Upcycling a trash can into decrotive lights

How do you throw out an old or damaged trash can?

Turns out, disposing of a trash can is harder than you might think. Especially the large rolling bins typically used for home trash collection. They often will not fit into a trash can for disposal, which means they will require special trash removal. Not everyone has a vehicle that will hold a large trash can, either, to bring it to a place of disposal.

Trash bin full of trash bins
Image Credit – TheDigitel Beaufort (Flickr)

Unfortunately, perfectly good trash cans are being sent to, well, the trash for no reason other than city or county governments want to institute a change. This recently happened in Orange County, Florida.

The local government decided on a more streamlined trash collection service with new vehicles, necessitating the distribution of two new rolling trash cans to each home that were compatible with the vehicles.

The problem? The existing trash cans and recycling bins that residents already had would be obsolete. Yet the county government had no plan to collect the existing trash receptacles from approximately 200,000 residents.

Their solution? Encouraging residents to consider creatively repurposing the large bins that they already had.

Whether faced with a local government that changes trash pick-up policies with no system for recycling existing trash cans, or perhaps a damaged trash can or one that is not large enough for a family’s needs anymore, it can be frustrating trying to recycle a trash can or a recycling bin.

Repurposing trash (cans)

That is why repurposing a trash can could be the most eco-friendly alternative when a trash can is no longer needed for trash. The often-overlooked household items are surprisingly a great DIY find, according to Dominick Farina, the owner of Trashcans Unlimited.

“Trashcans are a great material to use for upcycling because they are utility items that are built tough. They are definitely an overlooked gem when it comes to DIY! I think it is hard to see an object that is traditionally just used to hold trash as anything more than that,” Farina said. “Unfortunately, many homeowners view them as a lost cause when they lose their lid, there is a tear in the body, or a handle breaks off. While this type of damage may make them unsuitable for storing trash, they are still a sturdy item with a lot of potential to be modified for different projects rather than spending money on a purpose driven product.”

Right size your waste

There are many sizes of trash cans, from small bathroom containers to large rolling bins. Whatever type of trash can you need to repurpose, here are some brilliant ideas for putting them to good re-use:


Trash cans without a lid can be used as a planter both indoors or outdoors. Drill a hole in the bottom for proper drainage. Larger trashcans make ideal containers for root vegetables, or any plant that has a long or deep root system, such as potatoes.

Compost bin

Upcycling trash can into compost bin
Turning a trash can into a compost bin is the ideal solution for a trash can that might already have a hole or tear in the side. Image Credit – P. Allen Smith Garden Home

Turning a trash can into a compost bin is the ideal solution for a trash can that might already have a hole or tear in the side. There are plenty of tutorials online that show how to turn a trash can into a maker of “black gold” for your garden, including this DIY project from P. Allen Smith.


Large tools, such as rakes and shovels, are ideal to store in a trash can with wheels. When it comes time to do the yard work, simply roll out the trash can storage system to the part of the yard where you will be working.

Farina suggests using small trash cans as functional items that are part of a home’s decor. He suggests washing the trash can well, and then painting the outside with a paint appropriate for the material that the trash can is made out of. Line the trash can with fabric to make cute and practical storage bins.

A well cleaned trash can is an excellent container for pet food storage, especially those large economy sized bags. Smaller cans work with pets at home, but it you live on a farm or have a lot of animals to feed, the larger sized wheeled trash cans make transporting the feed so much easier each day.

Clothes collector

A cleaned and decorated trash can also makes an excellent dirty clothes hamper.


Some may see a trash can as nothing more than ‘ugly’. Forget trashing the can to buy something new and consider revamping it, instead. Here is an innovative way to make a trash can a work of art from the Creative Savings Blog.


Upcycling a trash can into furniture
Sturdy trash bins can be turned upside down, with a round piece of wood placed on top to create an end table. Image Credit – Upcycle That

Sturdy trash bins can be turned upside down, with a round piece of wood placed on top to create an end table. When making a table this way, be sure that the table top is securely fastened to the trash can, whether with an adhesive, screws, etc.

Children’s playthings

Those cute little plastic trash bins with a domed lid and swinging opening can be turned into child’s playthings, according to Farina. Paint one to look like R2D2 from the Star Wars films, or make one look like a cookie monster that gobbles up small toys, LEGOs, etc.

Rain collection

Forget spending a lot of money for a rainwater collection system. A trash can is a smart and less expensive way to collect rain water, instead. There are plenty of different ways to craft a trash can into a rain barrel. Keep in mind, the larger the trash can, the more water you will collect for free after a heavy rain to use in the garden. This tutorial from Better Homes and Gardens is just one of the solutions to turn an old trash can into an eco-friendly natural resource conservation tool.

Meat smoker

If you are okay with using a used trash can to cook up your nightly dinner, then consider making a meat smoker from a trash can. Here is just one way of how to turn a galvanized trash can into an extension of your outdoor cooking kitchen.

And there you have it, creative ways for repurposing trash cans. If you’re looking to reduce your trash footprint, check out our handy recycle search!

Feature image courtesy of Chaotically Creative (Upcycling a trash can into pendant light fixtures – bravo!)

By Kimberly Button

Kimberly Button is the author of The Everything Guide to a Healthy Home and the Editor-in-Chief of GetGreenBeWell , featuring modern, sane ideas for living a non-toxic life. A professional journalist for nearly two decades, Button has written for magazines such as Martha Stewart's Whole Living, American Airlines, AAA, Sierra, National Geographic Traveler, and Vegetarian Times. Visit KimButton.com for more information.