Earth Day Repurposing: 101 Ways to Reuse Your Trash

The following post is from Katie of Kitchen Stewardship:

Earth Day Repurposing: 101 Ways to Reuse Your Trash

If you visited my house, you might wonder why I have an old sock hanging on top of my toilet scrub brush in the bathroom.

Of course, after reading this, you won’t have to ask….

I’ve been collecting all the crazy ways I reuse items that most people would toss or recycle for over two years just to see if I could get over one hundred to share in honor of Earth Day in April, and not only has it been really fun, but easier than I though to get to the century club. I have personally done {almost} everything in this post…and if anyone is keeping count you might find that there are some bonus lessons in this “101” course. ;)

So how can you reuse and repurpose your trash? I hope you find at least one new idea you’ve never heard of on this list!

Don’t Trash the T-shirts

Old T-shirts are good for more than Goodwill. Here’s what you should do with the ones too trashed to donate (and other clothing too):

  • baby wipes
  • wipe up/dusting rags (cut them in half or fourths so they never end up back in your dresser on accident)
  • strips to tie tomato plants to cages (nylons with a run work even better!)
  • to season cast iron (one of the final frontiers where I still used paper towel, I finally realized I could just cut up and throw away a T-shirt I was going to toss anyway. I still end up using each piece about 5-7 times.)
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source: Kitchen Stewardship

  • stuff in places to keep the bees out (our swing set poles have T-shirts crammed in the end = no hornet’s nests!)
  • my Lenten centerpiece is a square of old turtleneck and a square of khaki pants that got bleach splashed on them (back when I used bleach but still didn’t throw anything away…)
  • make holey jeans into gardening shorts (or patch them like our grandparents used to)
  • save scraps of any clothing for quilting; jeans make nifty quilts (check senior centers in your area if you don’t sew yourself)
  • make purses out of jeans; use other wrecked shirts for accents – here and here are two of the many tutorials on the web.
  • 30 more things to do with T-shirts!

Blow Your Nose and Wipe Your Hands for Free

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source: Kitchen Stewardship

  • Cut old receiving blankets or flannel PJ pants with holes in the bum into handkerchiefs, a different pattern for everyone in the family.
  • Hem old tablecloths into cloth napkins.

Save the Socks

…even if there’s only one. Whether the dryer mysteriously orphaned a sock (or five dozen of them) in your house or they sprouted holes, you don’t have to throw them away just yet.

  • scrub toilets (then throw them away; this is my solution to feeling kind of gross about a rag used on the toilet potentially being used on the counter later)
  • clean floors (ditto)
  • put around your kids’ glass cups to keep them padded if they drop and the shards contained if they do break

Other Ways to Clean Green

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source: Kitchen Stewardship

Green cleaning starts with the solutions you’re using and avoiding toxic chemicals, for sure, but the tools you use can be “green” as well if you repurpose instead of buying new:

  • old toothbrushes make excellent grout scrubbers and are fantastic for getting around the bottom of your sink faucets, along with rims and ridges while doing dishes (another surprising dishes trick!) I never throw a toothbrush away until I’ve used it to clean – just toss your toothbrushes in the dishwasher after you get a new one. (They’re good for scraping nasties out of drains too, and then you’ll have a great excuse to finally throw it away – ewwwwww…)
  • the bottles you use to squirt in the bathroom after giving birth – you know the ones I mean ;) You’d think they’d be unusable for anything, but they’re actually wonderful for homemade natural toilet cleaners – gets under the rim! I just use straight vinegar. Easy Peasy.
  • junk mail credit cards – free pan/pot scrapers for dishes (or give to your little girls for their purses)

Don’t Pitch the Peanuts

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source: Kitchen Stewardship

Packing peanuts should never hit the landfills if you can help it:

  • take to the post office to reuse
  • put in the bottom of pots below the dirt for drainage (secure in a tied-off leg of panty hose so you can separate them from the dirt later)
  • simply reuse to mail a package
  • fill beanbags
  • make crafts (the eco-friendly ones stick together with just a little water and make great structures, which you can then hose off in the yard so the kids don’t cry because you threw away their masterpiece.)
  • if you get frozen food in the mail, that Styrofoam cooler with holes in it makes a great worm bin (more on reducing Styrofoam usage HERE)
  • try not to let other mailing supplies fill the recycle bin either:
    • Use packing paper for long posters and paint projects, or also to wrap packages to mail
    • If you order online often, don’t recycle the cardboard. Save up and freecycle it or list for free on Craigslist for people who are moving or take to the post office or UPS store for reuse.

Give New Life to Styrofoam Trays

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source: Life Your Way

Styrofoam is my nemesis, especially when I buy produce and it comes on an unnecessary tray. Try to save those from the trash by using them for:

  • playdough “mats”
  • crafts (we made sailboats with a bit of playdough, a popsicle stick and a sail)
  • weaving boards (above)
  • “serving tray” for little ones to carry around to serve others food
  • ask your local elementary school art teacher if s/he can use them as paint palettes for the kids

Redeem the Paper Pile

Does the mail pile clash with whatever dumps up out of the kids’ backpacks and make for a paper clutter hazard in your house? Or do you recycle it all immediately? Sorted wisely, some of your paper clutter can have new life:

  • a child’s artwork becomes wrapping paper, or at least give the art as “gifts” to the grandparents (who can throw it away/recycle it for you so the children don’t feel like you’re trashing their work)
  • keep the envelopes that come in junk mail to use for sending money or notes to school; if they’re quite empty of text, you can put a label on them and use as an envelope for regular mail.
  • keep school papers with blank back sides near the computer for printing recipes, notes, etc., and also encourage children to use for their artwork (my kids are so indoctrinated into using leftover paper that they’ll make special cards for people out of paper with a notice about the next PTA meeting at school on the back…)
  • half sheets of paper from school = scrap paper for the next 30 years

The Many Lives of Empty Food Containers

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source: Kitchen Stewardship

Yes, you should keep some “disposable” food containers on hand for gifting food to friends in need. But you can also use washed out food containers to:

  • store small toys in lidded containers
  • hold the water for waterpaints
  • use a plastic lid as a palette for poster paints – super easy to rinse off
  • freeze beans or broth in 2-cup portions in cottage cheese, yogurt, or sour cream tubs
  • make a giant checkers game with peanut butter lids – blue and red are perfect pieces!
  • repurpose an empty soy sauce bottle to ration your real maple syrup
  • squeezable ketchup, mustard and dressing bottles make great bath toys, or use for a target practice game at your next messy party
  • baby food jars can hold individual servings of homemade yogurt – culture right in the jar
  • broken dishes for mosaics (freecycle for an artist)
  • washed out glass jars make great crayons or colored pencils holders, or these ideas:
    • as drinking glasses or mugs
    • to store toys
    • food storage
    • decorate with thinned glue and magazine pictures, ribbons for party favors/mugs
    • flower vases
    • plus TEN more ideas HERE

Don’t Leave Kids’ Cups at Restaurants

My first choice is to “reduce” by asking for real cups for my kids at restaurants, but if I forget, we don’t leave the cartooned cups on the table unless we know the restaurant washes and reuses (rare). Bring them home for:

  • water table or bath toys
  • sandbox toys
  • pencil cups on kids’ desks
  • keep a pile to avoid using disposables at birthday parties

Oatmeal Canisters Never Leave My House

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source: Kitchen Stewardship

I buy oatmeal in bulk and refill the canisters, but there are 4 other great uses too:

  • make a small motor skill activity out of an old oatmeal canister with a slit in the lid and milk/juice caps to insert
  • a free drum
  • reuse for food storage: great for homemade crackers or granola and probably lots of other things (label the outside well)
  • cut the bottoms out, tape 3 together and store tall things like toy hockey sticks or umbrellas

Can the Parm, not the Can

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source: Life Your Way

If you haven’t switched over to shredding your own Parmesan yet, use the green lidded containers for:

  • baking soda for cleaning
  • shaking garden fertilizer
  • carting around nuts or seeds for snacking
  • storing dehydrated greens to sprinkle on soups and eggs

Reusable Bags Way Beyond the Grocery Store

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source: Kitchen Stewardship

Those bags that onions and citrus are sold in have a myriad of uses:

  • scrubbing dishes (sew onto a washcloth or wrap a sponge)
  • for sprouting beans, grains, or large seeds – DIY instructions here
  • storing kids’ floor puzzles, beach toys, wooden blocks, or other games with many pieces (beach toys are particularly nice because they can air dry as you walk)
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source: Kitchen Stewardship

  • Even though you probably use a reusable shopping bag at the store, those plastic grocery bags still seem to show up. A few ideas:
    • line a garbage can
    • separate categories in the freezer
    • make painting easier by covering supplies in between work days
    • for dirty laundry in suitcases
    • swimming wet bags
    • produce bags for bulk purchases
    • details on these + 9 more ideas right HERE
  • I don’t even throw away bread bags after we finish a loaf. Try this:
    • storing homemade bread or rolls or tortillas
    • enclosing other bags that are too hard to close on their own, like a bag of frozen peas with just a few missing that keeps wiggling its way out of its twist tie.

Before You Compost it, Make Use of It

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source: Better Than a Box

Not all food that you don’t eat needs to be trashed, or even composted — use it up first!

  • bones and veggie scraps for homemade stock, of course
  • potato peels for a crunchy snack
  • bit of leftover veggies in cream of potato soup
  • bread heels to make breadcrumbs for any purpose, including homemade chicken nuggets (above)
  • apple cores and peels for fruit scrap vinegar
  • OR if you’re making applesauce, put the cores in a separate, smaller pot on the stove with a little water, cook until soft, and then press through a fine-mesh strainer. You’ll be surprised at how much apple you can get out of it that way!
  • save the peels too – squeeze out as much juice as possible (adding the juice back into the recipe, of course!), and then lay the peels out on a cookie sheet. Put them in a warm oven (about 175 degrees), checking frequently, until the peels have dried. Then you can chop them up by hand or use a food processor to get them into small pieces. Store in an airtight container and add some to your oatmeal cookie dough for extra nutrition, fiber and flavor.
Earth Day Repurposing 101: Don't Throw That Away! via lifeyourway.net

source: Kitchen Stewardship

  • orange peels for homemade power cleaner vinegar
  • coffee grounds are really healthy for acid-loving plants, like holly, rhododendron, azalea – spread around the base of the plant
  • you can also freeze coffee in ice cube trays to add to any recipe including chocolate; a few tablespoons brings out the chocolate flavor, especially if the coffee is concentrated a bit
  • or if you make coffee regularly, pour that last bit that no one wants into one jar in the fridge; in a few days you have enough for a good iced coffee
  • carrot tops can be eaten too!  Here’s a carrot top soup we tried that was pretty good.
  • save the crushed chips at the bottom of the bag – especially tortilla chips – in the freezer for a crunchy casserole topping, or even whizzed in the blender for a pie crust for a Mexican quiche (made like a graham cracker crust). Add ½ cup in place of some cornmeal in your next batch of cornbread for a fun crunch.
  • eggshells alone can be use for
    • boiling in coffee to take away the bitterness
    • culturing with water kefir to add minerals
    • sharpening your blender blades by whizzing with water
    • starting seedlings
    • plus 26 MORE ideas for eggshells
  • More details on some of these plus FOUR more ideas to cook with garbage HERE and 25 more ways to use fruit and veggie scraps HERE

Give Up-cycled Gifts

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source: Kitchen Stewardship

  • try to reuse wrapping paper in general, and even if you don’t open if carefully to reuse it on another gift, run it through the shredder (not cross-cut) to make padding for pretty gift bags and baskets or shipping material
  • use maps and comics for pretty wrapping paper
  • let your kids make “homemade” wrapping paper by drawing on packing paper
  • use old calendar pictures as covers for handmade cards
    • also framed art (can be a gift for a new couple starting out)
    • cut out images for kids to practice letters – a homemade alphabet book makes a great gift too (include photos of family members for a special personal touch)

Threadbare Doesn’t Mean a Sheet is Dead

Don’t even think about throwing away an old sheet, even if you can see through it.

  • rainy day forts
  • picnic sheets
  • superhero capes
  • braided dog toy
  • disposable cloth diaper liners
  • toilet paper
  • nighttime nursing pads
  • cover plants to protect from frost
  • cafe curtains
  • cut into squares and sewn to make beanbags
  • and half a dozen MORE ideas plus details on the above HERE

Create New Opportunities for Christmas Cards

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source: Green Your Way

Your friends and family don’t have to be recycled after December 25th. Try these ideas:

  • star of Bethlehem craft (above)
  • make homemade gift tags
  • donate to St. Jude’s
  • details HERE

Outdoor Tools from the Kitchen

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source: Kitchen Stewardship

  • Repurpose plastic containers from sour cream, cottage cheese, and yogurt as “cutworm collars” – cut off the bottom and protect the stems of your cucumbers, peppers and more by planing the seeds/seeding inside the ring pressed into the soil. Cutworms travel on the surface and can’t climb over. You can also use the little plastic pots you might buy small plants in.
  • Plastic gallon milk jugs serve as a deep-root watering system for tomatoes (and other veggies). See how here.
  • You can also cut the top off a milk jug and use it to bail water from the bottom of boats after it rains (leave the handle on).
  • Feed your tomato plants banana peels every few weeks, all summer long.
  • Sprinkle crushed eggshells around plants to deter slugs or snails who can’t crawl over the sharp pieces of shell.
  • Cardboard egg cartons (or toilet paper rolls) make biodegradable seed starter trays, and a nasty cookie sheet that deserves retirement makes a quick drainage tray. Here are 6 MORE repurpose ideas for all sorts of egg cartons

Don’t Organize the Junk, Organize WITH Junk

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source: Kitchen Stewardship

My house can get filled with so much, so quickly. Stuff comes in without my permission all the time! Toys and games with many parts and no container particularly get in my craw, and I’m finally learning that if I organize my own stuff into smaller containers, it’s easier to find what I actually need. For example:

  • I keep often-used essential oils in a little blueberry clamshell with the lid cut off – it fits perfectly in the medicine cabinet and contains the tiny bottles so they don’t sneak around behind my husband’s contact solution. Larger clamshells also house wooden puzzles that came with no container.
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source: Kitchen Stewardship

  • Teachers and librarians know that books facing out will attract more children to read them. I realized that the wooden Clementine boxes are perfect for forward-facing board books. I used to hang onto those things for months before finally pitching them with much guilt because they felt far too sturdy for the trash but had too many holes in the bottom to be used for most purposes (now I try to opt for the cardboard ones and recycle  unless I need new bookshelf organization).
  • I wash and reuse most plastic zippered bags – but when they come with non-food stuff in them in the mail or home from school, I tuck them into a box in my linen closet and use them for any other non-food opportunities. They’re all over the house keeping puzzles, Polly Pockets, back-up toiletries and more contained where they belong, and I didn’t have to use a new bag or wash an old one. Score!
  • The thick zippered plastic bags that new blankets or mattress pads come in are valuable finds. They’re great for storing larger toys with way too many parts, and for storing off-season sheets. Don’t ever pitch one – I guarantee you’ll find many uses for them!
  • Old cookie sheets too nasty to donate make surprisingly helpful organizational magic happen:
    • Put small ones under your kitchen or bathroom sinks for sliding bottles around and out of the way, rather than digging through 10 layers of “stuff” to get what you need.
    • Super cheap boot tray for winter!
    • Try keeping “in process” crafts somewhere safe from toddlers (top of fridge) but yet all together and easy to move around (Do you have daughters who work with beads? You know what I’m talking about…)
    • Bonus: folks are using those surfaces for artsy food photography nowadays!
  • Shoe boxes just have to be recycled sometimes, but they’re also useful for:
    • individual winter hat/mitten storage with names written on the boxes
    • separating items on a deep shelf, usually without a lid (if you can pull out the whole shoe box and see the back half of your cupboard, it’s a lot easier to navigate than having to take out 10 cans or boxes of food – thanks to Andrea for the organizing series she helped me with last fall!)
  • My purse is organized using all re-purposed random bags (below) – snacks in one, little emergency toys in another, miscellaneous in the third and a zippered one that holds produce bags to reuse. Separate supplies and your cavernous “mom-purse” will be so much more manageable!
Earth Day Repurposing 101: Don't Throw That Away! via lifeyourway.net

source: Kitchen Stewardship

Weird Kitchen ReUses

What happens in the kitchen…doesn’t always stay in the kitchen. Here are a couple ways I reuse kitchen items that just didn’t fit in other categories!

  • expired baking soda – take it in the bathroom, on the carpet, and more…at least TEN super helpful uses for baking soda HERE
  • little papers from between pre-sliced cheese (not meats) – use between frozen pancakes so you don’t have to flash freeze. (The trick? You have to put TWO between each pancake.)
  • plastic tubs from ice cream, bulk-warehouse nut and candy purchases, etc – store bulk foods like rice, oats, dry beans
  • Altoids tins – store extra buttons that come with shirts, tiny puzzles for the purse, homemade lotion bars
  • wine bottles – save up enough that it’s worth the drive for a home winemaker, maybe a half dozen, then list them on Freecycle or Craigslist “offered for free.” It’s always better to reuse first than recycle.
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source: Kitchen Stewardship

An Earth Day Challenge

Depending on where your family’s trash output and reusing prowess is now, I challenge you to choose one of the following goals for Earth Day. If we can set New Year’s resolutions just because January 1 is a date on the calendar, why not Earth Day resolutions in April! ;)

  1. Save four different items from the trash this month and figure out how to repurpose them – things you would normally have never thought to reuse.
  2. Create a system for saving – a place to put scrap paper or envelopes, a box for jars and bottles or other items that can be used to store things and organize, a spot in the freezer for scraps you know how to use, a container in the craft area for little things to use in projects, or a box to collect stuff you can freecycle or cart to the local art room once a month (plus a calendar reminder to actually do it).
  3. Set a “less trash” goal – by weight or number of bags – for your household to hit 3 months from now as you work to reduce what comes in and reuse what you can.

And last but not least –don’t fall prey to the temptation to keep everything. I don’t want to be fostering anyone’s hoarding tendency. Set limits on your saving.

Happy Earth Day!

What other reusing tips do you practice regularly?

Katie Kimball has been “green” since 5th grade when she read 50 Things Kids Can Do to Save the Earth. She remains slightly disappointed that she didn’t actually save the whole thing back then, but now that she has 3 kiddos counting on her, she keeps plugging away hopefully. Katie blogs at Kitchen Stewardship about real food and natural living and is the author of Healthy Snacks to Go and other eBooks, available for Kindle.
  • Sarah

    I love this list. How can I print it?

    • Katie Kimball

      That’s a great question, Sarah! I’m not sure if Life Your Way has a “print” button; I’m not seeing it. I guess just copying and pasting into a text document, then deleting the images is the only way. Sorry there’s nothing easier that I can see! (But I’m really glad you found it helpful!) :) Katie

    • John P. Buryiak

      With most browsers if you hold the Control (Ctrl) key down then press the “P” key it will print the whole page but then you get the ads and the photos and all the comments etc. Probably better to do as Katie suggests and copy/paste what you want to print into a document and then print it out (it will save you a fortune in ink).

  • name

    Another use for orange peels & eggshells; sprinkle in your garden to keep the cats from using it as a littlerbox. They don’t like the smell of oranges and lthe eggshells hurt their feet so they won’t come back. Also if you get plastic forks with your takeout or something, you can plant them in the garden with about a 1/2 inch of tine sticking out which will also discourage the cats from digging.

    • Katie Kimball

      Those are awesome! I had no idea about the cats…I might put orange peels in our sandbox, too, for those days we forget to close the lid…Thanks! :) Katie

  • Abi Craig

    So glad you addressed the worn out t-shirts; we did use them to make braided dog toys for Christmas gifts last year (the stretchiness makes them a tiny bit harder to braid than sheets, but it makes for good tug-of-war and dogs love the sweat scent!). However, my pile is growing too high to be taken care of by the tomato plants this summer – so, I like the idea of using the to season the cast iron pans.

    I really like the Clementine book box.

    I also save all thin cardboard boxes – kleenex, butter, etc. and use the panels for my kids to paint on. Some pieces may be small, but sometimes their pictures are small and they still want to make another, and another, and another.

  • Au naturel

    We save plastic bread type bags for my husband’s lunches. We put dog hair in an onion bag or torn nylons to hang on our bird feeder to keep the squirrels away.

  • Barb Reinert

    I run all the scrap paper from the computer and junk mail (no shiny colored paper or plastic) through my paper shredder then add it to my compost tumbler and worm bins.

  • Sheila Connolly

    T-shirt squares, IMO, make the best handkerchiefs and family cloth (homemade toilet paper) because they are so soft. You can also make braided rugs out of them, and other rags like sheets and jeans. I also fasten a big square of t-shirt rag with a snappie as a newborn diaper …. because they go through SO many, I’m not buying the number I would need to keep them in “real” cloth.

    Dad’s pants work well getting made over into toddler pants — I just cut a basic pattern, one toddler pant leg out of each of Dad’s pants’ shin, more or less. I also used the seat of a pair of jeans as the cloth part of an umbrella stroller that needed to be refinished — I can use the pockets to stash stuff! If I were to do it again, I’d use a second layer that was less stretchy than denim is, though, because it kind of sagged. And when my jeans get holey, I make them into jean skirts! There are lots of tutorials available.

    Bread tags, if you buy the bread with the tags, are great dish and counter scrapers. They always get off those gluey bits from making bread!

    A friend of mine hangs a cut-out milk carton by the handle on her clothesline to store the clothespins. So she can just slide it down the line and have it right at hand level.

    Junk mail, especially catalogs, are favorites for the kids to practice their scissor skills. Of course they get thrown out once they’ve been turned into confetti (though someday they might like to make paper dolls or collages). Unfortunately that glossy stuff isn’t useful for compost like newspapers are. You can always try calling the company and ask them to stop mailing them …. and your bills, of course, you can switch to online in most cases.

    Has anyone actually tried the eggshell planters? I’ve started seedlings in egg cartons before, but they didn’t do well because they didn’t have room for their roots. My current seed tray is a cardboard box cut down to 2″ deep, filled with dirt, for a flat. It works well and the first batch of seedlings transplanted fine.

  • carol

    not sure if it was this article or one of the links you had in here to another article….lol…I try to read them all….anyways I use the big cardboard boxes to sort recyclables, and also I cut them down to fit windows and cover with contact paper to make them look nice…that way I can block out all light…or help keep the cold out a little better…loved the article!!