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Picture of Making Bracelets From Recycled HDPE Plastic

Making Bracelets From Recycled HDPE

NOTE: This tutorial is in need of revision. Any comments and suggestions are greatly appreciated.

High Density PolyEthylene (HDPE) is one of the most commonly used plastics today, being used in a wide variety of items from tiny pill bottles to large barrels and water storage tanks. Chances are that in the last 24 to 48 hours you have carried groceries home in plastic shopping bags made of HDPE, drunk juice or milk from an HDPE jug, or pop from a bottle with an HDPE cap, thrown dirty clothes into a plastic clothes hamper made of HDPE, washed your hair with shampoo from an HDPE bottle, and thrown several HDPE jugs and bottles into a recycling box, also made of HDPE.

I first got interested in recycling HDPE about a year and a half ago, after stumbling across a few videos on the subject. The idea of remelting HDPE intrigued me, doubly so, because the resulting blocks and sheets can be cut and worked with ordinary woodworking tools as easily as wood. (i.e. My bandsaw chews through HDPE as easily as the softest pine.)

I have spent most of the last year doing only occasional melting experiments, without any clear projects to make from the resulting blocks. However, with Christmas coming up in a couple of months, three nieces to get presents for, and not a lot of money in my pocket to buy said presents, I have finally thought of a use for my HDPE. This year, I am going to make bangle bracelets for my nieces to wear.

Materials needed:

  • High Density PolyEthylene from various bottles and plastic bags

Tools needed:

  • Dish washing detergeant for cleaning HDPE containers
  • A solvent such as Goo Gone or Goof Off to remove label adhesive from containers. WD40 also appears to work for this purpose.
  • An expendable pair of scissors or heavy duty shears to cut jugs, bottles, and other HDPE items into smaller pieces
  • Containers for storing the HDPE pieces
  • A 4 inch (10cm) diameter soup can to use as a mold
  • A can opener for opening the can
  • An oven with temperature controls
  • A saw for cutting a wooden disk
  • 5 inch C-clamps for compressing the HDPE. A jack, such as a scissor jack or a bottle jack may work as well.
  • A wooden disk for compressing the HDPE
  • Scrap wood
  • Aviation snips for cutting the 4 inch can
  • A pair of pliers for tearing open the can
  • A hammer and 2 chisels to separate the wooden disk from the HDPE blank
  • A centre finder (home made) to find the centre of the HDPE blank
  • A drill press (optional) or hand drill.
  • A heat gun for remelting small areas of the HDPE. A wind proof lighter *might* also work for this purpose (I have not tested this).
  • A lathe
  • Lathe tools (parting tool, gouge, and skew chissel)
  • A caliper or ruler
  • Several grades of sandpaper
  • A spindle sander or drum sander (optional)
  • The patience of Job (required)

Step 1: Obtain Some HDPE

Picture of Obtain Some HDPE

HDPE is one of the most common plastics today. It is most commonly found in the form of blow molded containers used for food and cleaning products.

If you look on the bottom of most containers, you will find a triangle or recycling symbol with a number in it. The number for HDPE is "2". Other numbers are for different plastics, and should not be used. Under the triangle/recyling symbol, you will usually find "HDPE" written in raised letters.

Note: In some countries, you may find it written as "PEHD" instead.

Another source of HDPE is plastic shopping bags. Most shopping bags used in stores are HDPE.

throbscottle6 months ago
I'm surprised you haven't made a wooden cylinder instead of a disc for pressing down inside the can. It would (mostly) eliminate the tilting problem.
Beautiful work. Well done!
Boingo (author)  throbscottle3 months ago
I am working on a setup with a metal cylindar at the moment.
we'll see how that works out.

PamA296 months ago
Does the plastic put off toxic fumes when melted?
StringGoddess6 months ago
This is a new plastic re-use method to me, and so I appreciate the detailed (and humorous) descriptions & large number of pictures. Well done!
johnwalton996 months ago
Cool idea. Have u tried making solid color body with a pattern on the edge (maybe a squiggle or tiny dinosaurs)?
Plastic fumes are EXTREMELY DANGEROUS!!! If you are going to melt or soften plastic such as HDPE, you need to have a respirator rated to P100 or N100. Be sure to air out your apartment thoroughly before taking the mask off. I would recommend using the mask when sanding too. You do NOT want that dust or fumes in your lungs. It is very bad for you.

I'm pretty sure this was addressed in another HDPE recycling instructable. Apparently HDPE doesn't give off fumes at the temperature used.
I'm am very sure it is dangerous. It may give off fumes that is not detectable by nose. I know of several things that do just that.

However, ever since I had bronchitis I have been very careful with my lungs, so it may just be my paranoia. However, I have heard several experts talk about the dangers of melting plastic in general. I would still strongly recommend, anyone doing this project to wear wear a RESPIRATOR rated to P100 or N100. Especially those who have had lung problems and who are under the age of 18, for your lungs are still devolping.
vbanaszak6 months ago
Those are awesome! I think you could use the flat sheets of left overs to make pins. You could maybe cut shapes with a soldering iron. Maybe fall leaves and feathers and you could use a metal rood to add shapes and curls to the edges.
charger38rt6 months ago
A very nice piece of rubbish
skullbiker6 months ago
Nice idea but for me too much effort for the end result .
caitd36 months ago
You mentioned that cutting the HDPE into small pieces was difficult on the hands and arms. I have a scroll saw with a fine blade that is set up all the time in the workshop. It would make quick work of doing the cutting without the carpal tunnel or arm fatigue. Here is a picture of my saw...

useroverride6 months ago
Is there any smell when you are melting the plastic in the oven? I want to try this but don't really want to fill my apartment with plastic fumes.
Boingo (author)  useroverride6 months ago
There are no fumes from the plastic itself as far as I know.

However, if the containers used contained something with a strong scent, such as fabric softener, you may smell the scent of that, even after thurough washing. I occasionally smelled the scent of laundry detergeant when using detergeant containers, but it was never as strong as the scent coming from the washing machine when I was doing laundry. Two bracelets made from fabric softener bottles did make the apartment "springtime fresh", but seemed harmless. Again, it was no worse than when doing laundry.
ElizabethL846 months ago
Those are beautiful. What a cool way to recycle bottles!
maessy799036 months ago
Consider earring decorations, flat shape two hole buttons, pendents, rings.
randofo6 months ago
That's a very nice use of recycled materials and very thorough instructions! Thanks for sharing this with us.