When recycling won’t cut it, Re-use and Re-purpose Old Items for Vintage, Creative Cool Points.

Via Merete Mueller
on Sep 18, 2008
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Recycling is sooo 1990s. While it’s obviously better to recycle products than to send your cast-aways to a landfill, it still takes energy to clean and process your discarded Sunday Times into fresh recycled notebook paper, or your used salsa jar into recycled glass windowpanes. Luckily, there is more than one way to give old items new life (not to mention composting, which can reduce your household trash output by 80%). Here are a few creative repurpose ideas from ele reader Nichole, comment below with ideas of your own:

1. Use your old yoga mat as a gear mat in the trunk or back of your car. My friends use their old mats to protect the backseat of their car from their dog’s muddy paws.

2. Paperboard egg cartons can be refilled with eggs from a local seller (try your local farmer’s market if you don’t see any chicken coops nearby). When you are done with that, use the individual cells to start seedlings for your summer garden, and then compost what is left after this last step.

3. Brown paper bags (come on, we all forget our canvas grocery tote once in a while) have been used for ages to cover and protect school textbooks or precious hardcovers. You can also use them to wrap mail or gifts. Use nontoxic paints for festive occasions and encourage the recipient to reuse or recycle the wrapping.

4. Do your endocrine system a big favor and get rid of your plastic Tupperwear. Empty Justin’s Nut Butter jars are the best small-serving food containers ever! (Small salsa jars also work…anything short and wide.)

5. Birthday cards are a thrill to open on the big day, but they don’t have to sit around and collect dust for the following weeks and months. Cut off greeting card covers and re-purpose them as post cards. 

6. From tin can to mood lighting: Fill an empty, clean tin can 3/4 of the way with water and freeze. Once frozen, take a hammer and several different sized nails, and hammer out a pattern of your choice on the sides of the can. The ice inside keeps the can from caving in as you hammer. After you drain the melted ice, add an organic Lumia (or beeswax) candle and watch the light dance—it’s better than television.

Editor’s note: If you’re lazy and enjoy consuming, check out the two bags featured above, made from re-purposed vinyl signs and rubber tires


About Merete Mueller

Merete is a writer and filmmaker, and was once-upon-a-time the Managing Editor of elephant journal's print incarnation, from 2006-2008. Today, you can find her on Twitter @meretemueller and on her blog To The Bones. Her first documentary, "TINY: A Story About Living Small", about people who have downsized their lives into homes the size of a parking space, premiered at SXSW in March 2013.


7 Responses to “When recycling won’t cut it, Re-use and Re-purpose Old Items for Vintage, Creative Cool Points.”

  1. Love these repurposing tips! Let’s have more, Nichole!

    One of my favorite things to repurpose are mint tins – you know, the Altoids kind and smaller – which I have and continue to use for everything from holding my bobby pins to a DIY sewing kit!

    Another of my favorites is using empty essential oil dropper jars for creating therapeutic skin oils – I just fill up the empties with almond, jojoba, or sesame oil and can get even more out of the scent while having an oil I can apply directly to the skin, my shea butter concoctions, or the bath.

    GREAT topic and great fun to add to the discussion!

    – Heather

  2. admin says:

    This post just made the list of our most popular blogs! Go Nichole!

  3. Nichole says:

    Heather Marie Philipp,
    Those are two clever tips that I am going to start using myself! Thank you for sharing them here, and will you also add them to the wall of our 4Rs facebook group? http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=14161514423&ref=ts


  4. […] out a past Elephant feature on the best of recycled products as well as how to make better use of your own recycled […]

  5. Paige says:

    This is a dumb question, but can you reheat food in regular glass jars (like your nut butter jar)? I always have empty olive jars that I could possibly use.

  6. tessiesasha says:

    Hi Nichole I like your suggestion about the re-using of yoga mats. I passed my unwanted mat to a friend's domestic helper who sent it off to her family in the Philippines recently. It tickled me pink to think of a farmer taking a break on the pink lululemon mat under the mid-day sun!

  7. Kiran in Texas says:

    Thanks Nicole, these are some great ideas! Can you write a new article with more ideas…please!