[Wildlife & Habitats]

9 Easy Ways to Turn Trash Into Treasure

By: Ayana Byrd

Some things just seem destined for the trash or the recycling bin—what else would you do with last night’s wine cork or this morning’s used coffee grinds? But wait! There are simple ways to salvage at least a fraction of what we would otherwise toss.

The more you reuse, the more you divert from the landfill. If the planet isn’t enough reason, you will also save money,” says Keleigh Thomas, an eco-conscious lifestyle expert whose online store CoterieBrooklyn.com features many of her handmade home goods and accessories.

Here are nine very common household items and their not-so-common (but oh-so-useful) second acts.

Eye Care Cases: Each time you go to the optometrist or purchase a bottle of cleansing solution, behold, another contact lens case. There is no way you will ever use all of them, so make it a pill carrier for weekend trips or daily doses of vitamins. Plus, gently used eyeglass cases are excellent jewelry holders when traveling.

Coffee Grinds: What else can you do with soggy coffee grinds other than dump them in the trash? Thomas uses them in two ways: as plant fertilizer to “add nitrogen and potassium to the soil,” and mixed with a little coconut oil for a gentle facial scrub. “Use a drain cover to make cleanup easier,” she recommends.

Coffee Pods: Speaking of coffee, those petite, trendy serving containers are premised on the idea of brew and toss. Instead, use them in the most earth-friendly way possible—to grow life. Fill a well-rinsed pod with soil and plant a few seeds of basil, sage, thyme or lavender. Build an entire mini herb garden along your kitchen’s window ledge.  

Cosmetic Brushes: Anyone who wears makeup knows that after a while, cosmetic brushes need to be retired. When their time is up, move them into the office where they make excellent keyboard cleaners. Use them to get in between all of the crevices and spaces on your computer that manage to attract grime, dust and remnants of yesterday’s work snack.

Grocery Bags: It happens—you make an unexpected stop at the grocery store and don’t have any of those handy reusable grocery bags onhand. If the store uses plastic, make sure that when you get home, the sacs do double duty as trash bags for small garbage cans. Brown paper bags can also get a new life as postal packaging.

“People don’t realize that you don’t have to put items in a perfect box or a mailer to ship them via USPS and UPS,” says Thomas. “You can literally double-up an old Trader Joe’s bag and drop in whatever you need to send, remove the handles and securely tape it. Tah-dah!”

Wine Bottles: Corks and bottles can be repurposed as well. Use a sharp knife to make a one-inch slit into a wine cork and you have a closing clip for bags of chips and other snacks. Bottles can be placed upright in tall, floppy boots to hold their shape between wears.

Paper Towel Rolls: There’s no cheer in detangling a knot of holiday lights every year. Instead, wrap them around an empty paper towel roll, securing the ends with masking tape.  

Dish Soap Bottles: These plastic bottles help every household run better when repurposed. Rinse and refill with water that can be used to water plants or for squirting into hard-to-reach areas during cleaning. Or fill and freeze them to transform them into ice packs for aches, and to keep food cold in packed lunches.

Candle Holders: Don’t burn your candle at both ends, they say. But to be eco-minded, you actually should—burn it down and then repurpose the holder. “Candle jars can be used as pen holders, jewelry holders, desk organizers or used coffee ground holders,” says Thomas. “I look for candle jars that have lids just in case I want to secure items.”

Ready to take the next step and help reduce even more waste? Join ThatHelps “Repurpose Paper and Plastic Bag” Opportunity.