15 creative uses for items you’d usually throw out

Image
The mesh bag can be reused to store bath toys if you have young kids. POONGPEED/Getty Images
  • You may be feeling overwhelmed by the amount of trash you are producing, especially if you are spending more time at home.
  • There are plenty of ways to give cardboard boxes, food scraps, plastic bottles, and old magazines a second life.
  • Glass jars can be used for storage or homemade candles, while egg cartons can help you in the garden or during art projects.
  • Choosing to put something you already own to use rather than purchasing a new product is better for the environment and may end up saving you money.
  • Visit Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Every week, Americans fill their waste bins to the brim. The average American produces 1,704 pounds of garbage per year, about three times the global average, according to a study from the research firm Verisk Maplecroft.

In honour of World Environmental Health Day on September 26, the next time you are about to mindlessly toss out your empty containers or food scraps, try using these 15 creative ideas to give them a second life.


Your litre bottles of juice and soda can be recycled into bird feeders.

Image
Wrap string around the cap of the bottle and dangle it from a tree. Ivanna-Kateryna Yakovyna / EyeEm/Getty Images

Before you recycle your plastic bottles, put them to use by filling them with birdseed. Then, cut a couple of inch-wide slits for birds to stick their heads in.


Plastic soda and water bottles can also be used as planters for growing flowers and vegetables, like lettuce, in the garden.

Image
Growing lettuce in used plastic bottles is easy. SewCream/Shutterstock

To create a pot, the easiest method is to cut the top off the bottle so you are left with a 3-inch deep cup. Use a nail to poke a few holes in the bottom, then fill your bottle with dirt or a seed-starting kit and some water. Finally, add in your seeds and place your new planter in the garden.

Another method is to cut a slit in a plastic water bottle. Using the horizontal slit method is ideal for plants like lettuce that may require 6 to 8 inches between each seed.


If you want to plant an herb garden, an egg carton is a great tool to get your seeds started.

Image
Once your seed sprouts, the carton can go directly into the ground, where it will break down on its own. FotoHelin/Shutterstock

Start by picking out a couple of seeds of your favourite herbs. Then, fill your egg carton with soil and sow each seed depending on the herb’s requirements. Finally, give your seeds a bit of water, sunlight, and time to sprout.

Once your seeds have sprouted, you can tear off each paper cup and plant them directly in your garden or pot. Egg cartons make for an easy option because the cardboard will break down on its own as your plant roots itself in its new pot.


Your old plastic milk jugs can be cut and transformed into scoops for dog food.

Image
Milk gallons are already sturdy and easy to handle. Tim Boyle/Getty Images

Milk jugs already have a built-in handle, making them ideal for scooping pet food. Simply cut the base of the jug, but angle the cut so the side opposite the handle is longer.

This hack works for gallon or half-gallon containers.


After you enjoy your clementines or oranges, hold on to the mesh packaging and use it to store bath toys.

Image
As long as you don’t rip holes in the mesh, you can reuse the bag in the tub. POONGPEED/Getty Images

Attach two hooks to the walls of your bathroom and fill the mesh bags with your children’s bath toys. The mesh easily drains the water and is already designed to support a decent amount of weight.


Also try saving the orange peels, as well as other fruit and vegetable scraps, which can be used to make colourful clothing dye.

Image
Turmeric can be used to achieve a vibrant yellow. Margaux Bigelow/Insider

Try getting the most out of your food before throwing it away by using the food scraps to make unique shades of clothing dye.

Black beans create a chalky indigo blue, avocado peels and pits create a light shade of pink, tangerine peels give way to a light orange, and pomegranate skins make a dark green.

Not only does reusing your food scraps make for a creative project, but the natural dye is better for the environment. It requires less waste and eliminates any toxic runoff into the grass.

To make the dye, start by soaking your ingredient of choice in water overnight. Drain the now-coloured water and compost or discard the leftover food scraps.

Then, soak your fabric of choice in a fixative, which is just a couple of teaspoons of alum (found in the spice aisle) and boiling water to help it dissolve. This mixture is then added to a pot of cold water, which your fabric will soak to help the dye stick later on.

Finally, dunk the fabric into your dye and leave it to soak for a few hours until you are happy with the colour. Then rinse it in cold water and hang it to dry.


Keep your glass jars, which are great for holding toiletries next to your bathroom sink.

Image
Use an old salsa jar to store your Q-tips. Elena Feodrina/Getty Images

It’s much easier to buy Q-tips or cotton balls in large bags, but keeping a huge plastic bag on your sink is not ideal. A quick solution is to save your glass jelly jars, peel off the label, and use them for storage.

To easily remove a label, fill a pot with water and a squeeze of dish soap and place it on high heat. Then allow your jar to soak as the water simmers, and the label should fall right off.

The large plastic bags can also be saved and used to hold your toothpaste or other liquid products when you travel, so that if they explode, they won’t stain a toiletry bag.


If your grocery store offers bulk options, you can decorate your countertop with glass jars full of dry ingredients.

Image
Reusing glass jars will help keep your ingredients fresh for longer. Dasha Muller/Shutterstock

Try to keep your kitchen plastic-free by storing bulk dry goods in reusable glass jars and containers. According to The Washington Post, glass is the best air-tight option. It’s odor-free and easy to clean, making it the perfect candidate for kitchen storage.


Glass wine bottles, condiment jars, and jelly containers can also be used to store your kitchen essentials.

Image
If you have ever been tempted to save a stylish wine bottle, try turning it into rice storage. Marcelle Franco/Shutterstock

Smaller-sized jelly jars are perfect for keeping spices, which you can also buy in bulk to save money and packaging.

Wine and glass bottles with narrow spouts are not only great for storage, but also convenient for pouring your ingredients out in a controlled manner when it comes time to cook.


Alternatively, you can use your glass jars to make custom candles.

Image
A homemade candle made in a mason jar. Caroline Fox/Insider

Making candles is an easy way to repurpose old glass jars. All you need to do is purchase soy wax flakes and melt them over low heat. Then colour your candle by adding in old crayons, and drop in essential oils for scent.

Allow your wax to cool as you glue a wick to the bottom of your jar, pour the wax in, adjust the wick, and let your candle harden.


You can also use an old egg carton as a makeshift paint palette.

Image
Squeezing your paint into the divots also helps you waste less paint. tzahiV/Getty Images

If you usually squirt paint onto a plate, you’ll notice that space becomes limited quickly and lots of paint goes to waste.

An easy solution is to use an old egg carton, which already has distinct indents for each colour. Use the lid of the carton as a space to mix and blend colours. Styrofoam cartons are especially great for watercolors because the texture doesn’t absorb water as easily as cardboard does.


Instead of throwing out the cardboard roll in the centre of your toilet paper and paper towels, try reusing it as a pencil holder on your desk.

Image
Homemade pencil holders using old wrapping paper and the centre of a toilet paper roll. Caroline Fox/Insider

The cardboard roll inside your toilet paper is the perfect height to store pens on your desk. Reusing the cardboard is not only sustainable, but also gives you the creative freedom to customise it to match your space.

First, find an old cereal box or loose cardboard and cut it into a base for your roll. Decorate your base and roll with paint, tissue paper, glitter, or anything colourful you have on hand. Use a hot glue gun or super glue to secure the roll to the base, and you have a crafty new storage option for all your desk supplies.


Or use the roll to organise your wires or shoelaces.

Image
If you have spare shoelaces, using toilet rolls is an easy way to keep them organised. bxTT/Shutterstock

Storing your wires, shoelaces, hair ribbons, or other accessories that usually end up tangled on the floor is a great hack.

When dealing with electronics, it helps to label each roll so you don’t have to untangle the wire to figure out what it’s for.


If you want to get creative but don’t have many materials, try cutting up old magazines or newspapers for collages — it’s the perfect creative activity for parents to try out with kids stuck at home.

Image
Tavi Gevinson started her fashion blog when she was just 12 years old. Heather Charles/Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service via Getty Images

Instead of letting your mail collect dust on the counter or dumping it directly into the trash, try looking at it through a creative lens. The advertisements and bold fonts could be transformed into a mesmerising collage with just a pair of scissors and some glue.


Another trick for when you want to be creative: Old cardboard boxes can serve as a sturdy base for any art project.

Image
A homemade collage made using catalogues and an old cardboard box. Caroline Fox/Insider

When dealing with watery paint or lots of glue, paper is often too thin and will curl at the edges as it dries. Instead of splurging on canvas, simply cut your old cardboard boxes into the perfect backdrop.

If you want a neutral background, give your cardboard a few coats of black or white paint before you start your project.