old license plates on a fence

I recently came across some old license plates that we’ve accumulated over the years. While they can be recycled, ours have lived in a box. Curious about other options for them, I began to look up ideas for what to do with old license plates.

Fun fact: New York became the first state to require license plates in 1901.

Upcycle Them

As I started to search, I was surprised by how many useful things can be made by upcycling old license plates. Here are just a few of the ideas I found.

License Plate Box

This project I found at TheCavenderDiary.com looks simple — with only a few cuts and folds required. I envision a bunch of these sweet boxes lining a shelf in a craft room, playroom, or family room. They could be filled with craft supplies, matchbox cars, or other small toys. The folks at The Cavender Diary used their boxes to serve pistachios and peanuts on their patio.

Snack box. Photo: TheCavenderDiary.com

Craft your own license plate box with step-by-step instructions from TheCavenderDiary.com.

Wall Sconces

This adorable upcycling idea comes from GreenCricketSalvage.com. I can picture these wall sconces hanging on the fence in our backyard with citronella candles perched on them. It would be a cute and durable way to add color to a backyard entertainment space.

Wall sconces. Photo courtesy of GreenCricketSalvage.com.

This project doesn’t require any cutting. Figure out where you would like your fold to be, and then use something like a wooden block to fold the metal. Then drill a hole at the top so you can hang it.


I’m constantly on the lookout for unique teacher gifts, especially for male teachers, who seem to be tougher to shop for. This repurposed license plate clipboard would be a perfect gift, I think. Clip on a gift card to a favorite restaurant and it becomes even better.

First, find clipboard hardware online or at a local craft store.

Clipboard hardware

Then attach the hardware to your old license plate, according to the instructions included with the hardware you purchased.

Clipboards. Photo courtesy of Hometalk.com.

According to Hometalk.com user GadgetSponge.com, it’s preferable to use stiffer metal plates for the clipboards because the tension of the clips will bend plates that aren’t as stiff.

Recycle Them

If you just want to get rid of your old license plates, it’s always a good idea to recycle them. Although the first plates were made of iron, they are now made from aluminum, a highly recyclable material. Check with your recycling program for local guidelines — not all programs allow you to put these items in the recycling bin for curbside collection. If they’re not accepted curbside in your area, visit our Recycling Locator to find a scrap metal recycler near you. If you have a lot of scrap metal, you may even be able to make some money by recycling it.

Every state has a different law regulating the proper disposal of old license plates when they are no longer being used on a car. Check with your local Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to learn your local regulations.

For example, in Florida, you dispose of a license plate by:

“Submitting or mailing the license plate to any local Florida county tax collector’s office or license plate agency along with a request to cancel and recycle the license plate.”

In Washington, there are a number of ways to dispose of old plates. If you want to keep them, you must “remove or invalidate the month and year tabs,” and they can’t be displayed on a vehicle. There is also a list of license plate types in the state that must be returned to a vehicle licensing office when you’re replacing them. For example, disabled parking plates and commercial plates must be returned.

As mentioned, check with your local municipality to find out the regulations in your area.

Buy or Sell Them

If you have a box of old license plates in your attic and would like to see if they’re worth something, there are many places that buy and sell them, including antique shops, thrift stores, and online shops.

box of old license plates
Image: Lars Hammar / Flickr

There’s even the Automobile License Plate Collectors Association if you’re really interested in becoming an avid collector.

Since 1954, this organization has been “dedicated to the promotion of license plate collecting and research, the exchange of information and plates, and the fraternal benefits of sharing a common interest with others throughout the world.”

Now you have no excuse for storing those old plates in the attic. Upcycle, recycle, sell them, or give them away to a local artist!

Feature image courtesy of Capri23auto, Pixabay. Originally published on April 24, 2017, this article was updated in April 2021.

By Wendy Gabriel

Wendy Gabriel is a freelance eco-writer based in California. Wendy's work has been featured in numerous publications and websites, including the Chicago Sun-Times, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Fox Business News and Mashable.com. For nearly six years, she was a weekly contributor on a popular radio talk show in the Upper Midwest with a segment titled “Simple Tips for Green Living.”