Many green glass wine bottles on cleaning rack.

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle—remember?

While I get a variety of reactions to the fact that I work in the environmental space, one I hear more often than most is “Oh, yeah… we recycle!” I always make sure to respond positively—our recycling rates could still use a lot of work—but I almost always cringe a little internally, too.

See, recycling is the third of the “3 Rs” for a reason: it is important, but makes the biggest difference when combined with a reduced consumption of materials, and reuse of intact items. If all we only throw the right materials into the blue bin, we’re kind of settling for the least best answer to our over-consumptive ways.

I like to think we can do better, so I’ve always given a lot of love to the notion of reuse

In this GD DIY segment, I talked about upcycling a few things. Listen up then read on for some ideas for reusing recyclable materials.

50 Shades of Green Divas

Green Divas DIY: Upcycling Stuff

Most recyclables don’t necessarily need to go to the recycler to get extra life out them: with a little creativity, elbow grease, and perhaps some cutting and shaping, these materials can live on in another form without any kind of further industrial processing (and the water and energy that entails).

7 Reuse Projects Using Recyclable Materials

In recent years, we’ve built up quite a collection of reuse and upcycling projects. Here are just a few ways to get practical use out of materials that might otherwise go into your recycling bin.

1. Gardening Planters with 5-Gallon Buckets: Don’t have the best soil for a vegetable garden? A used 5-gallon bucket, a hand saw, and some organic potting mix can breathe some life into your gardening efforts.

2. Rocket stove Made from Tin Cans: If you made chili this week, you’ve probably got the basic materials you need for this project in your recycling bin right now. This great little stove for outdoor cooking uses wood fuel very efficiently.

3. Lamp from a Beer Can and Pull Tabs: So, if you’ve got a neighbor who drinks a lot of beer (wink, wink), you might want to consider raiding his/her recycling bin for the materials for this very unique interior piece.

4. Winter Head Wrap from a Sweater that “Shrank”: Hey, it happens… but no need to add that old sweater to the tons of textiles that go to the landfill each year (or, occasionally, a recycler). Turn it into a one-of-a-kind head wrap for the cold months.

5. Smart Phone Stand from Left-Behind Legos: If your kids ever played with Legos, you’ve no doubt got a collection of them from behind the couch and other interesting places. Put ’em to use in this sweet stand for your smart phone.

6. Old Sunglasses into a Wearable Video Display: Missed your chance at Google Glass? No worries: if you’ve got a pair of old sunglasses ready to toss, you can combine them with a Raspberry Pi mini-computer into a DIY wearable display.

7. Glass Jars into Retro Kitchen Accessories: Glass jars have all sorts of uses. Jennifer Tuohy from the Home Depot shared her process for turning them into funky retro dispensers for the kitchen.

This is just the tip of the iceberg—we’ve collected many more projects like this. Come take a look… or feel free to share your own reuse project for recyclables.


Jeff McIntire-Strasburg is the founder and editor of sustainablog. A former English professor, Jeff's an "old timer" in the green blogosphere, and has written for Treehugger and the Sundance Channel, among others. You can keep up with his work at Facebook and Google+.

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The Green Divas share low-stress ways to live a deeper shade of green through a weekly radio show, podcasts, videos and blog posts. Working with talented partners and credible sources, the Green Divas produce content on a variety of topics relating to a healthy green lifestyle. Visit The Green Divas website to learn more, and check out The Green Divas on FacebookGoogle+, and Twitter too!

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