16 Repurposing Ideas to Help You Waste Less and Save More


With some experts predicting that the economic downturn brought on by the coronavirus pandemic could be as bad as the Great Depression, the “waste-not, want-not” mentality from that generation is coming back into play. 

Some of the “waste-not, want-not” mentality – known today as “upcycling” or “repurposing” – is simply common sense, such as using plastic grocery bags to pick up your dog’s poop.

But grocery-turned-dog poop bags are just the beginning of what you can do with your trash. We’ve gathered some other ideas that can save you trips to the store, save you some money and even save your sanity.

To Entertain Your Kids (or Your Kids-at-Heart)

Kids can repurpose cardboard toilet paper tubes as a necklace. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

1. Toilet Paper Tubes

All those rolls of toilet paper have tubes that, once decorated with crayons and stickers, can become kazoos or a village of towers. 

Cut decorated tubes into smaller sections to create beads to string on a piece of yard or twine for a necklace. The Internet has many more suggestions for crafty kids of all ages.

2. Produce Boxes

Strawberries, blueberries and other produce come in plastic boxes that have open slits on the sides. These can make great bath toys because water flows out of them like a sieve, which can create the perfect waterfall or rain forest. 

3. Holiday Cards

If Christmas cards are still crammed in a drawer or basket, punch a hole on in the corner of each one and loop them together with a string or metal ring. Now you’ve made a book for little ones who love to look at photos of people, especially other children.

4. Cardboard Boxes

Once the cardboard boxes from your deliveries from Amazon and elsewhere have spent their required time in quarantine, they can be stacked to create houses for Barbies or stuffed animals. 

Here’s another option: Cut the bottoms out of boxes large enough to fit around your child. Help them decorate the boxes to look like a car, then use string or ribbon to create suspenders. Now you can hold speed-walking or running car races in the backyard or living room. 

To Use Around the House

5. Netted Produce Bags

The netted bag that holds tangerines and other produce can be scrunched up to clean a really messy pot or two before you throw it away.

6. Broccoli Rubber Bands

Those thick rubber bands that come around bunches of broccoli are great “chip clips” to close bags of food or a hair-tie in a pinch.

7. Plastic Food Containers

The plastic tubs used for food like yogurt and hummus can make great storage containers. There’s really no need to ever pay for new plastic containers. By the time the lids are a little warped from the dishwasher, you can recycle them and start using the next round of empty food containers.

8. Old Towels and T-Shirts

Everyone is cleaning out closets these days. Old towels and T-shirts with stains can’t be donated, so use them as dish towels or rags. 

You can also cut them into strips and braid them to make a chew toy for your pooch.

9. Empty Shoe Boxes

If you have the time and energy to reorganize, use empty shoe boxes or smaller shipping boxes to create drawer organizers. The boxes’ height can be cut to fit drawers if needed.

10. Muffin Tins

One of the extra muffin tins you never use that crowds your kitchen cabinet is perfect for organizing jewelry.

To Take Care of Your Yard

11. Wine Bottles

Fill one of those wine bottles (which seem to be emptying at a faster rate these days) with water, wildflowers and greenery to make a deck, patio or the front steps a little more inviting.  

12. Two-Liter Bottle

An empty two-liter soda bottle can be converted into an easy, light watering can for the extra landscaping folks put in during the first weekend of social distancing. 

13. Old Sheets

An old sheet is repurposed to collect yard leaves. Chris Zuppa/The Penny Hoarder

When raking up piles of leaves, pile them onto an old sheet, pull the four corners together and take to the trash or mulch pile. The sheet can be used over and over so you won’t need to buy lawn and leaf bags, trash bags or even a wheelbarrow. 

To Take Care of Yourself

14. Water Bottles

Fill empty water bottles with sand or rocks for hand weights.

15. Old Bras

A cup from an old bra makes for a great mask. Check out many YouTube videos for the process.

16. Cucumbers

Cucumber slices soothe eyes that are strained from binge-watching “Tiger King.”  (We have even more inexpensive suggestions for a DIY spa day.)

Katherine Snow Smith is a freelance writer and editor in St. Petersburg, Florida, and author of the book Rules for the Southern Rulebreaker.

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