It’s time to turn your trash into treasure.
You can sort your recycling all you want, but the sad reality is that more than 146 million tons of trash end up in landfills every year, with the average American contributing about five pounds of trash every day.1
There is no candy – the state of recycling in the United States is grim. Worse, you can’t really avoid throwing things away. Or, can we?
You might hear Marie Kondo in your head telling you to separate yourself from things that no longer “spark joy.” Instead, we challenge you to repurpose these items into things that spark joy.
Recycling, also called creative reuse, is a form of repurposing items by turning them into something perceived to be of higher quality.
To better understand how creative reuse works, EcoWatch visited the Turnip Green Creative Reuse Center in Nashville, TN to learn how they foster creativity and sustainability through reuse.
If you have things you’d rather get rid of, consider finding a reuse center like Turnip Green. Otherwise, read on to find more ideas on how to upcycle everyday items.
Reuse kitchen items
Do you feel like you don’t have enough space to store everything in your kitchen? Yes, this feeling is universal. Here are some ideas on how to reuse old kitchen items to free up cabinet space.
Mugs, bowls, etc.
Old mugs and bowls have so much more life potential that the list of ideas is endless.
Use them as pencil holders, planters or to make candles. Turn mason jars into luminaries. Glue a wine glass to an old platter to make a cake stand or appetizer stand. An old coffee maker can become an aquarium, a flowerpot or a terrarium.
Food storage containers
If you have matching Tupperware or can’t find the lid, there are plenty of ways to breathe new life into food storage containers. You can use them as planters, drawer organizers or, if you have the lid, make them into reusable tissue or wipe dispensers.
If you compost, you can use plastic containers instead of an expensive compost bucket.
If your plate is just a little chipped, you can stick it on a post and make a birdbath for your garden. If it’s broken, save the ceramic pieces for a mosaic project, like a picture frame, fridge magnets, garden stones, or whatever you can think of!
Wine bottles and corks
What do bird feeders, lamps, floral centerpieces and wind chimes have in common?
They can all be made from wine bottles! If you don’t like the color of the bottle, you can paint or glaze it, or even use chalkboard paint so you can write on the bottle.
Also, be sure to save those plugs. Wine corks can be used as stamps, magnets or keychains. If you have a lot of them, corks can be made into various home decor items like candle holders, bath mats, and succulent planters.
Egg cartons might not be your fanciest recycled item, but they can still be used for a variety of purposes to stay out of the landfill. Consider using it as a seed starter, ornament organizer, paint palette, or make a homemade mancala board.
Reuse bathroom items
Chances are you’ll use bathroom items more often than other household items, and many of these items can’t be donated. Here are some ways to recycle your bathroom items.
Soap and shampoo bottles
The first idea is obvious: take the empty bottles to your local filling station and fill them with more soap! If you want to get a little more creative, you can cut off the tops of soap bottles and paint them to use as pencil holders or shatterproof vases to spruce up your bathroom. A super creative idea — turn them into a sunglasses case.
You can cut up your old bath towels and use them as cleaning rags – this way you’ll also prevent paper towels from ending up in the landfill.
If you’re handy with a needle and thread, breathe new life into your bath towels by turning them into a tote bag.
Once a toothbrush has served its purpose of keeping your teeth clean, you can use it to keep other things clean. A toothbrush is ideal for small, hard-to-reach areas, such as jewelry, window sills, woodwork, bicycle gears, and spaces around knobs and faucets.
You can also use them to detail your car or remove dust and crumbs from your keyboard.
Toilet paper rolls
Unless you have cardboard-free toilet paper, you probably go through a roll of toilet paper every week or so. You can use them for gardening as a starter pot or to protect your seedlings from pests. Or you can tear them up to add to your compost.
You can also consider turning your toilet paper rolls into a bird feeder or stuffing them with stuffed animals to use as fire starters for your next bonfire.
Reuse Bedroom Items
Honestly, we could write a separate post with all the things you can make out of old sheets and clothes. But here are some ideas to get your wheels spinning.
Old blankets and bedding
An obvious choice is to move your old blankets into your car to use as picnic blankets or bench cushions at concerts or sporting events. But if you’d rather recycle them, you can turn them into shower or window curtains, smocks, aprons, pillows, or pet beds.
Another good idea: turn the cloth into a homemade hot compress with rice.
If you’re not as adept with a sewing machine, cut your sheets to use as rags or cleaning rags, or save them as packing material. If you have a garden, cotton sheets make excellent natural weed barriers in place of plastic landscaping fabrics.
You can turn old shirts into pillowcases, tote bags, or even dresses for little kids (or dolls). Stuff an old children’s overalls with a sandbag to use as a doorstop. Or stuff a denim pant leg with cotton or sheets to use as a windbreak for doors or windows.
We realize some of these ideas might be reserved for more skilled sewers, but never fear – there’s a DIY tutorial video for almost everything on the internet these days!
However, here are some additional ideas that require less DIY:
- Fill a larger sock with smaller socks and tie a knot in the end to make a dog toy
- Cut strips of fabric to make headbands or hair bows
- Wear socks over your hands to easily clean blinds or apply shoe polish or furniture stain.
- Use socks or a cloth to wrap breakables when shipping packages or storing items
- Use an old shirt as cheesecloth or as a way to strain coffee grounds when making a cold brew
- Cut t-shirt sleeves and bottom fringes to create reusable tote bags
What to do if you can’t reuse an item
There are very few items that cannot be reused. If you didn’t find any inspiration in this article, a quick search on Google or Pinterest will show you thousands of ideas on how to upcycle everyday household items.
But if you’re trying to declutter your home, remember to think about where you can donate or recycle before you throw anything away. See if there is a creative reuse center in your city!
How to recycle clothes, jewelry, etc. in good condition
If you have wearables in good condition, you can donate them or even try selling them to a consignment store like Buffalo Exchange, Plato’s Closet, a thrift store, or websites like Poshmark or ThreadUp.
Anything that doesn’t sell can usually be dropped off at Goodwill or a local homeless shelter.
How to recycle textiles, towels, etc. torn, torn or stained.
If you have torn, ripped or stained textiles and you think you have no choice but to throw them away, think again.
Almost all types of fabrics are recyclable, but only about 15% of the 14.3 million tons of textile waste generated each year in the United States is recycled.2
We can change that by turning to textile recycling services that gladly take over-appreciated textiles for recycling.
Check out websites like For Days and Recycling told – for a small donation, they will send you a bag that you can fill with your textiles and send back to them, usually in exchange for a discount code in their store.
How to recycle old furniture, wood, etc.
Moral of the story here: almost everything you own has the potential for new life, so think before you throw it away.