Share on Facebook

15 Things You’re Throwing Away—But Shouldn’t

Plastic bottles, glass jars, cardboard, old clothing, and more are filling up our landfills. Do your part and help reduce your carbon footprint by repurposing common household trash into something useful.

Crayons in cansBlack Duck Style/Shutterstock

Upcycling is the new recycling

The average American produces about 4.40 pounds of garbage per day, according to the EPA. Recycling is a great way to reduce some of the waste heading to landfills, but an even better way is to upcycle. Before you toss your trash, try one of these ideas to repurpose it into a useful or decorative item. Reusing and repurposing items is one step toward helping the planet. Here are 20 tiny everyday changes you can make to help the environment.

D.I.Y pasta container.The ecology idea for reduce the amount of kitchen waste.Plastic water bottle used again by making it into a new pasta storage.Reuse reduce and recycle concept.Mama Belle and the kids/Shutterstock

Pasta holder

One million plastic bottles are bought around the world every minute. The next time you finish a bottle of water or soda, keep it and turn it into a dried pasta holder. Skinny noodles work best with the narrow opening, but small pasta like orzo and even rice will fit easily into the bottles. Then, invest in a smart water bottle and stop using plastic water bottles for good.

Recyling Idee with Plastic Bottle ; Shutterstock ID 1017261799; Job (TFH, TOH, RD, BNB, CWM, CM): -derya schuberth Gulcehre/Shutterstock

Change pouch

Another way to upcycle a plastic bottle is to transform it into a change pouch. Start with two plastic bottles that are the same shape and size. Cut the bottom portion off of each bottle. Buy a zipper that is long enough to wrap around the bottle. Punch holes in both halves of the bottle so you can sew through them. (You can make the holes with a 1/16″ craft punch or just a heated needle.) Then stitch through the holes to secure the zipper.

boot helpercourtesy Organized 31

Boot Helper

Who knew a plastic 2-liter bottle could be so helpful? Susan from Organized 31 has a super simple solution to help keep boots upright and protects them from creasing when stored away: Simply insert a plastic bottle. It’s easy, frugal, and environmentally friendly. Reusing plastic is a great way to keep plastic out of landfills—here are simple ways to reduce waste—and save money every month.

garden jarscourtesy Melissa J. Will | Empress of Dirt

Garden art treasure jars

Americans dispose of some 10 million metric tons of glass annually—that’s a lot of glass that ends up in landfills. Melissa at the Empress of Dirt has an adorable and useful way to reuse glass jars. With the help of Dollar Store glass gems and solar votive lights, her upcycled luminaries will make your garden sparkle at night.

pool storage boxcourtesy Organized 31

Pool storage box

Got a kitty? Then you are familiar with the large plastic kitty litter pails that you inevitably collect. Plastic kitty litter bins are made of sturdy number #2 or #5 HDPE. Instead of sending them all to the recycler, you may want to keep a couple when you see how easy it is to make this genius pool storage box made by Susan from Organized 31. Are you ready to reduce the amount of plastic you use? Here what it’s really like to go plastic-free.

Bench made of five wood chairs in different sizes and colours and wood plankAnne Richard/Shutterstock

Chair bench

Got mismatched chairs from an old kitchen and dining sets? Hang on to them and transform them into a quirky bench. You will need to purchase or repurpose a piece of wood that is long enough and wide enough to fit across the chairs, side by side. Secure the piece of wood to the chairs from underneath with wood screws. Tip: paint the new bench with exterior paint so that it’s weatherproof; that way, you can use the bench outdoors and in your garden.

Fabric wrapped gifts, reusable sustainable recycled textile gift wrapping alternative zero waste conceptHollyHarry/Shutterstock

Fabric gift wrap

According to the EPA, landfills in the United States received 10.5 million tons of textiles in 2015; that includes discarded clothing, sheets, and other home textiles. Instead of adding new gift wrap and decorations to that pile, try the Japanese art of Furoshiki. Furoshiki wrapping involves a single rectangular or square piece of fabric that is decoratively wrapped around gifts. Use pinking shears to cut apart old clothing into squares. Fabric is also great for reusable shopping bags, but there is a downside to reusable bags.

This photo shows a candle maker's work bench with liquid wax in various jars and pins holding the wicks in place, many wax drips are on the tablecloth.joyfuldesigns/Shutterstock

Custom candles

Another way to repurpose glass jars is to turn them into candle holders. Use beeswax or soy wax and wicks to create homemade candles; you can use prepackaged scents and wax coloring kits to customize them. Mix and match glass jars to create a variety of styles. Homemade candles are a wonderful DIY holiday gift, too.

tape organizercourtesy Organized 31

Washi tape organizer

If you love washi tape and cookies, then you are in luck. Susan from Organized 31 discovered a super simple and inexpensive solution to get her washi tape collection under control. By using a discarded cookie package tray, she organized her entire cache of washi tape in no time. Love upcycling? Here are 11 items you didn’t know you could recycle or upcycle.

close up view of succulents potted in old cups, jug and tea pot on wicker tray in garden, alternative to plastic pots, recycle, upcycle and resuse for sustainable livingHollyHarry/Shutterstock


Almost anything can be a planter! Old teapots, cups, bowls, pans, boots—really any vessel that’s deep enough to hold soil can get a second life as a planter. One caveat: Most of these items lack drainage holes, which is a must for plants. If you can not drill holes into the item, simply add an even layer of rocks at the bottom before you add soil. Monitor the moisture in the soil once you pot your plant to make sure you are not overwatering. Arrange your upcycled planters in groupings for a whimsical look.

Upcycled gift wrappings_karau/Shutterstock

Pillow box

A pillow box is an excellent way to wrap a small item. Create one out of a toilet or paper towel roll. Gently press the roll flat with the palm of your hand. Place a drinking glass at one end of the roll. Carefully trace around it with a craft knife to create a curve. You are not trying to cut through the cardboard, the goal is to score it. Repeat on the other side. Bend the ends of the roll in along the score lines to form the sides of your pillow box. Fill with a small gift and finish it off with ribbon. Need some frugal gift ideas? Check out these 25 holiday gifts that don’t cost a dime.

newspaper plant potcourtesy Debbie Wolfe

Newspaper pots

Recycling a single run of the Sunday New York Times would save 75,000 trees. If you have a stockpile of newspaper, consider using them in the garden. Paper is a wonderful medium to use in the garden because it’s compostable and it’s also perfect for making seeding pots. These origami newspaper pots are made with a single piece of newspaper and can be customized to any size seedling. Get the full step-by-step how-to and many other garden-related projects in Do-It-Yourself Garden Projects and Crafts.

milk jug plant labelcourtesy Debbie Wolfe

Milk jug plant labels

Milk jug plastic is the perfect medium for making plant labels and it’s even easier if you have a ready-to-go arrow craft punch. Simply cut open a clean, dry milk jug and punch out as many plant labels you need. Grab the full tutorial on The Prudent Garden. Get more out of your garden this year—here are 10 things you didn’t know you could compost.

pet bedcourtesy Melissa J. Will | Empress of Dirt

Pet bed

Old sweaters make the perfect bed for your fur baby. Melissa over at The Empress of Dirt will show you step-by-step how to create an easy, cozy sweater bed for your beloved pet. Your fur baby will especially love this bed because it’s like sitting on your lap 24/7.

handmade Grandmothers carpets set made from old used clothes. Reuse and upcycling concept, zero waste, ecology in daily lifeMaria Evseyeva/Shutterstock

Rag rug

If you can crochet a circle then you can make this super functional rag rug. Cut old t-shirts and other fabric into strips to make fabric yarn. Then, with an extra-large crochet hook, crochet a large flat circle. Rag rugs are machine washable and are a great way to keep textiles out of landfills. Spruce up any room with your upcycled rug, then try these 52 things that can make your home look more expensive.

Debbie Wolfe
Debbie Wolfe is an author and freelance writer specializing in home, garden, DIY, and lifestyle topics. She covers lifestyle, culture, and craft content for Reader's Digest and contributes regularly to HGTV, The Home Depot, Walmart, Family Handyman, Realtor, Bob Vila, and more. Her book, Do-It-Yourself Garden Projects and Crafts (Skyhorse Publishing), features a variety of practical DIY projects to beautify your garden and home. Debbie holds a degree in Creative Writing and Earth Science from Northland College.

Newsletter Unit

CMU Unit

Subscribe & SAVE Save Up To 84%!