5 Ways To Repurpose Your Trash

A pair of old used boots upcycled as flower pots

When it comes to reuse, we all know the basics. We line our wastebaskets with used plastic grocery bags and we know that old clothes make good rags for cleaning the house. But there are limitless possibilities for reuse. The challenge is keeping reuse in mind and noticing opportunities to reuse or repurpose items that might otherwise end up in a landfill.

Here are a few ways to reuse common items instead of tossing them in the garbage. But don’t stop with these ideas! There are plenty of great ways to reuse once you think outside the box — or in this case, when you think outside the trash can.

1. Old Coffee Mugs

Your old coffee mugs can help you simplify your life if you don’t toss them in the garbage.

The Penny-Pinching Grandma blog points out that you can tidy up your bathroom by storing your makeup in coffee mugs. You can also use old mugs to separate all kinds of bathroom odds and ends (for example, soaps, toothpaste, floss, hair brushes, and razors). She also suggests using an old mug in the kitchen to hold various odds and ends like “buttons, game pieces, errant screws, [and] coins.” Following the same principle, you can use old mugs to store small supplies such as paper clips, pens, and rubber bands in your office. 

With your coffee mugs doubling as containers for accessories, you won’t need to buy plastic contraptions to organize your bathroom, office, or kitchen counter.

2. Old Hair Ties and Old Wastebaskets

Grandma’s blog also suggests a way to use your old hair “scrunchies” together with your old wastebaskets. You won’t need to throw out the old hair ties or your trash cans if you store gift wrapping paper rolls in the cans.

“Do you have a large, tall wastebasket or trashcan that you are no longer using?” Grandma writes. “This is perfect for housing rolls of wrapping paper. Use old or new hair scrunchies around the rolls instead of rubber bands. [They keep] the paper nice, and rubber bands tend to dry and break.”

3. Coffee

If you like the smell of coffee, you don’t have to part with your money to buy air fresheners. Coffee grounds can be used to bring that café aroma to your refrigerator, freezer, and closet.

Writer Michelle Fabio introduces her readers to numerous ways to reuse coffee grounds on her blog, Bleeding Espresso. She explains how to use coffee grounds in your closet: “Old pantyhose plus coffee grounds equals a sachet to keep your closet free of odors.”

You won’t need the pantyhose to reuse coffee grounds in your kitchen appliances. In the refrigerator and freezer, store a cup of coffee grounds for that morning-coffee fragrance, Fabio suggests. If you are concerned the coffee will spill, use a container with a perforated lid, which is easy to make from a coffee can, to let the coffee fragrance circulate.

If you want to be a coffee grounds reuse connoisseur, you can check out more of Fabio’s tips for your morning cup of joe.

4. Aluminum Foil

It’s easy to wash and reuse aluminum foil instead of trashing it. Flatten the foil, clean it gently with a sponge and food-safe cleanser, let it dry, then store the clean foil for reuse.

You can even repurpose used aluminum foil as a makeshift sponge, according to eHow. “Use a crumpled wad to scrub your pots. Be gentle with non-stick surfaces.” You can also reuse aluminum foil to clean silver and barbecue grills.

5. Almost Anything

Freecycle is an nonprofit online network that promotes innovative reuse options, including sharing unwanted, reusable stuff. With over 5,322 groups with 9,348,713 members around the world, Freecycle is a great network for finding a new home for something you don’t use anymore, or locating a reusable item you need. Freecycle explains: “Our mission is to build a worldwide sharing movement that reduces waste, saves precious resources & eases the burden on our landfills while enabling our members to benefit from the strength of a larger community.”

Another local sharing option is the social network, Nextdoor, which helps neighbors connect across a wide variety of community-related topics; it’s also a great vehicle for recirculating tools, appliances, and furniture. Once you join an online group in your area, you can post offers for items you want to give away, or put up requests for items you need. The site is set up in a forum structure, allowing easy interaction through the site.

Share Your Ideas

Get out there and start sharing, reusing, and organizing to route your unneeded tools, clothing, and other household items.

Editor’s note: Originally published on April 27, 2009, this article was updated in November 2018.

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  1. Hi Katheen
    I am artist and I use all tipe of materials in my art work.
    The one that I love the most is plastic over the canvas transforming gargage in work of art.
    I love the new objet once is transform.
    Take care

  2. I love this coffee re-use tip! Never thought of that. Even though I don’t drink coffee, plenty of friends and cafes have it piling up.


  3. Those are some great ideas. Have you ever thought about just recycling the plastic bags back to stores. Most stores now recycle plastic bags and make new ones or make reusable plastic canvas bags so you dont have to keep using new plastic bags.

  4. I’m confused why everyone always suggests washing and reusing aluminum foil. Perhaps it’s just the way I’m cooking, but my foil always ends up with black marks or tears from when I remove the food. The only time it ends up clean is if I use foil to cover something in the fridge.

  5. Some very good tips indeed! Just need to get something off my chest though. Along with Matt Evans’ comment, people need to bring their used plastic bags back to the store so that they can be recycled (or better yet, bring reusable bags with you when you shop and not even use plastic!) I work at a grocery store where all of the collected bags are recycled into park benches.

    I can’t stand how people think that using a plastic bag to line their waste basket is doing something good for the environment, beause it’s not. Newsflash, that bag is still going to end up in the landfill where it will stay for the next thousand or so years. PLEASE EVERYONE just say NO to plastic bags!

  6. you can use coffee grounds with a little soil in an ash try bin (flower pot) instead of kitty liter … its better!

  7. Coffee grounds are also great in the flower or vegetable garden. They grow worms which help with the aeration of the soil, and can also be used for fishing.

  8. Girl Scouts have a tradition of trying to find another way to cook an item without using foil at all. Sometimes using a small piece is necessary, but we try to wash and reuse it…It is a matter of pride and caring for the environment. It takes a tremendous amout of energy to manufacture and does not degrade; Don’t you hate it when you find leftover foil in a camping fireplace?

  9. While the standard mantra is that the first R, Reduce, is the best of all, I have to say that Reuse/Repurpose is my favorite. When you Repurpose something you reduce your need to buy something new. It’s such a satisfying feeling to take an object and then apply your creativity to solve a new problem with it.

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