The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish

April 18, 2014

Learning How to Fix a Broken Zipper Saved My Plastic Backpack

My poor backpack. I’ve been carrying it around for over ten years, and finally, one of the main zippers stopped zipping.



Or, I should say, one of the sliders stopped working.  Fortunately, this backpack has two sliders, so I could still close the zipper using the other slider, but I always had to remember which side to zip from so I didn’t accidentally sling the backpack over my back, thinking the zipper was closed, and empty all the contents onto the sidewalk.  No big deal, but I just prayed that the other slider would hold up and keep working.  I had no idea what to do about it, and it seemed stupid to send a perfectly good backpack to the landfill just because of a little thing like a zipper.  Remember… I can still use the plastic I already had before I started this project.  I just can’t buy new plastic.

Fortunately for me and my zipper, the Hercules Library chose my book Plastic-Free for their “Book to Action” series of events, in which the library gives away copies of a particular book and then schedules events that encourage readers to take action based on the book.  Two weeks ago, I came to the library to give a presentation on plastic-free living and learned that one of the action events planned would be a Fixit Clinic where people could bring broken gadgets and learn how to fix them instead of throwing them away.  Serendipitously, Fixit Clinic’s Peter Mui was at my presentation to promote the upcoming event.


I showed Peter my backpack, and he said this kind of zipper repair is super common and also super easy to fix!  Just take some pliers (I think he may have actually said “vice grip,” which I don’t have, but I do have pliers, so let’s just say “pliers”) and squeeze the parts of the slider together so that they bring the two sides of the zipper closer together.  Of course, it was a couple of weeks before I actually tried the repair and couldn’t remember exactly what he had said, so I Googled “How to Repair a Broken Zipper” and found this handy, illustrated set of instructions.

All I did was squeeze the sides together and the top and bottom together.





And you know what?  After a few tries, it worked.  The zipper seems to be holding together very well.


I guess the test will be when the backpack is stuff full.  I may have to come back and update this post.  Next up: fixing the hole in the net side pocket.  It’s not a huge priority because the mug hasn’t fallen through yet.  But it does look rather shabby, doesn’t it?


Fixit Clinics

Don’t forget that one way to consume less plastic is to fix things when they break instead of tossing them and replacing with something new.  If you’re interested in attending a Fixit Clinic or starting one in your area, check out the website.

And remember that has free repair guides for many different gadgets and that you can see videos of how to repair almost anything on Youtube.

Here are some more things I’ve repaired and documented on this site.  What’s on your Repair To-Do List?


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Thankyou my son was leaving in an hour for a trip to NZ when he found the nylon zip of his sleeping bag broken.He followed your instruction and it zips up and down like new.


Broke the slider when I squeezed it top to bottom — too much force or weak metal? Now what?


Thank you this worked on my Jeep window


Just fixed daughter’s softball bag! Thanks for saving me $40.

Emiliano Zapata

Thanks for the instructions .I just bought a steve madden backpack so cheap and the reason was “cause it had a broken zipper,but thanks to you it is in perfect conditions now.(I got it at $5.00 ,you can’t beat it)

Nancy Burkhalter

Wow – it worked the first time I tried it. Super super super!


I’m interested in seeing the followup and repair to the side of your backpack! Been quite awhile since the original post. Did you get around to it! chuckle.
Love the blogs and your site. Love it! Thank you.

Kids Fashion

You just made my sons day. He was very upset this morning when his zipper would not close. He had to use last years backpack which I was told was uncool for a third grader to have. He will be very happy when he gets home from school. Thank you for the easy to follow instructions.


OMG!!!!! I am so proud of myself!!!!!! This totally worked and took about 3 minutes to fix a $60 backpack!!!! We’ll get to school on time! And no extra landfill! Thank you for helping us!


I just wanted to say that you saved one of my hoodie! The zipper broke suddenly and if I didn’t remember your post, I would have toss it. I feel so powerful now that I can repair zippers (even though it was so easy hehe)


Beth Terry the plastics of biggest concern are the oldest ones like bakelite which are made with formaldehyde and continue to leech it into the atmosphere for years. Fortunately they are now rare, but at one point formaldehyde based plastics were even pumped into walls as insulation and would offgas for years (they would be safe now)

Jeanne Bruner

Good post Beth Terry I still use my son’s Scoobie backpack he had at 9 years old… I’ve sown it many times and repaired the zipper. I always get a good laugh from others while using it. Nothing like a good reuse. By the way he’ll be 26 this year.


I had no idea one could fix a zipper, thanks for sharing.
I have two power tools which desperately need new cords before someone electrocutes themselves! I tried replacing the cords myself but some of the screws won’t come out and I am afraid of stripping them. So, off to the fixit workshop at my local tool library. I love my tool library and feel very fortunate to have one so close to me.


i have 6 x 6” of that black pocket webbing you are welcome to have if you need it for your mending.
i love fixing stuff. im working on fixing my bose sounddock for the third time in 10 years.

Beth Terry

I think I may be able to fix it without adding more webbing. But thanks so much. I’ll email you if I think I can use it after all.

Tracey TieF

I’m going to try that, but usually my zippers fail because of teeth falling out!
And my nets are a mess, too!
Maybe sew in big mittens?


I have a question: as a former Tupperware dealer, I have my entire pantryin T-ware Modular Mates. They are several years old & I’m wondering if they are safe to store DRY items in? Any thoughts?

Beth Terry

Probably. I personally would do it for short term storage if I didn’t have a glass or metal alternative. But at this point, we’ve collected so many glass jars, I really don’t need to use plastic for food storage. Do you have non-food uses? Office supplies, hardware, art supplies, etc.? Also, consider donating to schools for storing classroom supplies.


I have cheap shelves & worry about putting everything in glass adding too much weight! I mainly use T-ware for dried beans, rice, nut’l yeast. We must be gluten free (hubby has Celiac), so I have a LARGE collection of flours in the freezer, in canning jars. (You can find jars up to 1/2 gallon for canning!) Also use those 1 gallon institutional-size pickle jars for most used flour. But I hate not to use the T-ware as it was a sizable investment, even as a dealer. (As long as it’s safe–and it mostly is short-term.) Now that my freezer… Read more »


It would seem they are made of polypropylene with LDPE seals. ldpe is safe but PP is known to leech tiny amounts of quaternary ammonium – this is extraordinarily unlikely to still be doing so, and if it were would be such small amounts as to be unlikely even to help preserve your food (one of the uses of QA) and qas are amazingly common so likely to be a miniscule part of your intake. lists the plastics intupperware – most seems to be PE or PP which are pretty damn safe


Known this trick for ages (figured it out in the 80s), love my backpacks and hate losing them, I have a backpack for just about any occasion, all of wonderful safe durable nylon, from tiny 15l to 2 enormous 100L jobs (one for uni and one for trips away). They all have detachable straps at one end which makes them easy to conect to my plastic bodied wheel chair (the frame is steel but everything over is plastic inc the seat, its 11yo now). Nylon is an amazing plastic and makes for much more durable mechanical parts than metal, particularly… Read more »


Great post! I recently tried to fix the zipper of a backpack and a jacket. The jacket had lost the zip fastener, so I had to buy a new one. I found the ZlideOn, which is a Swedish invention for broken zippers.
Although it looked straightforward, I managed to order the wrong size of the zipper so it didn’t work for me that time. I could imagine though that if you do measure and order correctly that it is a great solution.


Love this post! Believe it or not, I’m still using my blue nylon JanSport backpack that I got in Jr. High. That would make it um… 35 years old? Yes, it’s plastic, but I’ve certainly kept it out of the landfill!

Beth Terry

Sadly, I think I have thrown out backpacks in the past… before I became conscious of my environmental impact. I used to be the kind of person that enjoyed throwing things away.


Ha! Well, I can’t honestly claim that environmentalism was my main motivation for keeping the thing. When it comes right down to it, I’m just cheap, and it kills me to toss anything that might have some shred of use left in it. Trust me, this personality trait is a double-edged sword! I just spent the evening sewing yet ANOTHER patch into the butt of what was my favorite pair of jeans until a few years ago, and is now my favorite pair of cut-offs. I should probably just let the damn things rest in peace, but I just can’t… Read more »


My boyfriend took more than 8 hours repairing our printer. He’s so patient! I told him I would not have had that patience. He literally saved our printer! On my repair to-do list is most of our reusable grocery bags, I just never take the time to sew the seams back together. There is also a pair of my boyfriend’s jeans but I need to buy ironing patches. There are just so many things that we need to repair but we don’t because we live without, sigh! I see a laundry basket in the featured articles and we are using… Read more »

Beth Terry

I’m glad he was so patient! But what a sense of accomplishment you get when you finally figure things out.


This will come in handy at some point in my life so thanks for sharing. On my list of things to fix are (they’re aren’t plastic so I hope they still qualify!): My bottom sheet has a big ragged hole that I can’t mend so I’m thinking about cutting a patch in the sham cover that came with the set that I never used. I got a free bike for my son from the landfill but the derailleur doesn’t work so I need to figure out how to fix that. I’m sure I can find something on YouTube but I… Read more »

Beth Terry

Everything has an environmental footprint, no matter what material it’s made from. Those things absolutely “count.”


Just wanted to offer KUDOS for saving a bike from the landfill. I just bought a used mountain bike today for virtually nothing, and have spent the day researching how to rebuild the wheel hubs, so I’m completely on the same wavelength. I’ve never done it before, but after watching a handful of videos, I’m sure I can figure it out. I just want to offer encouragement for tackling this repair yourself instead of calling in the men. You can do this! Testosterone is NOT a prerequisite for bike repair! Actually, lots of local bike shops (especially independently owned ones)… Read more »