Transform Your Trash

Green Goes Simple: Conservation at Home

By Marisa Belger for Green Goes Simple

The jars came first. Instead of sending my growing collection of empty glass receptacles to their usual fate at the bottom of the recycle bin, I did something unexpected — something wild. I peeled off their labels and plopped them in the dishwasher.

I wanted to see just what would happen if I gave these jars another chance. Full disclosure: I was motivated not only by the thought of transforming trash into something new, something useful, even something cool, but also by the fact that jars were clogging up my kitchen. You see, we’re a jar-centric family, tearing through what I’m starting to believe is an abnormal amount of pickles, mustard (the spicy French and yellow varieties), sauces of both apple and tomato, and jams and jellies.

Bright and sparkling, fresh from a wash, empty jars were exactly what I was missing. Without their labels and sticky contents, these vessels found instant new homes as beverage glasses (drinking jars are big on rustic charm), loose-change receptacles, pen holders, and — my all-time favorite — vases. Nobody can resist a mason jar filled with daisies. Nobody.

Not a fan of pickles? No problem. Jars aren’t the only way to reuse that which you’d otherwise throw out. Paper towel tubes, shoe boxes and detergent bottles are all contenders for a useful second act.

Paper Towel Tubes
Pulling the last paper towel from the roll used to signal the end of something, but now it’s the start of something new. Paper towel tubes in their natural state are the ultimate building blocks for art projects — they provide hours of rainy day entertainment with kids — and they serve practical purposes too. Try these ideas:

  1. Glue on a pair of paper wings or a tail, then draw on a face for an instant cardboard-tube animal.
  1. Attach two tubes and decorate with paint and stickers for a pair of homemade binoculars.
  1. Turned upright and outfitted with orange and yellow paper flames, paper towel tubes make fantastic fire-free candlesticks. Decorate them in orange and black for Halloween, or choose a Christmas or Hanukkah theme.
  1. Adults can put paper towel tubes to good use by employing them to prop up droopy windows or to hold silverware and sharp knives when camping or picnicking.

Detergent/Fabric Softener Bottles
Empty, clean detergent and fabric softener bottles can be transformed into hand-held shovels or scoops (simply use a utility knife to cut off the bottom off the bottle). Adults and kids can use these in the garden and at the beach. Bonus: remove the cap and you have a funnel!

Shoe Boxes
Yes, shoe boxes are ideal for household organizing (think: recipe cards, old love letters, office items, sewing supplies, Legos, electric cords and much more). But they’re even more versatile than that. Moving? Shoe boxes are ideal for packing smaller, loose items like tchotchkes, silverware, medicine bottles and the like. Gifting? Cover them with decorative paper, and you’ve got a homemade (and let’s admit it — more meaningful!) present package.

Also read related information about silver coins.

[About the author: Marisa Belger’s work has appeared in Travel + Leisure Family, Natural Health, Prevention and, where she wrote a column about eco-friendly living. She was an editor at and collaborated with author Josh Dorfman on his bestselling books, The Lazy Environmentalist and The Lazy Environmentalist on a Budget. She is the managing editor of and frequent contributor to Green Goes Simple.]

Derek Markham

Things I dig include: simple living, natural fatherhood, attachment parenting, natural building, unassisted childbirth (homebirth), bicycles, permaculture, organic and biodynamic gardening, vegan peanut butter cookies with chocolate chips, bouldering, and the blues. Find me elsewhere at @NaturalPapa, @DerekMarkham, Google+, or RebelMouse.

3 thoughts on “Transform Your Trash

  • December 8, 2011 at 11:01 am

    Great idea 🙂 I already do the same for many of my glass bottles, shoe boxes. For the paper towel, toilet paper rolls they are great for crochet/knit projects. Also, if soda cans with the plastic rings are used in your home, you can cut the rings up and use them to crochet/knit circular items easily. Creativity is the key!

  • December 8, 2011 at 11:40 am

    I recently started creating terrariums out of old wine bottles, applesauce jars, and mason jars. It’s a fun hobby, and they make great gifts. I go out into nature and collect various mosses and small plants to make them.

    I also make mini greenhouses from 2 liter soda bottles to grow fresh herbs all year long.

    You can also use a paper towel tube by duct taping the ends with some popcorn kernels inside. Instant rattle!


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