12 Creative Upcycling Ideas to Reduce Waste

These life hacks will take common single-use items from trash to treasure

Have you ever found yourself preparing to discard of a handful of used items, only to wonder if you could find an imaginative way to reuse them to help keep them out of our natural environment? From empty mint containers and pill bottles to used wine bottles and coffee cans, there are so many household objects that I always find myself wondering about in terms of their “upcycling” potential. If you’re unfamiliar with upcycling, this is the practice of reusing and even improving upon otherwise discarded objects and materials to creatively curate another useful item, oftentimes even higher in value or quality than the original product.

This month, I got curious about what upcycling opportunities I might be missing out on, so I dug into Pinterest to do some research … and the project suggestions I found had me thinking to myself, “Why didn’t I think of that?” So, without further adieu, here are 12 unbelievably creative ideas for you to try at home as you dive into the upcycling world. The only thing you’ll be wondering about as you reach the end of this blog is which project you’ll try first!

Store headphones in empty mint containers.

Did you recently finish a pack of your favorite mints? Don’t get rid of the container just yet. For those of us who have corded earphones, it’s safe to say that keeping them tangle-free and in a secure place is a constant struggle. Instead of purchasing a new case to house them, why not make your own? This nifty little gadget will keep those headphones tucked away and tidy (and even clipped onto your bag) until you’re ready to use them.


Turn old t-shirts into scrunchies.

Take it from someone who LOVES scrunchies: it can be so tempting to check out what fun colors, styles and designs are currently in stock at your favorite stores online. But as these hair accessories continue to become popular again, I’ve come to realize something that has the potential to save myself (and you!) some money. Did you know you can make your own scrunchies out of old t-shirts? If there’s an old top that you haven’t worn in months or years, consider repurposing the fabric into new hair accessories. The array of options when it comes to color and texture are truly endless!


Cut up old sweaters to curate festive home decor.

While we’re on the topic of repurposing old fabric into new items, you’ve got to see the fabric pumpkins below. While these festive fall decorations may look store-bought, they’re actually made from old sweaters, yet again proving that the sky is the limit when it comes to upcycling clothes that we no longer wear. Remember: just because you’re not wearing a piece of clothing anymore doesn’t mean the item can’t serve another useful purpose.


Turn candy wrappers into a coin purse.


Did you know food wrappers were the most frequently-found item during the 2019 International Coastal Cleanup? While it may seem like the options for “repurposing” things like candy wrappers are incredibly limited, there are actually quite a few adorably creative projects you can try to revamp and reuse these items that would otherwise be trashed. Just one insanely creative idea: turning the wrappers into a coin purse. Pretty sweet, huh?

Transform used wine bottles into rustic vases.

Getting ready to toss out a used wine bottle? Not so fast. These bottles, which are oftentimes beautifully decorated, make for a stunning place to house small floral arrangements. Whether you place one on your kitchen counter or mount a trio of them on the wall, this upcycling strategy is a stunning yet functional way to show off both your favorite adult beverage bottles and favorite flowers simultaneously.


Flip an old cheese grater into a one-of-a-kind pencil holder.

Speaking of functional … have you ever seen such an obviously useful pen and pencil holder in such a not immediately obvious place? I’ll be the first to admit that I love organizational supplies, especially when it comes to my desk, and it’s something I could definitely say I’ve spent unnecessary dollars on in the past. But why buy a new organizer for writing utensils when a perfectly suitable kitchen item can do the job just fine (if not better than one marketed as an office organizer)? Also, I’m getting some rustic farmhouse vibes from the photo below and I’m digging it. Just me?


Use old plastic bags you’ve been dreading throwing away to crochet a basket.

If you love knitting or crocheting, and happen to have a few plastic bags hanging around the house in an effort to avoid disposing of them, this idea is for you. Have you ever heard of “plarning”? This is the practice of using plastic pieces (particularly thin plastic) like yarn is used, weaving the pieces together to form functional objects. The little basket below is just one example. And hey, if it clears up space in your home, serves as storage and keeps plastic from making its way into the environment, I call that a win-win-win!


Love to knit? Grab an old pill bottle and make a center-pull for your yarn.

One more thing for the knitters and crocheters out there: if you think that discarding empty medicine bottles is your only option, think again. These little containers make for an excellent tool to wind your yarn before starting work on your latest masterpiece. For those of you who don’t use yarn regularly, don’t worry, I’ve got an idea for you too: these bottles also make for easy travel containers for lotions and other toiletry items.


Flip old coffee cans into house planters.

I don’t know about you, but I think the planters below are cuter than many I’ve seen at my local home improvement store! If you’re someone like me who loves coffee, you may feel bad when it comes to disposing of those bulky containers. No need to feel down about it anymore, friend: there are so many creative organizational purposes that these containers can serve, but my all-time favorite has got to be the idea of upcycling them into a home for your plants.


Use tissue boxes and toilet paper tubes to make a functional organizer.

We all know single-use cardboard products like toilet paper tubes and tissue boxes can easily turn into items we regularly dispose, immediately assuming that the best thing we can do with them is toss them in the recycling bin. Yet, one of the simplest and most useful upcycling ideas that I’ve come across includes the simplest of items: one tissue box, four toilet paper tubes and whatever colorful decorations you wish to put on the outside of the box to beautify it a bit. From pens to kitchen utensils to makeup brushes and more, this simple setup is sure to make any area of your home feel a bit less cluttered.


Use a cookie sleeve to make an adorable pencil pouch.

Remember when I mentioned that you could make a coin purse out of candy wrappers? The same theory applies to the wrappers of your favorite store-bought cookies or crackers. The pencil pouch below shows exactly why there’s no need to go to a store to pick up a new pen or cosmetic bag … the tools you need may very well be residing in your pantry.


Transform empty milk jugs into perfectly practical drip watering cans.

Of all the projects I’ve covered in this blog, the watering can made out of an empty milk jug or juice bottle idea represents the epitome of waste-free (and budget-friendly) functionality. Watering cans can be expensive, and unless you’re looking for a super decorative accessory to display on your porch or in your garden, chances are you’re probably trying to save some money on tools like this. Fear not, plant lover: this superbly simple and incredibly quick project is here to save the day.


And there you have it, friends: 12 ways to upcycle common single-use household objects into items with brand-new meanings.

Whether you’re into knitting, gardening or just want to get yourself organized, these upcycling crafts will not only save you time and money—they’ll also help you improve your daily life and help save our planet. Find out more ways you can work toward a healthier ocean at wecleanon.org.

Which project will you try first? Share your fabulous upcycled creations with @OurOcean!

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