aquatic trash

Trash at the bottom of a lake.

Americans throw away billions of tons of trash each year.  Out of site, out of mind’ is how most people view their trash.  More than 28 billion glass bottles and jars land in garbage lots each year. We use about 100 million steel (soup) cans every day. That’s 36.5 billion cans a year. Plastics take an average of 450 years to decompose.

But instead of automatically throwing away every bottle, jar or plastic bag that comes into our home, what if we started a new relationship with our trash?  What if we began to reuse some typical trash items by up cycling them into something useful?

You can avoid the dump altogether and revitalize these common items into useful products for the home and workplace.


According to a study by Virginia Polytechnic Institute and the USDA Forestry Service, nearly 700 million pallets are manufactured each year. Industries try to repair and reuse as many as they can, but some still end up in the trash pile.

Pallets quickly go from waste to wonderful when you turn them into a cool headboard or rustic looking furniture for your flat.  Headboards have gained in popularity and are simple to construct. You can also salvage the wood to make shelving. If that sounds complicated you can sand it, stain it, and hang it on the wall as is. Just place a few pictures and knick knacks. Stack pallets to make a coffee table or a bench base. Paint one and attach a few hooks to create a unique coat hanger.

Jars and Cans

Put on your creative cap and get to it. Soak the items in hot, soapy water to remove the labels and clean the insides. Next decorate any way you please. Dip in glue and glitter for a glam makeup brush holder. Wrap it in twine and lace for a vintage vase. Smaller ones can be used as votive holders. Nestle a few together to store crafting odds and ends, or use them to situate pens, pencils and markers.  Tint a couple glass jars and make your own centerpiece.

Glass jars with lids make great storage for small items like nuts and bolts, nails and loose change.  Or turn a clear 2 liter plastic bottle into a plant waterer by punching a hole in the bottom to allow for air flow, filling the bottle with water and placing it upside down (cap side into the soil) to allow plants to have a steady supply of water while you’re away on vacation.

Pill bottles

These little guys can easily help organize your smaller things. Use them as is or decorate. Put some hair pins in one and stash them in your purse or on your vanity. Mount some on a wall in the garage for nails, screws, and the like. Organize that toolbox and get rid of the nuts and bolts lying in the bottom. Make the junk drawer, well, less junky. Sort your paper-clips, tacks and rubber bands. Label the bottles for easy identification.


Convert your old linens into curtains with a little hemming, or use them for other craft projects like making pillows.  Solids are easy to dye if you want to coordinate. Hang a couple in the corner and add floor cushions to create a reading nook. Cut one sheet into smaller pieces and add backing for custom placemats. Snip and stitch into slipcovers for your throw pillows or create completely new ones.


Wooden and plastic crates can be made useful again.  Old wooden crates with writing on them have especially become trendy to add a modern rustic look to any room.  Position one on its side for an end table. Arrange a few against the wall as shelving or a media center. Stuff a few with sturdy, but comfortable pillows and you have seating for the toddlers or a unique ottoman. Toss your magazines in one and put it next your favorite reading spot.  Place it on the bathroom counter with rolled towels.

There are many more ways to up cycle, and some of the best will come from your own imagination.  Start small and build up from there. What are some other items you reuse? How do you incorporate repurposing into your life?



U.S. National Park Service

Recycle Across America

Think Green