When we think about recycling, some of us think of endless trips to those big, green bins, taking off caps and listening to the sound of shattering glass. But to crafters, recycling is so much more than putting our waste back into the commercial cycle. DIY recycled crafts are a way to save money, be kind to the environment, and have a great time making something all at the same time.
Recycled crafts are projects made using your leftover consumer materials, like empty glass bottles and aluminum cans. Basic projects teach children to understand waste and recycling. There are also a lot of thoughtful projects adults can do to be more mindful about their product consumption habits as well.
History of recycled art
Recycling is trendy now, but people have been upcycling their waste for a very long time. For many, it was the only option.
Think about it: for many poor people throughout history, new things simply weren’t an option for them. Even people who had more money often had to make do with what was leftover in the world before the convenience of Amazon and Walmart.
In the 9th century, people in Japan learned how to make paper and immediately started recycling it. In their culture, recycled paper became more important than new paper. They attached spiritual meaning to reuse and used it in their poetry.
Recycling was more than a spiritual choice for the Americans at home during WWII, who eagerly recycled whatever they could to donate to the war effort. The Northeast Recycling Council tells us over ten thousand tons of recycled material were used to save money and create items for the soldiers overseas.
We, as crafters, know there are many uses for simple items. How else could we take a bundle of beige twine and turn it into a gorgeous macrame wall hanging otherwise?
Traditional artists upcycle, too. You might remember seeing the incredible Plastic Ocean exhibit online from the 2016 Singapore Art Museum installation. Over 26,000 pieces of trash were fished from the ocean, cleaned, and suspended from the ceiling, allowing visitors to walk through while they contemplated the artist’s meaning.
Obviously, the world of recycled art and upcycling is vast, and we’ve only just skimmed the surface, but hopefully, you have more of an appreciation now for all the beautiful uses for our cast-off materials. Next, we’re going to dive a little deeper into how you can participate in making recycled crafts.
Recycling vs upcycling?
You might start to wonder if these terms mean the same thing since we are using them interchangeably.
Recycling describes the way products are broken down into their most basic elements and then restructured for new uses. This is what happens to your old bottles, cans, and newspapers when you put them out for curbside collection. Upcycling is the process of taking the whole item and repurposing it for new uses. For crafters, we often can’t “recycle” items.
But since recycling is a popular word, we’re going to continue using it to describe our crafting efforts, even though what we’re really doing is upcycling.
Useful recycled crafts
If something was useful once, it can be useful again. Many crafts are worthwhile simply for the beauty they bring to our lives, but recycled crafts can have endless uses.
Useful recycled crafts do more than simply look great in our homes. A useful craft will take the original purpose of the items and reinvent them into something that can be used again and again. Using an old can as a pen holder is an example of a useful recycled craft. Why buy a new piece of plastic, when metal might give a better look to your desk?
Think about the original purposes of your ingredient items. This is a great way to inspire yourself! Cans and boxes both hold things. What needs holding and organizing in your home?
What are the best recycled crafts for beginners?
So, you know you want to start using your recycling in your crafts, but you’re not sure where to start.
The best recycled crafts for beginners are simple and effective. Use common recycling to make new items you’ll feel proud of and want to look at and use. Aluminum cans are a favorite because their sharp, clean look goes well with most home decors after a little loving care. For the same reason, recycled glass is another great item choice for beginner projects.
Here are some suggestions to get you started.
Tin can pen holder
The beauty of this craft is in its simplicity, which will be true for many great beginner crafts.
To make a tin can pen holder, thoroughly wash and dry your can. Sand down rough edges you might accidentally touch, like the inner rim of the can. You can also sand the outside to smooth away any rust. Decorate it how you want it to look with hot glue or paints. Spray paint will give your can an even, professional finish. Allow your project to dry before you use it.
Glass reed diffuser
A glass reed diffuser is going to add instant class to any room, as well as a beautiful aroma.
To make a glass reed diffuser, choose a glass with a clean or interesting shape. Wash and dry, using hot water to remove any glue from labels. Decorate it how you like using hot glue or paints. If you choose spray paint, consider putting painter’s tape on spots to let the glass peek through. Allow it to dry, then fill it with reed diffuser oil and reed sticks.
To make your own reed diffuser oil, check out our guide. It’s full of great information and inspiration for mixing scents and making sure you get the best fragrance from your diffuser.
Recycled crafts for kids
Recycling isn’t just for adults. Often, the best projects are the simplest, making them great ways to get young children crafting.
Recycled crafts for kids are an excellent way to get them thinking about the environment and their impact on the planet. They’re also a great way to stimulate a child’s imagination and encourage them to see their world from different angles. Children will naturally come up with new uses for common items, but crafts are a great way to structure and encourage.
Here are three great recycled crafts for kids.
Tin can planters
Tin can planters are a perfect craft for kids, with a little supervision. Kids will love watching seeds sprout inside a container they designed.
To make a tin can planter, first prepare the cans by poking some holes in the bottom using a hammer and a nail. Soil needs drainage to grow healthy plants. Have kids decorate the cans using paints and cut out construction paper shapes or anything else they might want to put on their planters. Attach shapes yourself using a glue gun so they dry more quickly.
Toilet paper roll binoculars
The best crafts for kids can be used during playtime. Binoculars will have their imaginations running wild!
To make toilet paper roll binoculars, attach two tubes with hot glue, then add a string. From there, it’s all up to them. Kids can use crayons, paints, markers, or whatever else they like to decorate their binoculars. You can also make some animals using toilet paper tubes and construction paper for a whole safari adventure.
What do you do when the crafting items themselves are ready to be thrown out? Crayon nubs can find new life once melted down and reformed.
To make crayon gems, take all of the crayon nubs hiding at the bottom of the box. Peel off any paper still hanging onto the wax and toss them into a paper cup. Be a little strategic about what colors might look best together. Microwave the paper cup for about five minutes on high, then have the adult carefully pour the wax into silicone molds. Freeze until set.
We suggest gem shapes, but any silicone mold your child likes best is great for melted crayons. Your finished product is ready for more hours of coloring.
Recycled craft ideas for adults
A great rule of thumb for us to remember is this: if you have something you want to buy, first think if you could make it instead.
Tin cans are perfect for housing your own poured candles, and the method isn’t too hard to perfect. Always be careful working with hot wax.
First, clean out your tin can. Attach a wick to the bottom of the can. Melt candle wax either on the stove or in the microwave. Carefully mix any essential oil scents you like into the hot wax. Pour the wax into the can, making sure the string is straight while you do. Allow the wax to set.
Keep your phone neatly in place while charging using a shampoo bottle. It’s way better than looking at cords and putting your device on the floor.
Clean the empty shampoo bottle and cut the top off, leaving a “hump” like a little arch. Cut a window in the hump, then sand edges and decorate how you like using spray paint or other methods. Fit your wall charger through the window and tuck the cord into the bottom of the bottle.
You’ll tuck your phone neatly into the bottle. If the cord doesn’t hold your phone in place well enough, stuff the bottom with the leftover plastic so the phone peeks out the top.
Animal ear planters or catchalls
Have you ever noticed how the four “legs” on a two-liter soda bottle look kind of like animal legs?
Cut the soda bottle to the depth you want, making two triangles at the top for a cat or two ovals for a bunny. Sand the sharp edge smooth. Spray paint the color you like, then decorate with markers or glue on baubles to represent a face. These dishes make great planters if you punch holes on the bottom.
There are so many more clever, useful ideas in this Youtube video. Let us know if you try any!
Recycled crafts for the home
A great way to use recycled crafts is to make them useful around the house.
Recycled crafts for the home are great because they can help you get organized. After all, a lot of products we recycle are empty containers. Boxes, cans, and jars all have plenty of usefulness left in them when turned into decorative storage items for your kitchen or laundry room.
Here are some great recycled craft ideas for your home.
Laundry scent booster container
We have a great article on how to make your own DIY laundry scent booster, but once you’ve made it, you’ll need somewhere to put it.
To make a laundry scent booster container, find a glass jar that still has its lid. Clean it thoroughly, using hot water to remove any labels. Attach decorations with hot glue or use spray paint and painter’s tape to make an eye-catching design. Allow it to dry, then add in your scent booster.
We all have t-shirts we’ll never wear again. To give new life to clothing, sew them into a fun, patchwork blanket of your memories.
Collect your t-shirts and consider how you’d like to arrange them on your blanket as well as how big you want it to be. A twin blanket will use about 25 t-shirts, while a king needs 50. If you want, purchase a backing fabric and batting to give it more weight. Cut t-shirts into squares and sew.
Woven storage baskets are a huge interior design trend right now, but they can be expensive. Consider making your own faux-baskets using a few little tricks.
To make a storage basket, find a clean cardboard box. Cut it to the size you want while maintaining the integrity of the base. Hot glue rope or twine around the box to make a basket-like facade. You can also use old fabric to give it an attractive look, like using an old pillowcase as a lining.
Here are some frequently asked questions about DIY recycled crafts.
What are the best items to upcycle?
The best items to upcycle will be clean and relatively free of marks or dents. They will also be made of long-lasting materials like wood, glass, or metal.
What can you make with upcycled cardboard?
Cardboard can be used to make boxes or faux baskets like the ones we described above. Cardboard tubes are great to cut into rings and glue together to make eye-catching, geometric shapes.
What can I make out of a tin can?
Save your tins cans for storing small items. You will find they are also perfect for pouring candles since they are seamless and non-porous.
What can I make from plastic bottles?
Plastic bottles can be used to make so many things. Cookie cutters, hanging storage, the planters we mentioned earlier, and so much more. You can also re-use them for future beverages, like bringing a smoothie on the go.
Upcycled crafts – final thoughts
The only limit to upcycled crafts is your imagination. Let your household needs inspire you to create useful, attractive crafts for your life.
Get kids involved with upcycled crafts, too! You’ll teach them lifelong lessons in thriftiness and in respecting the planet. Plus, it’s fun to show off how clever you are sometimes, isn’t it? Comment some great ideas you’ve had for upcycled crafts.