Repurpose Your Recyclables!

Think the only place for last week's water bottles is in the recycling bin? Think again!

Think the only place for last week’s water bottles is the trash can or recycling bin at the corner? What about former pickle and pasta sauce jars, old boxes, cans from fruits and vegetables or simple brown paper bags?

Repackaging our packaging can multiply the uses and extend the life of household items that include giftwrap, jars, bottles, brown paper bags, cans, bedding bags, and more. And whether you have a knack for crafting, organizing, or are simply looking to up your conservation contribution, these ideas can inspire you and your family to think infinitely about reconstituting common items.

Glass Jars

Mason jar - Jar

As super organizers, unlike opaque products glass allows you to see exactly what’s stored inside and even be creative in the way you do it. Instead of using an empty mason jar to showcase a box of bath salts, think about layering different bath salt colors almost like ribbons of pretty sand. Or fill with multicolored layers of dried beans or grains. Want to create a one-of-a-kind lamp? Fill the jar with smooth pebbles and stones or shells from your family vacation. Many DIY websites can show you how to complete the process, and building supply stores sell lamp kits for this purpose.

Tin Cans

Recycling - handicraft

If you like to paint, decoupage, or even if you don’t, yesterday’s can of peas or fruit cocktail makes a great little make-up brush or pen and pencil holder, planter, vase, etc. Records show that recycling just one can saves 95 percent of the energy used to produce a new can, so why not repurpose it where possible? As untreated aluminum doesn’t hold paint well, you’ll want to prep the surface by sanding first and using a spray-on metal primer. Or, simply decorate with a little glue and some favorite magazine images, photographs, or apply the festive wrapping paper you saved from the last holiday party.

Brown Paper Bags

Great for camouflaging plain cans (see above), and with a little ingenuity these items can also double as larger mailing envelopes. Paper bags and wrapping paper have also been used by students as makeshift book jackets for years, and personalizing them if desired with markers, paint, stickers, fabric, etc. ups the creative quotient. Paper bags can also be utilized to organize and store complete sheet sets (which can become separated from themselves and pillow cases). In humid areas, bread stays fresher when stored inside paper bags rather than plastic. Paper’s quality allows it to breathe, therefore the crust stays crisp while the center remains soft. Finally, brown paper bags are known compost magnets as they contain less ink than newspaper and are said to attract earthworms. Sources say it is best to shred and wet the bags first, however.

Zippered Bedding/Comforter Bags

Great for storing toys (be sure to keep out of babies’ and young children’s reach as they are plastic), these items are also a good idea for extra cords and smaller electronic items. If you shop in bulk at wholesale clubs, these bags can efficiently store and organize toiletries, paper goods, and much more.

Plastic Gallon Jugs

Apple cider - Cider

If you buy gallon-size water. milk, or cider, cut the top off, leaving the handle, and repeatedly fill with water as a rinsing tool when bathing the dog in the tub. Large plastic water bottles (tops cut off) can be used effectively to store children’s arts and crafts supplies, maybe painted and individualized first (be sure to sand for paint to adhere well, and/or purchase paints made especially for plastic surfaces) as an art project in itself. Kept intact with a slot cut out, and of course decorated by a child, a gallon-size bottle becomes a fun piggy bank that can be carried around by the handle (to be cut open when full).

Birds - Tit
Big plastic bottles can repurposed as bird feeders.

To repurpose smaller water bottles, when cut they can be used as bird feeders, terrarium tops, hanging vases, etc. Check Pinterest for ideas. Using only the very bottoms, they become perfect storage containers for paper clips, thumb tacks, rubber bands, eye shadow and more.

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Beth Herman

Beth Herman is a freelance writer with interests in healthy living and food, family, animal welfare, architecture and design, religion, and yoga. She writes for a variety of national and regional publications, institutions, and websites.

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CJ DiMarsico

I love taking the gallon water jugs and cutting off the front like a big U or horseshoe shape. Makes a great carry tote (harvest/foraging) or pretty planter with handle so easy to move/relocate. On Poland they basically have a line. It’s a few inches away from handle on both sides. U cut on that line both sides plus around the cap and front. U pick how deep or shallow. Tazo’s make great Vase holders. Arizona gallons, cut in half. Bottom side a planter, top side great as a scooper (dog food, feeds, soil) u can also use the top as a planter but it needs a lil help standing straight. Poke a hole in lid for drainage. Add dirt and seeds. Water through the handle and it goes right to the roots. It’s pretty cool actually. Small water bottles I cut about 3″ from top. Flip the top and place in the bottom. Now u can place and cutting u want seeds from. A small base of lettuce left, plants from outside, collards, cuttings from herbs u want to root whatever..use as a sortof aquaponic place on window sill. Great for small apts, college dorm. Enjoy!

Evelyn GALE Green

Those water bottles, sold cheaply, 24, or 40 or so in a package, Save them! Cut the tops almost off, leave a little hinge. Fill with potting mix for plants, put in a couple of vegetable seeds, flower seeds. . . . Or, save and plant apple seeds from your fruit and grow a fruit tree!, or a pear tree, or. . . . When it’s cold, put the top back over. It doesn’t have to close precisely. Take it off and let the sunshine in. When the plants are ready to transplant, go for it. If you don’t have a pot, or bucket, or trash basket, or whatever for a planter (taller is better usually than wider) to grow the fruit/veggie for yourself or a neighbor, then take your plant to some near-by open space (empty lot, highway median strip, etc. Cut off the lid altogether, and the bottom of the bottle. Dig a hole and put in the plant You can leave half or more of the bottle–as you push the plant down into the hole, leave the plastic a few inches up to provide protection for the plant as it gets growing. You can return in a couple of weeks and gather the plastic (pLEASE DO!) for disposal. Meantime, you’ve done a good thing to provide some beauty, or some food for someone passing by who needs it. See if, with one package of seed, you can plant all 40 bottles! Hooray for you!! Once they’re growing, and in the ground, do something good for yourself to celebrate your contribution!

Susan Higgins

Great ideas! We love hearing from readers with their clever ideas and hacks. Thanks for sharing, Evelyn!

Robbie N Ladd

I live in the forest. I garden. There are a lot of little critters in the forest that like what I grow. I use plastic bottles to cover the seeds, when planted in the ground. The bottles protect the seeds from the birds. When I transplant my vegetable starts, I use larger bottles and milk containers to cover the young plant, protects them from chip monks, mice, etc. I call them my mini green houses. When the plant outgrows the container, I store in the shed and reuse it the next year. Eventually, The plastic breaks down from being in the sun. The little crumbles of plastic then go in the gravel drive way with the rocks. I can my produce in canning jars. I do like ideas on recycling.


The clip type pants hangers you get at the store? Use a dremmel and cut the clips off and you can use the clips for chip bags or as a clothes pin.

Miss Pamb

We use cut off the top milk jugs for lots of things. Scraps in the fridge, urinals when you’re desperate, and puke buckets when we’re feeling bad. They’re perfect on car trips for people who get motion sickness. Also mundane things l


The 16 oz bottles can also be used as fly traps. Cut the tops off and turn upside down with the lid still on them put them back in top of bottle, drill small hole in the lid and then one on both sides run string or wire thur holes on side to hang up with and put bait in bottom of bottle and cover with water. Just enough water to cover rotten food. And then check regularly to get rid of dead flies and replace bait.

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