You'll have recycling, um, in the bag if you alter worn, unwanted handbags.
Choose a sturdy leather, faux leather, or hard plastic purse. Vinyl bags may be too soft and yielding, but if you stuff them with newspapers you can re-work them, too!
Choose images and flat (or nearly flat) embellishments. Adhere them with a generous coat of gel medium both under and over the enhancements. Use acrylic paint to make the piece even more interesting.
Or make a handbag from almost any vessel. You've seen lunchboxes and baskets used as purses, haven't you? Bags have been fashioned with everything from pop tabs to pillowcases. So put your imagination to work and make a cigar box purse, or devise a handbag from a hollowed-out book or stuffed animal.