The explosion of DIY projects has been making an impact when it comes to jazzing up the home. From old furniture to old clothes, recycled materials are a great way to contribute to a greener environment.

And let’s be honest with ourselves: we waste a lot. The Environmental Protection Agency noted that in 2013, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash. But where does all of that trash end up? Though it varies by region and state, the majority of trash ends up in landfills.

Landfills were not designed to break down waste. Though decomposition happens, it is not through natural means. Instead, landfills serve the sole purpose of collecting garbage and acting as a layer in the ground. Landfills pose a serious threat to air quality especially since methane gases among a number of toxic gases are released as a result.

Sadly, trash also ends up in our oceans and impacts sea life that depend on our oceans for food and shelter. It’s estimated that over five trillion pieces of trash end up in our oceans. That’s truly heartbreaking. Our own practices should serve as a wakeup call as it’s severely impacting habitats for ocean life. Thankfully, many of us are beginning to step up and realize the importance of sustainability for the greater good of the environment.

diy repurposed materials

Take Aaron Westbrook, an Ohio high schooler born with only one hand who after numerous unsuccessful prosthetic fittings, decided to craft his own using recycled plastic. Aaron took the old problem/solution scenario and decided to go one step further and reduce his own carbon footprint by using recycled materials. This successful high schooler went on to form his own company and now custom designs prosthetic limbs for people in similar situations.

The good news is that there is hope. We all can contribute to sustainability in ways much easier than you think. Thanks in part to several recycling initiatives and organizations who take the severity of pollution seriously, there are numerous ways waste materials can be salvaged and you don’t have to be a genius like Aaron. Using many items found around the house, DIY projects using recycled materials are simple and often eco-friendly. With a plethora of images out there to reference, all that’s missing is a bit of creativity.

Your Kid’s Old Toys

Though your children might not get to experience the iconically famed floor piano surrounded by every toy imaginable at FAO Schwartz, it’s no excuse to let the toys of children go kaput.

Many kids today fancy themselves using technological gadgets, while traditional toys get strewn into an attic or basement either broken or otherwise undesired. But did you know there’s a cool craft project amongst those ruins? Toys or figurines can serve as bookends especially when affixed to a wooden or sturdy board. Legos, often enjoyed by some adults can serve as a clever, repurposeful toy thanks to their grip-shaped hands. Those grips can turn into cheerful cord or key holders. Another creative idea is to craft a clock using small figurines for numbers and popsicle sticks for hands.

The rewards for reusing toys or materials from toys are twofold in that kids get to become involved in the creative process, imagining new ways to use their toys. Plus, it makes for a great teaching moment to discuss recycling and sustainability practices. Before long, you’re kids will be excited to pull out those ‘old’ toys again.

Garden Crafts

Bird houses are quite popular for gardens and they can be easily purchased at home goods stores, but why not roll up your sleeves and make your own? If you’re a wine drinker, save those corks for a unique wall design. Bottle caps, preferably the flat kind, can make for a hut-like roof. Finally, if you’re planning to get rid of that longtime dresser, a small portion of the board from the drawers can serve as the floor of the birdhouse.

Those bicycles in the garage from the glory days could also have a life restored by removing the wheels and turning them into garden art. Recycled glass could be cut and rearranged on every other spoke creating a beautiful mosaic look.

Wine bottles are another classic DIY material and can be used a number of ways. Glass when broken, can still end up mixed in with garbage on its way to a recycling center, so it’s critical to find a repurposed use. A wine bottle fountain could make for an exquisite work of art in your yard. Depending on the scale of the fountain, wine bottles can be laid on their sides and arranged in a stacked position with the bottoms facing outward. Attaching a hose to the bottles would make any garden fountain shine.

Kitchen Crafts

Before throwing out those soups and beans cans, call on your little tykes to help you with a painting project. Cans make for a myriad use, giving life over and over to a multitude of useful products. For the open kitchen concept, painted cans can easily get turned into utensil caddies and sit on countertops. Not to mention, they can serve as planters that sit on window sills or patios. Those herbs you’ve been talking about growing can now finally happen.

For those with babies who’ve graduated to big kid foods, you might be wondering what to do with all of those leftover baby food jars. Those jars can be reimagined as spice jars arranged nicely on a kitchen counter or pantry. If you prefer more frequent use, make holes in the lids for sprinkling salt or pepper. Baby food jars also make for great candle holders.

And the List Goes On

As you can see from just a few quick examples, materials that would otherwise go to the dump can be brought back to life and given a new purpose. By reducing your waste production, you naturally contribute to cleaner air and cleaner water. And that’s something good for all of humanity.