Recycled Shrink Plastic Buttons

Just a short post to talk about the process I’ve used for turning some salvaged plastic from the polystyrene group to make shirt buttons. I’ll probably make bigger ones too but I am only coming by this stuff in dribs and drabs.

It’s not my idea, I’ve seen lots of things made from shrink plastic and kids have been doing it for years, we called them shrinky dinkies in the early 80s. Plastic was king then, our use of the throwaway packaging was really kicking in.

Anyway, I’ll not waffle and get straight on with it. Here’s a guide to the different grades of plastic:

You’ll notice that they all have a number inside the recycling symbol. You’ll find this embossed on any article that is plastic, if you’re not sure and it’s not marked – don’t use it. The magic number here is 6 and it is in the polystyrene (PS for short) group. Polystyrene takes on many forms but the stuff you are looking for is flexible and can be clear or opaque. Do not use styrofoam which is the same family, I repeat, resist!

I first tried this a few weeks ago with a small piece I was examining to put/or not to put in the recycler. It was some moulded clear packaging from a bell jar for one of my poorly violets (she loves her new cloche) and I immediately got all huffity about the ridiculous use of packaging. So I looked online to see if there was anything I could do with it and went down a rabbit hole as you do. Crafty parents were using this as an activity to get their kids creative, making fridge magnets and little key rings with their names on. Wow, I thought. Then I promptly set to cutting the flattest piece to try it out.

As it is exactly the same stuff as they use in craft shops, I looked up the instructions on the side of one of the packets in a photograph. Cheeky.

Preparation wise, I free-wheeled and decided to draw a David Bowie, Ziggy Stardust era because it popped into my head that I’d always liked his teeth before he had the veneers put in.

I used ordinary Sharpies and embroidery scissors (I don’t embroider, it’s OK) to cut around his mullet area, it was quite tricky to get in all the nooks and crannies without it splitting but taking one’s time is key. I punched a hole in his head just in case it worked and so I could suspend him from something:

These are the cooking instructions

  1. Electric oven 160 degrees or Gas Mark 3
  2. Place a weighted sheet of baking paper on a flat tray. I used my brass weights for the kitchen scales.
  3. Pop it in the oven. It will flip and flop around. Leave in for between 1 to 3 minutes.
  4. Take out of oven to cool for ten minutes, whatever you have in there will flatten out a bit and you can even put something flat and heavy on it if you’re dead keen on it being even.

At this point I was pretty chuffed with the little fella and decided he must become an earring.

But what good is he without Mick Ronson? I thought, so without further ado set to fashioning him Mick in exactly the same way with the snippet I had left, here they are:

I did say I wasn’t going to waffle didn’t I? You are probably here to read about button making!

So, fast forward to a few nights ago and with a fresh piece of accumulated plastic, I was thinking about buttons as I often am so thought I’d try making as many as I could out of the piece. I cut off the edge with scissors to prepare a flat workable surface:

The differences in the process this time were, I used a heavy duty 2.5cm (1 inch) punch by Fiskars:

And also a smaller hole punch for the button holes, 3mm (1/8 inch)

I sanded the side lightly that I was going to apply colour to with fine grade sandpaper and slapped a bit of colour on the one surface only (and maybe a bit around the sides) Here they are before going in the oven:

As you can see the punched holes aren’t even, I popped a Sharpie dot for each hole and eyeballed it, but my eyeballs aren’t too reliable!

I baked them for 3 minutes and they came out not too bad. They measure about 1cm now, perfect for shirt buttons!

I hope if you do try this you remember to work in a ventilated area and only use grade 6 plastic like the ones I mention above, not the styrofoam. Thanks so much for reading, here’s a bit of Shrinky Dinky David warming up his vocal chords:

Update 29/03/19

I found a washing pods container that was group #6 on the bottom section and attempted to make some buttons from it last night. They started off 5cm rounds and ended up being elliptical after the shrinking. I quite like them despite the random shaping but it seems the coloured plastic might not be as uniform but interesting all the same. The photo I’ve taken doesn’t reflect the actual green taken on my phone camera, it’s unchanged from the original after being in the oven.