Creatively Reuse Extra Luggage (Suitcases and Backpacks)

A suitcase can be a cat tree and a backpack can be a giant puppet – get creative ideas to make with unwanted or broken luggage. In this episode, we’ll discuss:

  • what to do with an extra or broken suitcase or backpack,
  • where to buy luggage made from recycled materials, and
  • artists who incorporate luggage in their work.

Where to Donate Suitcases or Backpacks in Great Condition

Comfort Cases makes care packages for children in the foster care system so they don’t have to carry their items in garbage bags anymore. Contact an organization near you who helps children in foster care to donate your extra luggage in great condition.

What to Do with Broken Suitcases

If it is a vintage hard-sided suitcase, these are popular to make into side tables, dresser drawers or cabinets. To make shelves, sometimes people cut suitcases in half. See inspiring examples of these projects on my Trashmagination Pinterest board dedicated to suitcases and backpacks. Some of my favorite ideas:

For suitcases that just need to go, purchase a Zero Waste box from Terracycle. You can probably fit more than one suitcase in the box if you take them apart. Check out my podcast episode on take-apart events.

Making Giant Puppets from an External Frame Backpack

Wise Fool New Mexico taught puppet-making at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival in July 2017. Also, learn more about Clowns Without Borders.

Puppet by Wise Fool New Mexico at Smithsonian Folklife Festival, July 2017

Puppet by Wise Fool New Mexico at Smithsonian Folklife Festival, July 2017

How the puppet was attached to the backpack frame

How the puppet was attached to the backpack frame

Luggage from Recycled Plastic Bottles

Luggage from Recycled Leather

  • Mari Claro – from high-end car leather seats
  • Skye Bags – from Delta airlines seats
  • Looptworks – from Southwest Airlines and Alaska Airlines leather seats

Another airline which recycles items into luggage is JetBlue. They send uniforms to be made into messenger bags through a company called Manhattan Portage.

Luggage from Recycled Vinyl Billboards and Other Large Plastic Sheets

  • Rareform
  • Ecologic Designs – The feature photo at the top of this blog shows my mother and friends at the Ecologic Designs store in Boulder, Colorado, learning how they make bags from recycled materials
  • Torrain – plastic feed bags
  • M-24 Bags – truck tarpaulins

Luggage from Recycled Fabric

DIY Projects Related to Luggage

T-shirt drawstring backpacks are a great activity to teach basic machine sewing.

I recycled the straps from a favorite backpack to sew a new bag for my drumsticks:

Bachi bags - recycled backpack straps

Bachi bags – recycled backpack straps

I sewed a backpack from juice pouches for my daughter in pre-school – it had a clear plastic bag sewed on the back so we could show her latest drawing:

Backpack sewn from juice pouches, 2006

Backpack sewn from juice pouches, 2006 with transparent bag pocket to feature my daughter’s art

Artists Who Incorporate Luggage in Their Work

  • American artist Gabriel DiShaw cuts apart Louis Vuitton suitcases and makes them into sculptures – often from Star Wars and Avengers.
  • Chinese artist Yin Xiuzhen has a series of pieces named “Portable Cities.” She makes second-hand clothing into famous landmarks and then places them in a city-scape inside a suitcase.
  • Polish artist Pawel Althamer did a sculpture called “Self Portrait in a Suitcase” which shows an open suitcase with a miniature person sitting in it beside a sink and a shelf. It looks like a grungy apartment. This could be a great project for an art class – where students do a self-portrait that is three-dimensional but contained in a suitcase.
  • Cuban artist Yoan Capote filled a suitcase with bricks after a trip to New York. The bricks represented the weight we carry and the barriers we face.
  • Japanese artist Chiharu Shiota did a few installations that involved a large number of suitcases – one where they were suspended from red ropes and another where they were stacked high and filled with family photos.


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