20 Ways to Recycle Everyday Materials | Midwest Living

20 Ways to Recycle Everyday Materials

Cans, egg cartons, jars, maps, rusted kitchenware, corks, light bulbs, broken dishes, old drawers—you can recycle all these into useful or decorative items for your home or garden.
  • Mason jars above outdoor dining area

    Suspended charm

    Tea lights set in sand inside Mason jars add light and charm to an outdoor patio. The carefully hung lights dangle above a dining table and seating area. To make your own, use twine and s hooks to hang the jars from thier handles. 

  • Tag it

    Mark your sprouts with these easy-to-make plant labels made from recycled items from around the house. Canning lids and plastic plant pots quickly become clever hanging tags; 9-gauge aluminum wire makes an easy-to-bend stake. Just pound a nail hole in a canning lid and label it with a permanent marker. (To use the tag again next year, spray with polyurethane.) For the plastic tags, cut any shape from last year's plant pots and label with a silver marker.


  • Map-tastic decor

    Want a stylish way to pay homage to your favorite travel destinations or the places you've lived? Apply maps to home accents, such as side tables or shadow boxes. Any atlas pages or city or state maps will do—and their pastel hues inspire a coordinating color scheme. Don't have a map stash? Find fun vintage options online or at antiques shops. Think of it as decorating in the right direction.

    Patchwork paper: For bargain wallpaper, cover an accent wall with pages pulled from atlases. Starting in the middle of the wall, apply one page using decoupage adhesive. Repeat, overlapping edges, until the wall is covered. Note: This application is permanent. For a similar yet temporary effect, decoupage pages to large plywood or foam-core boards, and hang or lean them against a wall.

    Mapped-out furniture: An old painted cabinet quickly becomes a conversation piece when you decoupage a single state map to the front. To continue the travel theme, display books, mementos, postcards and photos from favorite trips.

  • Egg carton storage

    Organizing solutions don't come much cheaper than an egg carton! Use the egg side for small items such as pins, thumb tacks, staples and batteries. The larger side holds scissors and pencils. 

  • Canned goods

    Cans and paint add clever storage. Clean and spray-paint cans in coordinating colors. Arrange them geometrically or whimsically, attaching each to the wall with a single screw through the bottom or with heavy-duty wall-mounting tape.

  • Pot pizzazz

    Revitalize terra-cotta flowerpots with a coat of bright paint and some rub-on accents. We used scrapbooking stickers to add playful patterns to our containers.

  • Keys to success

    Repurpose an old drawer for storage that's not out of sight. Screw cup hooks into the bottom of the drawer, then hang on the wall on a large sawtooth picture hanger.

  • Creative cans

    Make attractive storage containers from soup cans, coffee tins and other containers. Just attach decorative paper with spray adhesive or double-stick tape. Corral pens, pencils, scissors and other supplies. Change out the paper seasonally if you like!

  • Recycle favorite plates

    Do you have an old, unused dish set, or did you break a favorite plate by accident? Give new life to your treasured mementos by creating mosaic pots. Here, classic Blue Willow china creates a pleasing two-color combination.

    Step-by-step: How to make mosaic garden projects

  • Sunny display

    Sunny display

    Floating a single blossom in a jar with a little water makes a charming display. A bow of raffia tops it with flourish.

  • Cork board

    Put old wine corks to use in a clever message board. Choose a frame deep enough to house whole corks, or cut the corks lengthwise using an extra-fine razor saw (available at hobby stores). Attach the corks to the frame backing with wood glue.

  • Birdbath in a flash

    Create a splash with this easy birdbath, made from two terra-cotta pots and a saucer.

    What you'll need:
    • Two different sizes of terra-cotta pots (a 12-inch pot over a 16-inch pot works well)
    • Large terra-cotta saucer

    How to do it:
    Overturn the pots and stack them, putting the smaller pot on top of the larger one. Set the saucer on top and fill it with water. You'll have an instant attraction for robins, chickadees and other warblers! For a way to decorate your birdbath, click on the Create Mosaic Magic link below.

    Create Mosaic Magic

  • Create a centerpiece

    Not sure what to do with your quirky collectibles? This homeowner’s old lightbulbs, in varying colors and shapes, create a striking focal point for the dining room table.


  • Doorknob decor

    Glass, marble or metal doorknobs make fun clothes or curtain hooks.

    Another idea for doorknobs: Turn them into a picture holder. Attach two or three to a wall and prop a picture frame between the knobs and the wall.

  • Tall refresher

    Pour lemonade or sangria into these jars for containers guests don't have to worry about breaking. 

  • Make your own bookends

    Stand books in style with creative bookends that play off your decor. Keep the project wallet-friendly by repurposing items or hitting up a crafts store for inexpensive supplies.

    For this display, fill glass vases with colored floral decor sand to match your color scheme or layer with aquarium gravel or beach glass. Weight vases with enough material so they won't tip. Finish with preserved greens.

  • Birdbath planter

    Damaged and broken items may no longer be useful for their original purpose, but they make great art. A damaged birdbath becomes a succulent garden. Add a base of soilless potting mix, plant with succulents and finish with a mulch of Spanish moss. Decorate with your choice of accessories, such as this candy dish planter, compass and spoon.

  • Color a collection

    What a little spray paint can do! Choose a single standout hue to turn a jumbled collection of garage sale finds into a unified display for a wall, mantel or shelf.

    Start with a group of related (but not necessarily matching) items. You could use a pile of old brass candlesticks, a menagerie of kitschy animal figures or a stack of tarnished trays. Our pick: a variety of dinged-up kitchen gear from antiques and thrift stores. Remove dirt and dust with a damp cloth. Spray on primer, then apply the final color with a light back and forth motion for even coverage. You may need a couple coats for rich, uniform color. (We used Krylon indoor/outdoor Cherry Red paint in gloss, krylon.com).

  • Reuse an old chair

    A coat of paint turns an old chair into a colorful perch for a flower container.

  • Recycled tiles

    Inexpensive drainage tiles hold a variety of small plants.

  • Ladder display

    A vintage ladder adds stylish towel storage in this bath. 

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