Reuse Your Odd Plastic

Yeah, it’s made of plastic and has a number, and OK, it’s technically recyclable. But while 80 percent of Americans have access to plastics recycling programs in some form, finding one that actually accepts our daily hard-to-recycle items is sometimes harder than we anticipate.

But instead of trashing that Best of the 80s CD case or those leftover packaging peanuts, consider reusing them in a fun, quirky way. Here are a couple of ideas to get you started:

1. CD Cases

For the sake of this article, let’s assume you’ve made the switch to MP3 players and iTunes downloads. Now, what to do with all those CD cases you’ve got sitting on your shelf?

Instead of collecting dust on the shelf, your CD cases could be the focal point of your living room. Photo:

Instead of collecting dust on the shelf, your CD cases could be the focal point of your living room. Photo:

While the your trendy zig-zagged CD tower may not spell out “cool” anymore, you don’t have to trash those once-precious albums.

Desktop Frame – Remove (and recycle!) the paper inside and use the clean plastic jewel case to make a desktop picture frame. Simply open the case and flip it inside-out. This tip works great for office notes or dinner recipes as well. Bonus points: Use paint to make a cool border around the outsides of the case for a personal touch.

Wall Mural – This one may take a bit more time (and creativity), but the outcome is sure to become a decor masterpiece. We love this example from Instructables, which breaks the process down into six easy steps. You’ll need CD cases, rulers, an x-acto knife, scotch tape, adhesive Velcro and an image of your choice.

Reuse ideas for CD cases extend from birdhouses to lamps. These cases are commonly made of plastic #6, so recycling them is also an option we fully support.

2. Medicine Bottles

While medication disposal can be tricky, there are more reuse options than we can name for those empty little bottles. Their compact size makes them perfect for quick organization, and their caps usually make them waterproof as well. The most important thing to remember when reusing a medication bottle is to properly sterilize it by washing it with antibacterial soap and warm water before deciding on a reuse option.

The Ultimate Organizer – We could go on and on about different kits you can make with medication bottles. From sewing to first-aid, these bottles easily fit together for tight storage and can be labeled clearly. Glue the bottles together to make a desktop or bathroom drawer organizer. They can also be used as travel-size containers for your shampoos and soaps.

Watering Tool – The small, tube-like structure of a medicine bottle is perfect for watering your plants. Simply remove the cap, poke a small hole in the bottom and embed it into the soil. When your plant is thirsty, simply fill the bottle with water, and it will seep out at an appropriate rate. Use more than one bottle for larger plants. Also, don’t forget to organize your gardening kit! Medicine bottles can also be used to store seeds as the container is designed to protect its contents from light and moisture.

3. Clamshell Containers

It’s the perfect to-go box for your leftover french fries, but that plastic clamshell container can be a menace to recycle once you’re finished with it. Often made of plastic #5, most curbside programs do not accept clamshells.

Use your leftover clamshell container to create the perfect seed-starter that can fit in even the smallest of places. Photo: diyrobj98168.blogspot

Use your leftover clamshell container to create the perfect seed-starter that can fit in even the smallest of places. Photo: My Urban Garden

But that stat is steadily changing as more communities are adopting a wider range of plastic recycling. According to the American Chemistry Council, 325.44 million pounds of non-bottle rigid plastics were recycled in 2007. While you can always wash and reuse the clamshell for future leftovers, we researched some other creative uses:

Compost Collector – It may sound simple, but it is sometimes hard to find a easy-seal container for your compostables. If you don’t empty your storage container daily, it can’t start to well…smell pretty rotten. But clamshell containers can be easily snapped shut and stored in an inconspicuous area. Just make sure you’re not using a container with “breathing” holes for the produce that was once inside!

Start Your Seeds – Remember watching seedlings grow in an elementary school project? This is the same idea. These containers are the perfect shape and size for sprouting seeds. Create your own herb garden in your kitchen! Simply fill the container with soil, follow the directions on your seed packet, water and place in a sunny spot. You can transfer the plants once they outgrow the container.

4. Foam & Packing Peanuts

Also known as plastic #6, polystyrene is often in our foam to-go boxes and packaging supplies. According to the Alliance of Foam Packaging Recyclers (AFPR), more than 69 million pounds of expanded polystyrene (EPS) packaging were recycled in 2008. But while the market for recovered EPS has grown, many curbside programs will not accept the material because it is so lightweight, easily contaminated and is comprised of about 97 percent air. So, if recycling is not an option in your area, don’t toss it out!

Potted Plant Aid – Instead of loading heavy rocks into your planters to fill space, save energy and money by using foam. Next time, save those foam crates from that new DVD player to use in your planter to facilitate drainage. Simply crumble the foam into your pot or use packing peanuts to create a layer that won’t rot and keeps drainage holes clear.

The Perfect Stuffing – No, we’re not talking about your Thanksgiving turkey. Save your EPS foam packing peanuts for stuffing your next throw pillow, doggy bed or bean bag chair. Purchasing similar stuffing for these item can cost up to $50!

Icy Freshener – We were surprised at this one, but you can actually make your ice last longer by stuffing a sealable plastic bag with packing peanuts and place at the top of your freezer or in a cooler on-the-go. Your ice will stay colder and last longer.

The list goes on for reusing this product. More ideas include a floating key chain and home insulation.

5. All Those Bottle Caps

To toss or to recycle? It’s the ultimate question for plastic bottle caps. Usually made from plastic #5, bottle caps are a different resin than the bottles they seal. Because they’re so small, bottle caps are often overlooked, but their impact is significant. According to the Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii, “plastic bottle caps are one of the top 10 items found during marine debris beach clean-ups and are the second-most littered item after cigarette butts.” While programs such as Aveda and Preserve accept your caps for recycling, we wanted to throw out some more creative ideas:

Funky Jewelry – Don’t spend 20 bucks on a trendy necklace from your local department store when you can make one with a personal twist from items that you already have. Planet Green’s step-by-step guide breaks it down for us: Collect a couple of caps, puncture a hole through the middle of the caps, paint them your favorite color and string them together for a ready-to-wear accessory.

Doormat That Can Take the Dirt – Your doormat is one of the first things guests see and could be one of the dirtiest things in your house. And let’s face it: No matter how many times you wash your mat, you’re just not going to get out those messy stains. Ehow suggests creating a washable, sturdy mat that can tackle even the messiest of shoes. Simply glue or nail the smooth side of the caps to a thin piece of plywood, and you have the perfect mud scraper.

If you still have bottle caps left, or your thirst for reuse hasn’t been quenched, try using your caps to make a crafty mirror, bottle cap table top or check out some other ideas from Crafting a Green World.

Recent Posts
Latest posts by Amanda Wills (see all)


  1. In your article about recycling medicine bottles you mention washing the with antibacterial soap before using them for other purposes. From what I’ve heard, antibacterial soap is not a good thing to use… that disinfectants are better for us and the environment. Do you agree?

  2. Save empty prescription bottles, remove the labels, wash, and dry them. Give them to free clinics for giving out medications. One clinic were doing this for estimates it can save $10 to $12,000 a year if it didn’t have to buy prescription bottles. Win-win.

  3. Great Recycling ideas! And oh, when it comes from food or when we like to packed our lunch, we must use stainless steel containers instead of plastic bags or other sort of plastic materials so that we can prevent ourselves from harmful effects/toxic that it may bring to our health, also to our environment. I have found out an extraordinary reusable food stacking container from Happy Tiffin site ( Its wonderful and handy, can store lots of different foods in a single tiffin container. And with its newest product, which is the insulated tiffin bags, it can guarantee to keep your food’s right temperature – even hot or cold. Very cool huh?

  4. Greens

    I love earth911, Amanda awesome research. I will make a mat with my 3 year old this weekend, thank you for this info.


  5. Pingback: How to get rid of annoying packaging |

  6. I reuse Olvatine and Nestle Quick containers to store small kid toys — marbles, Army men, Bakugans. You can peel off the labels and relabel them with your own labels or a sharpie. Both work great and have no sharp metal edges.

  7. Pingback: In the Bin or in the Trash? | Sustainability |

  8. As far as medicine bottles go, antibacterial soap is a nasty option, especially with the evolution of resistant bacteria, and that medicine bottles are probably more mediciney than germy. I’d use hot water and a good scrub with regular ol’ soap or dish detergent, and lots of rinsing. (But I usually just pop them in recycling.)

Leave a Comment