7 Ways to Turn Trash into Household Tools

Disposable containers and packaging can turn into useful organizational tools.


Every year, U.S. consumers toss out enough plastic and paper cups and flatware to make 300 cycles around the equator, according to the Clean Air Council, a non-profit environment group. Through recycling, we can save money and reduce the amount of waste headed for landfill. Here are seven ways to turn your garbage into something useful: 

1. Clutter control

Supermarkets sell frozen foods and fresh fruits in a variety of foil and plastic containers. Those vessels—emptied and washed—provide great organizational tools for cabinets and drawers. Small trays can be arranged to create storage compartments for keys, coins and stamps.

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2. Flatware tray

As a special treat for the kids, I purchased a box of frozen appetizers, (mini hot dogs in pastry dough), packed in a sturdy plastic tray. The container featured long indented rows, which worked well as a utensil tray for our flatware. There was ample room for forks, knives and spoons. Buttons, coins, rubber bands and small sewing supplies also fit neatly into the long indentations.

3. Fashion statement

Twist ties—small, flexible wires covered by plastic, paper or rubber—are my favorite fashion accessory. Manufacturers use twist ties to seal baked goods, wrap electronic cords and stash coffee. But twist ties are ideal for securing belts, especially the long skinny belts now featured in fashion magazines and web sites. Wrapped around the end of the belt, the small ties are available in wide range of colors and help me wrap up loose ends with a fashionable twist that’s free.

4. Stationery supplies

A long narrow Styrofoam tray that once held a trio of red, green and yellow bell peppers now holds a collection of pens and pencils. The writing tools are neatly contained in tray, which is tucked into a drawer. Writing checks, making lists and finishing school assignments is less of a hassle with easier access to supplies. The tray provided a frugal, but effective makeover for our junk drawer.

5. Foil pan

After we polished off a key lime pie, we found additional uses for the frozen foil pan that held the dessert. The recycled pie tin is great for warming up french fries, sandwiches and other quick meals. Foil pans can be placed under plants or serve as a spare feeding bowl for pets.

6. Lunch containers

Strawberries, blueberries and grape tomatoes are packaged in small plastic containers that are typically tossed into the garbage. But with a good scrubbing those containers can be reclaimed for other purposes. At the urging of my oldest son, I used a recycled produce container to pack a lunch-time serving of stir-fried noodles for one of my school-age children. Plastic pint and half-pint fruit containers are also great for packing chips, pretzels, grapes and other lunch snacks.

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7. Linen packaging

Sheet sets, comforters and blankets are often sold in packaging that can be re-used for household storage. For instance, I have purchased sheets that were folded by the manufacturer into in a drawstring cloth bag. That bag is ideal for holding socks, jewelry and other small items. Likewise, the large zipper bags that once held new blankets and comforters have been recycled for assorted long-term storage projects.

Sharon Harvey-Rosenberg is a special financial news contributor for Wise Bread. She is the author of "Frugal Duchess: How to Live Well and Save Money” and a contributing author to ”10,001 Ways to Live Large on a Small Budget.”