good for the environment and no chemicals!

  • chantell [] :

    I was so excited to make these bags and when I went to sew them they looked horrible b/c the vinyl kept sticking to my sewing machine. Any tips??

  • Heidi [] (author) :

    @Chantell – You probably are using plastic that is too thin. Try a thicker (heavier gauge) plastic. Make sure that it is not tacky. If it sticks to itself, it will not run through your machine. You could also try putting ribbon on the edges if you want to work with what you have already.

  • Heather [] :

    Hi There
    What a great idea – and simpler than other patterns I have
    found. Wondering if you could post some web sites where to order the

  • Annie [] :

    I’m finally getting around to making these! So excited! A couple of quick questions:

    1) how do I tell which is the right side of the vinyl or does it matter?

    2) do you hem the top of the ribbon over the vinyl? Or do you leave the edge of vinyl exposed under the velcro?

    Thanks again for the lovely instructions!!

  • Heidi [] (author) :

    @Annie – There really is not “right” side for the vinyl. As for the top edge. I just sandwich the rough edge between the velcro and ribbon and sewed it together – nothing special was done.

  • Laura [] :

    I am wondering where you found foodsafe vinyl? I can not find it anywhere. Love the clear but not the PVC!

  • Jen V [] :

    Consider using nylon fabric. It isn’t see through but doesn’t contain any PVC. It is also machine washable.

  • Dot [] :

    Thanks for the tip!

  • Joanne [] :

    I love those bags – I made some using rip stop nylon which is said to be safe for food and it’s waterproof. I wouldn’t use vinyl, but then again, I’ve been using baggies forever and you never know what they line tin cans with. Rip stop nylon comes in all colors and wipes away clean. You can also toss them in the washing machine (don’t forget to use organic detergent).

  • H+K [] :

    I just wanted to add….I reuse those plastic “bags” that sheets, comforters etc. come in. I cut them to my desired sizes for different size bags. Sew up the sides and you can use velcro or snaps or zippered closures. I do not use them for food however, just little do dads and trinkets and stuff.

  • Amy [] :

    The ladybug vinyl looks just like the stuff Walmart sells. How do I know if Its food safe? There was a tag on the roll but it didn’t really say what it was. The craft lady there had no idea if it was food safe.

  • Dot [] :

    This question keeps coming up. If you are not sure whether your plastic is food safe, and are concerned, don’t use it or buy from a supplier who can assure you of food safety–if walmart staff is uninformed, try a speciality store or order online. Some people say that not even ziplock bags are even food safe, so honestly there is a ton of conflicting info out on the web. (Here’s one I found: http://veganlunchbox.blogspot.com/2007/04/pul-wrap.html)

    In any case, if you are concerned about plastics, just make the bags out of fabric.

  • Amy [] :

    Okay from my understanding the stuff at walmart is Vinyl which is not really food safe.

  • Nancy [] :

    Love this! One detail question—>what type & size needle do you use to sew vinyl or nylon or other odd material like this? Thanks!

  • Jen [] :

    To prevent the vinyl from sticking when you sew, sandwich it in tissue paper!

  • renee [] :

    Jen where do you find food safe vinyl? and thanks for the tip about using tissue paper!

  • Sally Caspers [] (elsewhere) discussed this :

    Totally making these this weekend. No more baggies! Environmentally Friendly Reusable Sandwich/Snack Bags" http://tinyurl.com/y9e6aeb #fb

  • Dionne [] :

    Thanks for the super idea… However one can use water resistant nylon . that has always been food safe. Machine washable and dishwasher safe top shelf. Just machine wash hang dry or wipe out with a damp cloth. Most is not see through but comes in all the primary colors.

  • so_white [] (elsewhere) discussed this :

    Dabbled | Tutorial: How to Make Environmentally Friendly Reusable Sandwich/Snack Bags

  • MSRtech [] (elsewhere) discussed this :

    Dabbled | Tutorial: How to Make Environmentally Friendly Reusable Sandwich/Snack Bags http://t.co/r8d9ZT2

  • Victoria [] :

    What a great idea!! Perfect for back to school. I featured this on my blog today: http://vixenmade.blogspot.com/2011/09/last-minute-back-to-school-projects.html

  • Sarranea [] :

    If I am correct in my research online, you should not use a vinyl or plastic that is made of PVC (polymerizing vinyl chloride). It’s the chloride in there that is not food-safe. When it gets wet or moist, it releases dioxin, a carcinogen.

    The safer choice is vinyls or plastics made of PEVA/EVA (polyethylene vinyl acetate/ethylene vinyl acetate) which don’t contain chloride.

    I have a shower curtain made of EVA that I haven’t used and was thinking of repurposing it for these reusable food bags.

  • Sarranea [] :

    PUL (polyurethane) is controversial. Some people use this material for food bags, some don’t take the risk. Some have suggested using a double layer of PUL on the outside and cotton on the interior so the PUL is not in direct contact with the food, yet the PUL maintains the waterproof quality.

    One of the most important warnings I have read is to avoid plastics that contain BPA (Bisphenol A) which is known to be estrogenic. Canada (of course!) was the first brave and sensible country to declare BPA a toxic substance one year ago in September, 2010.

    One other caution I would like to mention is that some vinyls are pretreated with vinyzene to make it mildew resistant. This would not be considered food safe.

    So, avoid Vinyzene, BPA, possibly PUL, and PVC.
    Look for PEVA or EVA.

  • Sarranea [] :

    I thought I was done, but I’m not.

    There is even controversy over PEVA/EVA materials.

    My original information came from HealthyChild.org, however a poster on there commented that PEVA/EVA materials also contain…are you ready for this…Formamide, Dimethylformamide and Methylformamide, all toxic and even acetophenone known as a harmful irritant to infants.

    But EVA is often used in mouthguards for athletes!? Like I said, it is controversial. Belgium and France banned all children’s Puzzle Mats because they found most to contain harmful chemicals, inluding PEVA. So, this gets very confusing.

    Another option that people use to make reusable bags is PUL coated Nylon and are certain to have the PUL on the outside, away from food. The more I research about vinyl, though, the more ify it becomes. Some don’t recommend it at all in addition to a caution about using manufactured oil cloth. There are instructions online for how to make your own Linseed Oil Cloth and Beeswax Cloth, both probably the SAFEST options, but less convenient if they are not machine washable. Beeswax cloth is not machine washable.

  • Sarranea [] :

    I keep coming back here because I like the design of the bag AND I keep running into more information, hahaha.

    Silk….this was a suggestion, too, as it’s fairly non-breathable and will keep food fresh.

    RipStop Nylon is the type that I referred to above that contains the PUL coating.

    I’m still looking for the safest material…

  • Dot [] :

    Thanks fr all the feedback Sarranea! Please do post some pics when you find the perfect material and make them.

  • Allison Dey [] :

    PUL, according to the companies that make it, is not recommended for food storage. Neither is vinyl which usually contains lead. PVC clear plastic is pretty much out. Mylar, a polyester and aluminum foil fused fabric is used for food storage and considered to be inert. However, you can just avoid the plastics altogether and just use – OMGosh! -unbleached cotton or linen fabric. I know that’s highly revolutionary, but that’s what generations have done. Either wrap sandwiches in napkin sized pieces and make some bags for snacks or add stainless steel containers or half pint sized glass canning jars which can be insulated for heat and cold and against breakage by putting them in a handmade drawstring bag made of quilted cotton muslin with wool or cotton batting between. There are lots of eco-unfriendly cotton manufacturing going on, so if you’re really into being careful, buy organic cotton or at least repurpose older cotton or linen clothing from the thrifts. Plastics can be avoided completely and food will still be fresh by lunchtime. There’s also the old standby – parchment or baking paper. Easy peasy if you don’t mind the paper issue. It can also be purchased recycled. But cloth is always the safest reusable option for bags.

  • Allison Dey [] :

    BTW, I do LOVE the way these bags look. If there was a completely food safe non-petrochemical see through material out there, I’d go for it. But plastics are all made from the wasted oil bits not used for fuel and so using plastic just increases our carbon footprint, even if we reuse it.

  • Dot [] :

    Thanks for all these great comments… I’d love to see some of the finished projects, especially those of you who used alternate materials other than plastic!

  • Shirley [] :

    Great idea! I mostly use little containers because I hate throw away bags, but I will be making some of these. I love that my kids can have personalized bags with fabric they pick out – might even be a good project for them to make their own!

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