Wait, Don’t Throw It Away! Reuse It

Reducing and recycling can only take us so far when it comes to sustainability. The next step is to focus on reusing and repurposing (up-cycling) items instead of tossing them out. Our ancestors would use items until they could no longer be used, and then repurpose or repair them. This not only saves resources but also saves you money in the long run. In these lean economic times, it makes even more sense to get the most of your resources, finding second, and sometimes third, lives for items we would have once simply discarded. As the old adage says, “Waste not, want not.”

Here’s a quick primer on how to turn your trash into treasure!

Empty Tin Cans

  • Bird feeders: Paint and hang in trees to discourage birds from eating your ripening fruit.
  • Seedling protectors: Wash the cans out thoroughly. Cut out both the top and bottom ends and use to protect young seedlings from critters.
  • Candleholders: Punch tin cans with designs and set candles in the middle of each. Use as lanterns to line sidewalks, steps, and gardens. (Do not cut out both ends. To punch, fill with water and freeze. Mark a pattern on the outside of each can, get a nail and a hammer, and hammer out the designs. Let the water thaw, dry, then put tea lights in each for lanterns.)
Reuse a tin can as a candleholder.

Newspapers And Junk Mail

  • Weed blockers: Newspapers can be used as mulch to keep weeds down. You’ll need to cover them with dirt or rocks or something to keep the papers from blowing away, but they will work well to keep weeds at bay and ultimately will dissolve into the soil. (Try to avoid using pages that have been printed with colored ink.) Check out this list of ways to recycle newspaper!
  • Scrap paper: Instead of tossing coupons, letters, and envelopes from your mail, use them as scrap paper instead. They’re really great for notes, grocery lists, or drawing paper for kids.


  • Curbside giveaways: On trash days, put out a box filled with items that have value (but not to you) with a sign that says “FREE.” Sometimes your trash is another person’s treasure!
  • Community giveaways online: Check out freecycle.org. This online, nonprofit community is made of local groups that enable you to list and give away (and get) stuff for free in your own area. It’s all about reusing and keeping good stuff out of landfills.

Faded Curtains And Old Clothing

  • Cleaning and DIY projects: Use old clothes as dust rags, tarps, or packing material. Orphan socks can be used for crafts and more. See the list!
  • Recycle what you can’t donate: You may choose to recycle old shirts and curtains that are too stained or damaged to be given away. See how it’s done here.

Brown Paper Bags

  • Wrapping paper: Use paper bags for wrapping paper. Turn them inside out if there’s writing on them, add colorful ribbons or have children color on them.
  • Great for cookies: Place cookies fresh out of the oven on brown paper bags. This helps soak up a little of the oil from the cookies.

Egg Cartons

  • Jewelry divider: Store your small pieces of jewelry in empty egg cartons.
  • Tool divider: Take the lid off a carton and place the bottom in a drawer. It can hold and organize buttons, paper clips, small screws, and nails.
  • Gift kits: Line the bottom part of an egg carton with small cupcake papers. You can place small homemade cookies or candies in each compartment. Wrap the whole with clear plastic. Top with a ribbon. Give as a gift.
  • Seed starters: Use the cardboard ones to start seeds. The entire container can be planted when the seeds germinate.
  • Paint holders: Fill each cup with a different color of paint—great for kids! When they are finished painting, the carton can be thrown away. (Styrofoam or plastic cartons can be washed out and reused.)

Coffee Cans

  • Small hardware holders: Coffee cans are really good to have in the garage or tool area. They hold all sizes of nails and screws. The sizes of the nails can be printed on the lids with a marker.
  • Baking molds: Make Old-Fashioned Hobo Bread!
  • Camping Stoves: You can make a stove out of coffee can! See video below.

Yogurt Containers 

  • Refrigerator storage: Use yogurt containers (the kind with lids) to store leftovers in or to pack lunches.
  • Plant protectors: Cut the bottom out of a yogurt container and place it around delicate plants to protect them in the spring from chilly weather.
  • Plant pots: Grow herbs on your windowsill! Simply put a hole in the bottom of a yogurt container. Then add a large rock, soil, and seeds. (Place the lid underneath as a tray.)
Reuse a yogurt container as a plant pot!

Empty Thread Spools

  • Dinner place cards: They really make cute miniature dried flower holders and wonderful take-home souvenirs with children’s names on them when used for seating at a party.
  • Necklaces, ornaments, and more: Check out some of these clever spool crafts on Pinterest!
  • Windchimes: String spools together and separate by knots to use as part of a gentle wind chime strand. Learn how in this instructional video.

Shower Curtains

  • Picnic tablecloth: Clean and disinfect an old shower curtain by washing it with a load of whites/towels in hot water and vinegar. Use it as a tablecloth for the picnic table, or hang it back up and reuse.
  • Drop cloth: Use an old shower curtain as a drop cloth when you are painting, or as a ground sheet under your tent or sleeping bags.
  • Windshield cover: Make a windshield cover to prevent frost build-up. Cut a shower curtain to fit your windshield and hem magnets in along the edges to hold it on your vehicle.
  • Apron for DIY projects and messy jobs

Join The Discussion

Do you have any other clever ways to reuse items around the home?

Share your experience with your community here in the comments below!

Related Articles

Repurpose Your Recycling

30 Clever Ways To Up-cycle

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Bonnie Chism

I’ve long re-used envelopes that have either contained greeting cards or been enclosed in junk mail for return posting, gluing blank strips of paper or blank labels over the previous verbiage to obscure the original purpose. Haven’t bought an envelope in years!

Paula Macedonio

I try to recycle as much as possible, during the winter I save the cereal boxs and other boxes from prepackaged items and newspapers and also coffee cans and milk jugs ( just string on a rope til spring time) I use the cardboard and newspapers to line the bottom of my raised beds in the garden to keep pesky weeds from popping through. we have also shredded those advertisments and envelopes too to use in the chicken coop or underneath the straw or shavings in the horse stalls, they are then moved to the compost pile when soiled. that serves 2 purposes no one would try to pick thru them to read personal info off of them and it recycles and fluffs up the compost and the worms love them. I sell eggs so the cartons are recycled by my customers they bring back the empties. coffee cans with a 1/2 inch of water with a spritz of dawn dish soap works great when collecting those nasty japanese beetles and gypsy moth catapillars fill them up and then toss. I have a ton of other ideas that I use besides these.

Patty H

I used junk mail return envelopes to put money in that had to be sent to school with my kids. Just marked out the address on the front, wrote the teacher’s and my child’s name, amount of money and what it was for on the outside (lunch money, book club order, popcorn sales, field trip, pictures or yearbook order, etc). Put the money inside, sealed and sent with my child to school.
They are also great for writing grocery lists on the back and putting any coupons you will use inside the envelope. Keeps everything all together.
I donate my extra plastic bags and empty egg cartons to my church, who gives them to a charity to use for their customers taking food home.
We also reuse plastic grocery bags as side car mirror covers in snowy/icy weather. Just put open bags over the mirror and tie the handles to keep it in place. When you’re ready to leave, just tear it off or untie it…clear mirrors, no scraping!
Newspaper plastic bags are great to put a closed, wet umbrella in, too.


BROWN PAPER BAGS can also be used to store packaged meats in your freezer. Brown paper bags guard against freezer burn. They can also be used as small plant cover to guard against frostbite. Cardboard boxes will do the same.

Kathy Harrison Stewart

I like Yuban Coffee, which is more expensive than many other brands. However, their containers make excellent matching sets for other foods–pasta, teabags, even dog treats–and office supplies. You can paint them, add labels, and give as gifts. Use chalkboard paint to make a label that can be changed if you change the contents. Yuban comes in two different sizes, so your sets can look just like the store-bought ones (flour, sugar, coffee, tea; or different dried beans and peas, etc.)


Make your own “Firestarters” out of Egg cartons, dryer lint and candle wax! Every time you clean the lint from your dryer, put it in the egg carton until full. Then take the left overs of your candles, melt and pour them into the egg carton over the dryer lint and you now have firestarters for your outside campfire! Just break off two at a time, place in between logs and light! An easy firestarter which recycled three items usually thrown away!

Don Hershfeld

Egg cartons can substitute for sound dampeners between walls or between floors. Collect and then mount the bottom portions such that their bottom side faces the source of noise. When sound waves reach this peculiar panel, some is absorbed while others are reflected to attenuation. We recently put in central A/C, and have built a covered storage area over the unit (next to a peaceful deck, unfortunately). I hope to partially panel in this thing to keep the weather off, and use the styrofoam egg containers in the same way to further muffle the artificial sound being generated when its running.


Use old shower curtains to cover your patio furniture for the winter. They will stay clean and keep the weather (snow, rain, etc) off the cushions, throw pillows and furniture frames. Sew ties on it, to tie to each leg, so the wind won’t blow the covers away. Old jeans can be cut in squares and made into a quilt or throw, they are so warm for the winter. You can also make a dogs bed from the jean squares.


I always reuse the bags inside the cereal boxes – they are just as good as store bought plastic bags.


A big waste are the companies downsizing their packaging; cereal, pet food, etc. in order to not raise prices. You are buying more product to cover your family’s needs and therefore because there is now extra bought, you are consuming more! They win!

Sheryl Miller

I take toilet paper or paper towle rolls & stuff them with small oak twigs that fall in my yard & at each end i push a piece of dryer lint in & it makes a great starter for my fireplace.


I take old newspapers and make starter pots for my seeds. When the plants are big enough to set in the ground just set the pot and all. The newspaper will break down into the soil.


Great ideas here – egg cartons are great for storing fragile Christmas ornaments as well & my denim is one of my treasured things I won’t give up – even the tattered ones, I will cut up for quilting pieces. Barbara, we are on the same page – I am about to make a skirt out of one of my pairs of jeans & have made purses out of others (short shorts that got too short ). All is not lost after all – is great to know there are others out there who don’t believe in wasting things. We were “green” before there was “green” like the Native American in the commercial for keeping America beautiful back in the 70’s – Native America has always been “green”. 🙂


Sometimes those old curtains or other things can be used to add to clothing or other things. Old jeans can be cut up, made into pocket books, book covers, jackets, check book covers, etc. You can use different colored jeans & have your own “one of a kind” & even make them into a skirt, other jeans, shorts, etc. It is endless. A clear shower curtain can be used to make any kind of covering for anything that needs to be protected & it makes a good window cover in the bathroom in the winter to keep some of the cold air out.


I’ve used the paper egg cartons & also small muffin containers, etc. I put a used tea bag in the bottom & it helps to hold moisture. When I was young, back in the 40’s, my mother use to take the wax paper out of the cereal boxes & save them for lining the pans when she made fruit cake. It worked wonderful. Back then we were recycling & didn’t know it. It was called being fruggle & saving money. It is amazing what we learned way back then by being in the not having a lot of money. I’m glad I learned that then.


I use large brown paper bags to bake my pies in.It gives the pies a very nice brown crust with out burning the fluted edges.Place your pie on a baking sheet, slide it into the brown paper bag.Fold the top over twice and staple closed. Bake the pie @ 400 for 1 hr. 30 min. , remove from bag and if not as brown as you wish, place the uncovered pie back in oven, lower heat to 350 and bake another 30 min or until crust is at desired color.

Jeanne Blair

I was wondering how you would water the seed in the egg cartons for them to germinate?
Since they are made of paper. Thanks

Jaime McLeod

Jeanne, The paper in an egg carton is sturdy enough to hold water. The water will soak the cardboard, so you’ll want to place them on a surface that can get wet, such as a tray or workbench, just as you would plastic seed flats, which have holes in the bottom for drainage.


I have used shower curtains for ground covers and it’s great. Composting “natural fiber ” clothing tho…give to a service who helps { either thru small fee or free} people to have cloths . Of course recycle those items that are in bad shape…Never thought of the windshield idea…gotta go do that one !


I use egg cartons to store my christmas baubles and decorations safely after christmas. Haven’t had any breakages or hanger tangles since.


these are great things can also use egg cartons to make waste paper baskets with glitter and bread ties,lolmm;))


i use egg cartons for for making firestarters….. put combustable materals like lint, cotton balls, small pine cones or pine needles or woodchips in each compartment and cover with wax….let harden… then tear of 1 or 2 and put in your wood when starting a fire….they work well


i use the egg cartons (the paper ones) to make firestarters in…. just put lint or or a cotton ball or pine needles or anything burnable like that… in each of the compartments…. then pour wax from a candle or scentsy burner in each compartment and let harden….. tear 1 or 2 off when starting a fire the burn well and for a while to get your fire going…. and they are easy to just keep in the camping gear….or you can seperate them and keep them in a ziplock to keep dry when your camping

Delores Bingham

i enjoy the comments on different things that can be used for. and things to make from old things that would of been throwed away to be used.wheather it be from putting on a Garden.or used different ways. Thanks Delores


We always save all out egg cartons and start our seeds in them. It’s a lot more cost friendly than buying what is available in the store and it’s pretty much the same thing and it’s biodegradable!

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