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What is Creative Reuse?

T. Carrier
T. Carrier

Creative reuse involves the application of recycled materials to an artistic or useful endeavor. The process may be a hobby or a profit-making excursion, and individuals may find materials in specialized centers or in their own homes. Environmentalism also plays an important role in creative reuse.

A creative reuse process does not merely utilize recycled materials, but rather shares the overall intent of recycling in general. The aim of recycling is to turn wasteful products into usable materials. Thus, waste consumption is diminished. Similarly, creative use gives value to products or materials that may be otherwise viewed as disposable. As such, the process contributes to efforts to better the environment, or environmentalism. Some gift-givers even give projects as green gifts, or environmentally friendly gifts.

Recyclable materials can be used for art and craft projects.
Recyclable materials can be used for art and craft projects.

Many individuals also take on creative reuse for arts and crafts projects and interests. The creation of artwork from recycled items is one popular hobby among enthusiasts. Paper and fabrics that have been recycled may be used in these types of endeavors. Although most enthusiasts may view creative reuse as a hobby, the products of these projects can often be sold for profit as well.

Newspapers are frequently recycled for art projects.
Newspapers are frequently recycled for art projects.

Many companies have been established for creative reusers. These organizations are often warehouses that offer a wide range of recyclable materials that can serve as supplies. Some of the materials that one may find include paper and fabrics and furniture. A sizable percentage of the materials have been rescued from landfills, but the waste products of business offices are particularly prevalent. Organizations offer the materials at a discounted price, and some also donate materials for charitable causes.

Countless unique creative reuse ideas can also generate in the home. Almost any product, no matter the condition, can prove useful in some capacity and home décor ideas are thus abundant. A ladder, for example, could easily be utilized as a display rack for small plants. Uses of an everyday object such as a jar can range from a photo frame to a coin bank. Fabric from an old sweater can be transformed into bags, pillow covers, mittens, purses, scarves, or even stuffed animals, with a little creative forethought.

Any potential projects should be undertaken with proper safety precautions. Reused materials often need to be cleaned, preferably with hot water and soap, in some cases. Such measures will not only make the end product more attractive, but will also ensure that any harmful bacteria, viruses, or other substances are eliminated from the materials.

Discussion Comments


@David09 - My wife got two bookshelves free from someone who was moving and no longer needed them. We put the bookshelves in our closet and we use them to stack clothes.

It’s a great space saver and allows us to organize our clothes neatly rather than letting them pile up, or forcing everything to fit on a hanger. It almost looks like a department store rack the way we’ve set it up.


As you can imagine, the concept of creative reuse has given rise to an entire movement in art. I have seen sculptures made out of scrap metal, computer parts and other items.

Books and magazines have been flattened out and assembled together to form the pastels, if you will, of large wall paintings. You can build collages made of just about any material imaginable. The sky is the limit, really.

What I like about it is that you don’t have to invest a lot of money. Just use stuff around the house and create your art. Some people call this concept art, where you are just trying to flesh out a broad idea of something. But I don’t think it’s limited to concept art really. Any kind of artistic expression would work; just use household stuff for your canvas.


There is a store in our community called the recycle store. This is similar to a thrift store but mostly has any item or product you would use in a house.

For example, if you replace the knobs on your cabinets you would donate these to this store. Instead of just throwing them away, they can be reused by another family.

If you have some carpet left over, you can drop it off at this store. When we tiled our basement floor, we donated the rest of the tiles that were in the box.

This is a very popular place for young couples who don't have a lot of money when they buy their first home. They can find so many items they need at a fraction of the cost it would be to buy them new.

I also think about how much is not being added to the landfill when this type of recycling is done. Most of these items don't break down and if they are just thrown away, will stay in that state forever.

I think my kids are even better at thinking of ways to recycle than I am. This is a good thing so hopefully the generations that follow will be much more mindful of this.


I volunteer at an after school program with kids and one of the classes we offer them is called a recycled art class.

In this class we are encouraging them to think about items they have at home that can be recycled and put to good use.

One of the favorite projects we worked on was taking an old t-shirt and making another item of clothing from it. Most of the girls ended up making a scarf from these old t-shirts.

There isn't really any right or wrong way to go about doing it. It just takes a little bit of creativity and inspiration.

We also told them to bring some things from home that nobody wanted or were going to be thrown away. We were able to make some very unique jewelry pieces from a lot of items that were brought in.

Twice a year we have a fundraiser event, and they have the opportunity to sell some of the items they have made. Not only are they learning how to reuse and recycle, but it also helps them learn how to deal with people and feel good about selling an item they created.


@wavy58 - I also save all of my tubs and containers. It is surprising the number of things you can find to use them for.

I remember my mom always saving all of the butter tubs and ice cream cartons. She still uses orange juice cartons for ice blocks to put in coolers.

Once the carton is empty, she rinses it out, fills it up with water and puts it in the freezer.

You can put these in a cooler and they will stay frozen much longer than a bag of ice cubes will. The screw on top keeps the water from spilling out as it melts.

As far as gardening goes, I will reuse my cardboard egg cartons to plant seedlings in. This way when they are ready to plant in the ground, you can plant the whole thing and not disturb the seedling.

The cardboard egg cartons will decompose back into the soil. So many things we mindlessly throw away can be reused and recycled.


I like to grow plants from seed, so I am always looking for things I can recycle as planters. Rather than throwing away round plastic cartons that contained things like sour cream and butter, I have begun saving them and storing them out in my garden shed for the spring.

I poke several holes in the bottom of the cartons with an ice pick. Then, I put down a layer of gravel about an inch thick. On top of that, I put soil and seeds.

I leave the cartons by the large window in the shed to receive sunlight. I have to have a lot of them to start my flower garden, so I never throw any plastic container away, no matter how small. Even a yogurt carton can hold one seedling, so it is valuable to me.


@OeKc05 – That sounds beautiful. I would love to try something like this, but we have hyper dogs inside the house, and I'm afraid they might electrocute themselves on a string of lights, since they love to chew on bottles!

Before I throw away anything, I ask myself if I could possibly use it in some other way. I often ponder whether or not garbage could serve as a dog toy. Thinking in this vein gave me a good idea for reusing my husband's old coats.

After a year or two of wear, his thick fabric coats lined with fleece develop holes in them, and he gets a new one. I recently decided to use an old coat as a dog bed.

I used my mother's sewing machine to stitch the edges together, and I stuffed it with cedar shavings. I sewed up the holes for the head, arms, and waist, so none of the shavings could escape.

It is so soft, and they love it because it smells like him. Also, the cedar shavings take some of the natural dog odor away, making them smell better. This is the best possible way I could have recycled his old coat.


As a teenager, I had a fascination with creative lighting. When I found out that my church was getting rid of a bunch of white stringed Christmas lights, I offered to take them off their hands. I knew that I could do something cool with them in my room.

I had been collecting green soda bottles for some time, and I knew that I would find a good use for them. The Christmas lights gave me that opportunity.

I strung a series of green plastic bottles from a hook in the ceiling in the corner of my room nearly all the way down to the floor. Inside each bottle, I stuffed a bunch of white lights, which I plugged into the wall near the bottom.

When I plugged it in, it looked like hundreds of fireflies glowing inside the bottles. The green plastic gave the white lights a yellowish hue, making them look even more like fireflies.


My friends and I had creative ideas for recycling small potato chip bags as children. The idea caught on, and soon, every girl in school was doing it.

We made the bags into hair bows. We cut the bag in two and washed the grease and salt off, and then we gathered it at the center. We secured it with whatever we had lying around, like tape or string, and we then glued an old soda bottle cap to the middle, where the knot would go.

From about 4th to 6th grade, these recycled bag bows were all the rage. At that age, every girl was wearing some sort of hair bow, but the most envied kind were the recycled ones.

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    • Recyclable materials can be used for art and craft projects.
      By: Moultipix
      Recyclable materials can be used for art and craft projects.
    • Newspapers are frequently recycled for art projects.
      By: JRB
      Newspapers are frequently recycled for art projects.