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7 Creative Ways To Upcycle Single-Use Plastic 5

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From crocheted plastic bags to gardening tools made of produce clamshells, plastics can be put to creative work before being recycled.

I’m heartened to see certain parts of the world are working to eliminate the prevalence of single-use plastic, such as the United Kingdom’s recent announcement that throw-away plastics like drinking straws and cotton swabs will be banned as early as next year. And stateside, an increasing number of cities and communities are banning plastic grocery bags. There has been progress. But until the day that disposable plastic containers and other items no longer exist, we’ll still be searching for ways to reduce our use of these items and to dispose of them responsibly when we do use them.

Some plastic waste, however, is fodder for projects that can turn plastic from a single-use disposable to something with a longer life of usefulness. Here are some of my favorites.


1. Turn bottles into a vertical garden. Collect enough 2-liter soda bottles, and you’ll have the materials for an innovative garden that’s perfect for tight spaces. From creating a high-tech setup complete with an irrigation system, to simply creating macramé-style cord hangers for tiny planters, you can grow beneficial plants, fresh herbs or other edible plants, or simply pretty succulents or flowers.


2. Crochet with plastic bags. Single-use plastic shopping bags can’t be recycled in curbside programs, but there’s another use for them. Cut them up into plarn (that’s plastic yarn, get it?) and turn it into a tote bag, a rug that’s ideal for a doormat (when it gets muddy, just rinse it), or a pouf that would be great for a crochet project.


3. Fuse plastic bags. If crocheting seems too complicated, turn on the iron and use its heat to fuse layers of plastic bags together to make a thick, sturdy material that can then be used to make a cute rain hat, a funky laptop case or lots of other cool items.


4. Make a fairy house. I love the plans for this fairy house made from a plastic water bottle, which is topped with a solar-powered garden light. A fairy house — and even maybe a fairy garden — are a great way to entertain the kids in your life and to get rid of miscellaneous decorative items you might have lying around the house, such as beads and other jewelry findings, small amounts of paint, or broken china or glass that could make a mosaic path or wall.


5. Turn bottle caps into fridge magnets. Metal bottle caps are more commonly used for crafts, but there’s no reason why plastic caps can’t be used the same way, especially since bottle caps are one of the most commonly found plastic trash items littering our oceans. I love the idea of decorating the inside of a bottle cap and then gluing a magnet on the back. If you’ve got kids, you can cut up text from a magazine to make a new take on alphabet magnets! Even larger jar lids, such as those for peanut butter, could be used.


6. Create with plastic corks. I’ve shared before some clever ways to use natural corks, and many of these projects can also be adapted to synthetic corks, which are made of plastic and are seldom recycled. I’m partial to the idea of making a bulletin board by simply hot-gluing rows of old corks to a piece of plywood or another flat surface (in fact, I might upcycle an old plastic tray or a Styrofoam meat tray for the base).


7. Garden with produce clamshells. The clear, brittle plastic containers, in which berries and other produce are packaged, can be a gardener’s best friend. I’ve seen suggestions of taping them around ripening fruit or tomatoes so critters won’t get to them or using them as a mini-greenhouse to start seedlings. Inside, the one-pound containers that are used for strawberries are just the right size to store and organize things like markers, toys, or craft materials. And since they’re transparent, you can easily see what’s inside!


While recycling plastic whenever possible is important, giving those plastics another life is another way you can maximize the usefulness of something and give single-use plastics a longer life.

How do you upcycle plastic disposables? Share your tips in the comments. 

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About the Author
Jessica Harlan
Jessica Harlan

I love finding new ways to green my family's life as painlessly as possible, and sharing those ideas with folks who want to do the same.

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  • Sue T. 24 days ago
    I use the plastic 1 gallon paint cans for storage. I've got clothespins in one and rope in the other. You can punch a hole in the top of the can for the rope to feed out (be sure to hammer down any sharp edges). The handles make them easy to carry or hang.
  • Emily W. 2 months ago
    I'm looking for a creative way to use brown, glass Starbucks Cold Brew bottles. I have about 30 with the lids.
  • Maria C. 3 months ago
    Thank you for the great ideas.
  • Andrew F. 3 months ago
    ok that hydroponic soda bottle window farm looks awesome, think i found a winter project
  • Beverly Y. 6 months ago
    Talk to local schools that have art classes. Most art teachers would love to have a source for things like plastic and metal bottle caps, glass or plastic jars with lids, toilet paper and paper towel rolls and much more . I have a dear friend that teaches art in high school, so I collect all kind of stuff for her. No one recycles glass around here, so she uses the jars for her paints. When they have a project, she measures out what they need from the larger can, and the paint is not wasted. The bottle caps and other things are used for art projects. I love when i get pictures from her of all the things they have made.
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