Forget Popsicle Sticks, Here’s What You Should Be Crafting With

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Crafting bird feeders from two-liter plastic Coke bottles. Sand art craft projects in baby food jars. Adorable purse-friendly sewing kits made from Altoids tins.

I know you love your crafts that use upcycled materials. I sure do, but when we’re done refinishing salvaged furniture pieces or constructing wreaths made from garden hoses (seriously!), I suggest that we focus on using some of the larger, albeit less elegant, contributors to landfills in our future crafty endeavors.

Waste Paper

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), paper products accounted for 18.3 million tons of landfill materials in 2015, 13.3 percent of total waste sent to landfills. Is it because we just assume that everyone else is recycling their paper products that we think we can toss a few pieces of mail can into the garbage without too much impact? I can’t help but think that must be part of it. But when I did a little digging, I found an even simpler explanation.

So many products come in paper or cardboard packaging, but that’s not all. From my kid’s cereal box and the school papers that come home in her (again, paper) take-home folder, to the junk mail that invariably fills my mailbox and even the receipt from my grocery trip after work, there’s paper all over the place! Waste paper is definitely something that should be recycled — or upcycled by making a fun craft!

Waste Paper Crafts

After just a few minutes on Pinterest, it’s easy to see that there is a craze in creating wall art with cut-up toilet paper rolls. It’s fun for kids and adults alike and, when done correctly, won’t just delay the trip to the landfill for those cardboard tubes. No, they’ll be adorning your walls for years to come.

Paper wall art. Source: Pinterest

But don’t stop at TP rolls. What about those old books they don’t want at the second-hand store? Turn old book pages into roses for a sweet homemade gift to make your favorite bibliophile positively melt. I used the pages from a couple of old books instead of wallpaper to cover a wall in my home office. With just a little Mod Podge, old paper receives a new life that’s only limited by your imagination.

Food Waste

Paper may be a large contributor to landfill material but food waste ranks right up there with paper. Although your old eggshells, coffee grounds, potato and banana peels are hardly the base materials for a chic craft, they are great for compost piles.

Whether you have prized flowerbeds that could use a boost or you’re growing your own zucchini out back, a compost pile does double duty of disposing of your food waste in an environmentally-friendly way while nourishing your plants in an equally earth healthy manner.

Old topsoil, grass clippings, which make up about 28.3 percent of the waste in our landfills as of 2015, the EPA reports. Carrot peels and other food waste can be composted right in your own backyard. Just don’t dump dairy products, meat pieces and any oils into your compost, as they don’t break down efficiently, and it smells bad.

Food Waste Crafts?

Okay, I get it. A compost pile is not for everyone. I mean you must stir it two or three times a week in order to aerate the — let’s be honest — rotting food bits and you have to make sure that the compost pile remains moist to make the most of all that organic trash. If you’re not the type to get down and dirty in the soil, there are tons of fun crafts that make use of these bits.

Eggshells, for instance, make great candle holders. Who knew? Well, maybe you knew, but I didn’t.

Here is a guide to making eggshell candles from WikiHow. And here’s another recipe for eggshell candle making from adinajustina.com. Briefly, start by breaking only the top off of the eggshell when you crack it to make an omelet. With a little bit of beeswax and a wick in each—supplies you can pick up at your favorite craft store — creating eggshell candles is a simple and quick task. The pretty glow makes for an excellent addition to a springtime dining table.

You can also seed herbs in empty shells before planting them directly in the soil when they are ready. The calcium in the shells serves as a natural fertilizer and will only serve to further nurture the ground they’re planted in. If you want to spice up your herb garden, eggshells make a great augmentation for the soil.

Don’t throw those orange peels out either. Simmer orange peel and cinnamon on your stove top in a little bit of water for a few hours to act as an all-natural air freshener. Then, when the combination has cooled, you can spread it around your favorite flowerbed. The orange peel will decompose and release nitrogen into the soil, a favorite nutrient of plants. The cinnamon also acts as an ant repellant, and no gardener hates a natural remedy to a pesky ant problem.

Repurposed DIY for a Cleaner World

Every DIY project that makes use of recycled materials helps the environment to varying degrees, so keep up the good work! Keep refinishing and recycling scrap wood and old furniture. Pressure-treated wood and stained pieces release chemicals — arsenic being one of them — into the soil as they decompose, so we should all be doing our part to keep them out of landfills. Plus, refinishing projects are pretty, so they appeal to the inner decorator in all of us. But let’s be sure that we’re reusing the less-than-glamorous bits from our home too, for a healthier, cleaner world.

Editor’s note: Originally published on April 25, 2014, this article was updated in September 2018.

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Megan Winkler

Eco-nerd, solar power enthusiast, DIY diva and professional coffee drinker, Megan has written everything from courses in healthcare and psychology to interior design and cooking advice. She has a master’s degree in military history, owns two chainsaws, is a collector of strange trivia and a world renowned Pinterest pro. She is constantly looking for better ways to do things.

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