Crafting with Kids: Using Recycled Items In The Home

The three R’s never go out of style. Not only is reducing, reusing and recycling “waste” a great way to do your part for the environment, but doing so is inherently satisfying. It feels good to do what you can to keep things out of the landfill and/or give items a second life and purpose. And what’s more, reducing, reusing, and recycling can save you money and spark the flow of some creative juices.

Children, especially, are full of endless creativity. They can be difficult to keep up with, but rarely are they difficult to inspire. Using and reusing materials you would otherwise recycle for kids’ craft projects is absolutely a win-win. Save money for markers and paints, and use recycled paper rather than your bright-white printer paper. Crafting with items that you might not use otherwise means you have nothing really at stake, and therefore you can more easily permit kids to think outside the box, get messy (or messier), and use up and out with reckless abandon. Crafting with reused items is just more FUN.

So, hand kids any of the recyclable, reusable items below and watch your refuse come to life again!

Paper rolls: Toilet paper, paper towel, wrapping paper

In any busy household, toilet paper rolls are rarely at a shortage. In lieu of recycling them, save them up for use as car tunnels/tracks, binoculars, ornaments or decorations, or any of these clever crafty items. (I also save toilet paper rolls, cut once long ways, for curling around wrapping paper to keep it in order until it’s finished!)

Gift wrap/packing: Tissue paper, bubble wrap, packing peanuts, boxes, ribbon

My mother always saved giftwrap and tissue paper, which, when I was younger, I thought was crazy. But then she’d pull it out for paper maché, tissue paper painting, and of course, rewrapping gifts. Save ribbon and bows and cardboard or boxboard boxes for a diorama or doll setting. Packing peanuts and bubble wrap (and plastic straws!) make for fun additions to a textured work of art.

Daily newspaper

This is also a recycled item that is rarely at a shortage. I always put newspaper down on any work/art/project surface, but it can also be used on a grander scale; check out this awesome instructional for making a fort structure out of newspaper! Have you ever made your own piñata? Dip strips of newspaper into a mixture of flour and water (and glue, if you like) and layer over a balloon or other structure. (And then cover with crumpled balls of your recycled tissue paper to finish off the design!)

Magazines and “junk mail”

Fortunately, “junk mail” doesn’t have to live up to its name. Before tossing magazines and other publicity materials in the recycling bin, let kids chop them up! The variety of photos, words, and colors in magazines can be great for making a collage, mosaic, or vision board and occupy an older child for hours. When I was younger, I always used to make paper beads by capitalizing on the slew of colors in my mother’s clothing magazines.

Styrofoam trays (like from cheese, not from any meat) and plastic yogurt cups

Although I try to avoid buying any styrofoam, sometimes I do end up with it. Styrofoam trays can be great for keeping decorative materials and beads from rolling all over the place and as a palette for paint. Plastic yogurt caps and cups are also great for decorations and paints, as well as for planting projects.

Egg cartons

Remember mancala? Make and decorate your own mancala board out of an egg carton. Egg cartons are also fabulous for storage of craft materials and decorations, such as beads, bottle caps, “googly eyes,” rubber bands, paper clips, etc. For a bigger painting project, the carton cups are ideal for large amounts of paint or glue.

Milk cartons, cereal boxes, and jars

Rinse them out of course, and then use any variety of durable food packaging to create a wild cityscape! Get out the magazines and newspaper, glue, paint. Nearly anything can be useful for this imaginary world, where maybe a matchbox car or arm man fits. Toilet paper tube tree trunks? Popsicle stick train tracks? Giant bugs with twisty tie legs??

Bottle caps

I do try to limit consumption of individually packaged drinks, but after a big party or event, I’ll save up the bottle caps. In addition to a clever idea for bottle cap stamps, this site has many other ways to use recycled materials. This site also proves that you can do practically anything under the sun using bottle caps – whose birthday is next??

Missing socks

Everyone experiences the sadness of a missing sock, but you can turn that frown upside down by making it into a sock puppet! There are so many clever ways to do this, and it can be as simple or as fancy as you want. Pull out the ribbons, the fabric scraps, the yarn and glue, maybe some old buttons or a lonely earring, too. Here is some sweet inspiration to begin.

Coffee filters

Perhaps you’ve phased out an old coffee machine and now are stuck with the 100 filters you bought in bulk? (If you don’t have any, they’re also pretty inexpensive!) Coffee filters are great for crafts because they are already circular, textured, and light like tissue paper and therefore take on color in unique ways. Take markers to them, paint, glue, scissors…coffee filter daffodils make a lovely mother’s day present.

Old CD cases

(Am I dating myself?) CD cases can be a great container for scraps of paper, stickers, and other flat odds and ends for crafting. Store the pieces to a cereal box puzzle in a CD case, or make a bedazzled CD case picture frame.

Looking to use some of the mentioned recyclable items for crafting, but don’t have them? Instead of going to a big box store or craft store, check out your local thrift store first. You’ll more than likely find something that could use a new coat of paint, or something like a bag of coffee stirrers and a bundle of yarn seeking a new life as a woven ornament.