40 Eco-Frugal Ways to Repurpose Household Items

Combine tight budgets and ecological mindedness and you've got the new Eco-Frugal Movement: Good for your pocketbook and good for the planet. 

Repurposing -- a popular part of this movement -- was actually a way of life for those raised during the Great Depression and World War II. It was simply second nature for the Greatest Generation to"repurpose" flour sacks as clothes and milk bottles as flower vases. 

Now it's our turn to make this old idea new again. We've found 50 new and creative ways to reinvent stuff typically found in trashcans across the U.S.

1. Baby Food Jars
Dad stored screws, nails, anchors, etc. in empty baby-food jars long after his babies were off to college. The smaller jars also make great spice storage containers for those who buy in bulk.

2. Brown Paper Bags
Tightly twisted bags make good fire starters with more staying power than newspaper. Or slit, poke holes throughout and use to line your flower garden before adding mulch or potting soil to reduce weeds and serve as a natural mulch.

3. Butter/Margarine Wrappers
Empty wrappers allow you to grease baking pans without greasing up your fingers. Fold the wrappers up and store in the freezer for future use.

4. CDs
Use unwanted or promotional CDs as a glittering scarecrow in fruit trees and on corn stalks. Glue two discs together with shiny sides face out and string together through the middle hole as you would a wind chime. Hang and the shimmering reflections will scare off thieving birds and raccoons.

5. Cereal Boxes
Cover with brown paper to repurpose as shipping boxes. Or make desk organizers for your kids by cutting boxes with a utility knife at the desired angle and height. Wrap with decorative contact paper or leave as is for a funky look. Alternately, use to create sketchbooks for your kids. Cut off the top and bottom, punch holes with a 3-hole punch, add scrap paper (3-hole-punchedmis-fed printer paper) and tie together with a ribbon or string. 

6. Cereal Box Liners
Use instead of wax paper. Layer between meat patties before freezing. Cover food to maintain moisture while microwaving. Slit and use to roll out dough.

7. Citrus Peels
Make homemade citrus cleaners; make candy citrus peels; grate as zest in recipes; dry and toss into fires for a fresh smell.

8. Coffee Cans
Pack cookies or other baked goods for mailing. Use as a cheap and quick "dog pooper scooper" or to store food scraps in the kitchen before adding to an outdoor compost pile. Store your child's collection of crayons, magic markers and pencils.

9. Coffee grounds
A great natural plant fertilizers
. One teaspoon of coffee grounds mixed with your favorite moisturizer is an inexpensive and effective cellulite treatment.

10. Cooking or Bacon Grease
Mix bird seed into grease, freeze and hang outdoors to feed the birds and (if you like) squirrels.

11. Detergent and Soap Boxes
Eileen Hull came up with a great way to turn empty boxes into gift "bags." The results are more durable and original than store-bought gift bags.

12. Diaper Boxes
The handles on diaper boxes are a real asset when you have to move stored items frequently. Cover with wrapping paper or contact paper and use in closets or other small places.

13. Dry Cleaning Bags
Tie a knot in the end and use to line a tall trash can. Reduce wrinkles by using to pack suits, dresses and formal clothing. Prevent knits from snagging in the closet.

14. Dryer Lint
Dryer lint is quite flammable, so stuff an empty toilet-paper roll and use as a fire starter. (Wonder if this works with belly button lint?)

15. Dryer Sheets
Remove foods stuck hard on your pots and pans by filling the pan with water and drop the sheet inside. Let soak for about an hour and wash as usual. Quilters can use old dryer sheets to keep block-edges straight and all the same size. Dust furniture; put them on a hanger in the closet to add freshness to the closet; or hang on the shower curtain to add a fresh scent to bathrooms.

16. Egg Cartons
Organize small toys, golf balls or tiny craft materials (i.e., sequins, buttons, beads, etc.). Start seeds indoors before it's warm enough to transplant outdoors. Cardboard containers make good fire starters. Either Styrofoam or cardboard egg cartons can be used to store golf balls. Make bird feeders by removing the lid, threading string through holes in each corner of the tray, filling the cups halfway with birdseed, and hanging in a tree.

17. Envelopes
Use junk-mail envelopes for your own mail by scratching out the old address and adding your own. The blank backs are a handy size for grocery or to-do lists.

18. Facial Tissue Boxes
Repurpose as a plastic bag dispenser. Toddlers can use as doll beds and garages for miniature small cars. Store yeast packets, instant drink mixes, gravy packets and other flat, thin items that get lost in drawers and refrigerators. 

19. Food Boxes
Cover with brick-patterned contact paper to create giant, lightweight building blocks for infants.

20. Hair Product or Cleaner Spray Bottles
Clean thoroughly and refill with homemade cleaners or spray starch. Spray plants with water.

21. Laundry Bottle Caps & Powdered Detergent Scoops
Wash thoroughly and use as sandbox, pool and bathtub toys or as pet-food scoopers. 

22. Light bulb
Put inside socks to serve as a darning egg.

23. Magazines
Drop read magazines off at hospitals, oncology offices, art classes or hair salons. Alternately, shred the pages and use in place of tissue paper in gift bags or bubble wrap when shipping or packing. Shred a perfume ad for a subtle fragrance.

24. Packing Foam Peanuts
Toss several into the bottom of a large plant pot before adding dirt to aid in drainage. Some shipping companies buy garbage bags of peanuts in good shape as they're expensive to purchase. 

25. Paint Containers
Clean empty quart containers, spray paint, solder together into a big square, mount it on the wall, and use to sort papers, pens and small computer accessories without wasting precious desk space.

26. Pantyhose
Put a cake of soap in the foot when camping and tie the top end to a low-hanging tree branch. Cut into strips as a gentle way to tie plants securely to stakes. Cut across the leg to make rings, roll them up for a stretchy ponytail holder that won't break and damage hair like rubber bands do. Put some human hair clippings into toe of the stocking and place around the garden fence to keep deer away.

27. Paper Towel/Toilet Paper Cardboard Rolls
Keep extension cords and Christmas lights from tangling by wrapping around an empty roll before storing. Protect sharp knives. Pet gerbils or hamsters enjoy gnawing on and crawling inside tubes. Double up and stuff bathroom appliance cords inside to keep cupboards and drawers organized. 

28. Phone Books
Use the pages as window wipes, package filler, fire starters, etc.

29. Plastic Grocery Bags
Use as garbage pail liners, paint tray covers, stuffing for various craft projects, protection for hands and household items, or packing materials.

30. Plastic Produce Mesh Bags
Wad into a ball and tie to make scrubbers for pots, car windshields or bathtubs.

31. Plastic Milk Jug
Turn into a watering can with a few holes punched into the plastic cap. Cut off the top and fill with bird seed.

32. Plastic or Wine Bottles
Place a narrow soda or wine bottle in tall boots to keep their shape when not in use. Also helps speed drying of wet boots.

33. PVC Pipe
Every garage seems to have some PVC pipe pieces hanging around. Use 4-inch (or wider) pipe around bird-feeder poles as a squirrel andraccoon guard. Animals can't climb the slippery and wide pipe. 

34. Socks
Wrangle straggling cords behind your entertainment centers and computer desk into a trouser or sock to keep them separate and organized. Cut into strips to gently tie-up plants in the garden. Also useful in place of cotton gloves to clean chandelier crystal drops.

35. Strawberry Baskets
Make candy baskets for the holidays by weaving ribbons through the holes and attaching decorations. Makes an interesting bubble machine or playpen for small dolls.

36. Styrofoam Meat Trays
Clean thoroughly, wrap in foil and use as serving trays when giving baked treats. Sort small craft items when crafting or use as a paintbrush rest that can be tossed after a project is complete.

37. Tin Cans
Paint a bevvy of cans to store pens, pencils and other tall items on your desk, as vases and to corral plastic spoons and forks at casual gatherings. If you don't like to pain, glue contact paper or fine-art pictures from magazines or old books onto cans.

38. Toothbrushes
A great way to clean difficult-to-clean items, like grout, cheese graters, jewelry, around faucets, window screens and computer keyboards.

39. Window Screen
Staple onto over-sized wood frames to display earrings.

40. Wine Corks
Glue to the back of rocking-chair legs to prevent scratching walls and from tipping over. Cut-off a small piece and place on the back of a picture to avoid scratching walls.

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21 Comments

Wow, who knew. Just think I throw this stuff away on a daily basis. Thanks for opening my eyes.


Posted by kesha
Hi, This is is a great starter list and I hope people keep adding to it. Recently I read a post where someone repurposes Pringles cans. They decorated the cleaned out cans (our just use wrapping paper), and fill them with cookies at Christmas time. You could also full one with hot cocoa mix, and put some mini marshmallows in a snack back and put it in the same can. You could also give flavored coffee, candy, beads, Lego's or all sorts of other ideas come to mind. There's so many options that you can't go wrong. How about giving bath salts, laundry detergent powder, dishwasher detergent, peanut brittle, sugar, or just about any dry ingredients. Think outside the box (or can!).
Posted by Barbara
Reuse soda bottles to start seeds in. I cut mine in half use the bottom half as a seed starter then when I plant them I use the top part turned up like a funnel to plant the seedling in. Having it turned up like that make it easier for watering too. Note - I cut the tops in half so the stalk of the plant has room to grow, you can spread it open as it needs to be. During the summer months the bottom halves can be used to gather rain water too. Oh and I use 20 oz, 1 & 2 liter bottles to do this.
Posted by MIssy
I heard another really good one for a "scarecrow". I don't know about anybody else, but I have a zillion VHS tapes laying around. So anyway, you rip the ribbon part out and cut it so it's flapping, and then you ground it with the plastic part. The black ribbon flaps in the wind and freaks out the birds and they fly away. Also, I saw a bunch of really kewl coffee tables made out of VHS tapes just thought I'd mention that.
Posted by HeloniLynn
Never reuse meat trays as they can harbor bacteria. The foam trays that have held vegetables are fine though.
Posted by Susan Moses
Thank you for sharing great ideas. I do have a lot of old cd's. I don't know where to place them and I have no idea how to reuse them. The idea of making used CD's as house decorations is great. I will just use some of them as wall covering.
Posted by Connie Isidora
Have you notice the multitude of repurposed items used simply for… burning? Hahaha, awesome!
Posted by Ryan

Eco frugal movement. Now I just adore this saying. My family and I have been eco frugal for over 20 years. This was a choice, rather than a necessity and I am so pleased so see that this is now a movement that not only provides pleasure but, is good for our environment in manner aspects, not least our wastelands.


Posted by Matt Kent
Great post! Recycling involves processing used materials into new products to prevent waste. Very nice idea.
Posted by natural soap
What!? Cd's work for that! No, way thank you, thank you. Darn pests keep trashing my garden.
Posted by Scott Parks
What creative ways to repurpose items that everyone has lying around the house. I use cereal boxes all the time to ship items.
Posted by Angelia
I'm all for reuse or repurpose of household items. Some of this stuff I already do, but there are a lot of good ideas here. I also like the artistic way that the students are displaying their art. It allows for them to step out side of the box and gets them thinking on a deeper level. The art drawings don't have to be great. It is the idea and the journey that counts.
Posted by Dazzco uses House hold items
these are really interesting idea. can be really useful around the house, and some of them, at work
Posted by Appliance Repair Los Angeles
I was drawn here by your cellulite remedy involving coffee grounds. I read the rest of the post and it really resonated with me. I am not the older generation you speak of but I find myself irked by the constant throwing away of useful items. I must weigh that irritation against my potential to be a hoarder. It is a fine line I tread. I find great joy in re-purposing items but I cannot bear heaps of trash to accumulate. Anyway, thanks for the ideas. I'm gonna try the PVC pipe idea on my feeders and collect my magazines for a waiting area somewhere.
Posted by Cellulite Solution
Me and my family really have a problem with the kitchen equipment such as cereal boxes, coffee cans, citrus peels, and now I have a grandson that makes diapers boxes scattered everywhere. Well, after read your article make my ideas advance to repurpose them. While for myself, I like objects that can be used for computer needs. It's a great idea! Thanks for lighten me up. Good job!
Posted by Jacob Sebastian
I love the CD idea, I have so many laying around from when I was in Audio Production school, I just could not figure out a good way to reuse them. I really didn't want to toss them out so this is great.
Posted by Large Floor Vases
These are awesome ideas. There's one that you missed though... re-using those old toxic windex bottles by re-making your own cleaning products in them. My business partner, Vanessa, is Waldorf trained. She tells me that one of the Steiner's philosophies included making sure that children are responsible for keeping their spaces clean. That's why I wanted to let you know about our little company, Healthy Planet. We actually are a fundraising company, but much more than that. We're trying to get the public to be more sustainable in their approaches to cleaning, by re-using and re-cycling their spray bottles, making laundry soap at home, etc. We also sell soap flakes at our online store, that can be used to make decorative soap - that's sort of like French milled soap. A homemade soap recipe can be used for safely cleaning toys and pets. Making handmade natural soap is fun and it's easy for kids to make! Please feel free to take a look at the following inks: http://stores.healthy-planet-fundraising.com/-strse-22/Soap-Flakes/Detail.bok http://www.healthy-planet-fundraising.com/soapflakes.html
Posted by Soap Flake Queen
Really great list. I can't imagine how long it took to put together. I have also used #4 CD's to scare offdeer from the garden
Posted by Garden Wind Chimes
This is the coolest thing and some of the best suggestions for reuse that I've seen in a long time!
Posted by computer accessories
Coffee beans is a cheap way to remove cellulite of course. You can also mix it with olive oil and rub it throughout your upper legs. Wrap with plastic wrapper and leave them for about five minutes or so. Keep at it and you will see amazing result.
Posted by Pauzi
When making Peanut Butter Cookies. I spray the inside of my Pyrex measuring cup w/ non stick spray. Turn upside down
Posted by Robert Seitz