Upcycling Your Garbage Into Something Great

A municipal landfill

Your garbage might pile up faster than you think. In 2013, Americans created 254 million tons of waste, an average of 4.4 pounds per person every day, according to theU.S. Environmental Protection Agency. While some of that refuse—1.51 pounds per person, per day—is recycled, the majority ends up in landfills, adding to an ever-growing ecological nightmare.

But there is an alternative: upcycling. It’s easy! It’s good for the environment! And it’s fun. Really.

OK, hear us out on this one: Converting your used or unwanted junk into newer and infinitely more awesome stuff is a truly rewarding way to spend a weekend. And you don’t even have to be all that crafty to pull it off!

What you can upcycle

A broken vase, a carton of past-their-prime eggs, and even a stack of way-past-their-prime CDs from the ’90s can be repurposed into gorgeous and functional home décor.

Take those eggs, please (we’re here all week, folks!). The cleaned, empty eggshells can be turned into miniature planters for succulents, a project we found in “Make Garbage Great,” by Tom Szaky and Albe Zakes of the recycling company TerraCycle. And those deeply unwanted Limp Bizkit CDs can be used to supply some colorful pop to a room divider. More? You can even make orange peels into candles, a bicycle inner tube into a wallet, and a plastic bottle (and spoons) into a bird feeder.

DIY projects, clockwise from top left: Fork place-card holder, leftover-glass candlesticks, wine-cork board, eggshell planters


make garbage great

Our favorite projects

Some of our favorite DIY trash projects from “Make Garbage Great” are modern takes on furniture and home décor items that look remarkably similar to pricier pieces we’ve seen in places such as Restoration Hardware and West Elm.

“My favorite is the pallet table,” says Zakes. That’s a side table made out of a wooden shipping pallet. “Pallets are really easy to get your hands on, and you can make these cool tables yourself for next to nothing.”

Zakes’ wife, who isn’t quite the environmentalist he is, loves the fork place-card holder, a project that turns unwanted silverware into kitschy table décor.

Us? We love the simplicity and beauty of the glass candlestick. The project takes bits of broken or unwanted glass items to create a modern-looking, shabby-chic candlestick with very few tools or know-how required.

Keep on dumpster diving

If you find a project you love but don’t have the materials to make it, don’t let that stop you. Zakes recommends looking beyond your own garbage bin to what you can collect from friends, neighbors, co-workers, or even nearby businesses.

“A lot of times you see a project you want to do, like making a room-dividing screen from old CDs, and you wonder, ‘Where am I going to get 100 CDs from?’ But if you think a little bit outside of the box, all of these things are pretty accessible. You could go to a flea market and pick up a crate of unwanted CDs, or even send out an email at the office,” Zakes says.

Upcycling can be educational, too.

“You can learn a lot about the history of mankind by looking at garbage over the years,” Zakes says.