10 Creative Ways Recycling Can Save You Money in a Tough Economy

by Carly Schuna

Image source: paul bridgewater

Independent organizations and government programs all over the world are making it easier and easier for people to recycle, which is great news for planetary advocates everywhere. Nowadays, you probably don't even have to sort your recyclables into groups or place them in separate bins, and you may not even have to cart them off to the recycling center yourself.

That's all great, but what if you're looking for more insidious ways to recycle? What if you have an artsy streak and time on your hands for an ambitious craft project? Or what if you simply can't bear to throw things out? For those of you who are seeking more creative ways to recycle than simply tossing an object in a bin, read on to find just the inspiration you need.

1. Repurpose old clothing.
Got some duds lying around that you don't wear anymore? Most of us do. A good way to weed those things out is to go through your closet and siphon out anything that you know is uncomfortable or anything that you haven't worn within the past year. A year sounds like a long time, but you might come up with more than you think.

Once you've separated the losers from the keepers, the creativity begins. You can use that clothing in all sorts of ways, from steamrolling it into a rug to making a fabric collage. If you have a sewing machine and know how to use it, the possibilities expand even further. You can cut apart scraps of your old clothes to make entirely new clothing items or put together handy accessories like a laptop case, a shoulder bag, or a wallet.

2. Make an art project.
You know how you go to snooty modern-art museums and stare at "pieces" that people have constructed out of a bunch of garbage? Next time, it could be your garbage that everyone stares at and whispers about. Trash art doesn't have to be abstract-it can be seriously cool to look at and even functional. Turn those crushed aluminum cans and old metal strips into a robot, a bicycle, a towering sculpture, or whatever suits your fancy. Your friends will think you splurged to purchase a gallery object, and they'll be seriously impressed when you tell them you made it yourself. Just make sure to wash all your trash thoroughly before you slap it onto your art.

3. Use Freecycle.
Freecycle is a group that combines sustainability with innovation and compassion. The idea is that you join a local chapter and list things you don't need anymore in the hope that someone else will have a use for your junk. It's the true manifestation of "one man's trash is another man's treasure," and it's gaining popularity by the day. If you've ever passed by a landfill or even a big Dumpster and anguished over spotting things that appear to be perfectly useful in there, Freecycle is for you.

4. Make a musical instrument.
Here's a news flash: You don't have to shell out hundreds or thousands of dollars for a professionally made musical instrument if you're just beginning to play or if you harbor an idle desire to bang around on some drums every once in a while. Large, empty plastic containers work very effectively at delivering drum sounds, and if you can manage to round up some friends, you may even be able to create a full "trash band." If nothing else, you can take consolation in the fact that the sounds you're jamming on are probably more palatable to the average listener than scores of songs put out by some legit bands with real instruments.

5. Use CDs as reflectors.
We all have a few old CDs lying around, and it's tempting to just toss them, especially if they're scratched beyond recognition. But not so fast! Those guys can work pretty well as reflectors, so you may want to affix a few to your mailbox pole or the back of your bike. They'll keep the wild neighborhood kids off your lawn after the sun sets (or at least you can hope), and they look pretty cool to boot.

6. Make wrapping paper.
Surely I can't be the only one who's running around the house searching madly for wrapping paper with the advent of each holiday and birthday that comes along. If you're in that club, too, you can save money and paper by gathering up a bunch of old documents (envelopes, magazine pages, maps, refrigerator artwork, etc.) and gluing or taping them together to form sheets of charmingly rustic wrapping paper. Since everyone just throws away the paper anyway, no one will care that you didn't go to the trouble of buying some, and people may even be impressed and intimidated by your ability to fuse discarded pulp into something truly useful.

7. Repurpose an old book.
You probably have more useless books than you have uses for them, but if you've always wanted to hollow out a book and hide something inside, now's your chance. Do it with the most boring of all your boring books, and find other cool uses for the rest. If you run out of ideas, use the old standby of donating them or listing them on a book-sharing Web site.

8. Make a placemat.
There are lots of things you can do with old jeans (and other old fabrics), but one of the simplest and most useful might be cutting rectangular patches out of them to make cool-looking placemats. Just toss 'em in the laundry when they get food stains on them, and they'll be good as new when they come back out. If you're missing the crafty gene or if placemats don't appeal to you, cut-up old clothes make pretty good dust and dirt rags, too.

9. Compost.
We recycle our old containers, so why not recycle our old food scraps? Some people already compost, and I'd like to applaud them. For those of us who don't, it takes minimal effort, and it's a great way to enrich the health of your soil, even if you're not growing a lot of things. Use a small compost bin to collect fruit and veggie scraps, coffee grounds, eggshells, and other discarded kitchen trimmings. Almost anything except dairy and meat products is fair game for compost. You can also make stocks and broths from many of your leftover or unused food scraps.

10. Create a mosaic.
Uh-oh-you dropped that vase, and now you have to throw it out and mop up all the old daisy water that's spattered all over the floor. But wait a second. You can proceed with getting rid of the daisy water, but why not hang on to that broken vase? Next time you swing by the hardware store, pick up some grout, bust up a few more fragile containers, and make your own mosaic. You can do one even if you're not artistic-I promise. They look great on picture-frame borders, on the outside of mirrors, on top of old coffee tables, or even on the seats of hard chairs. If you've never been an artist before, this is the place to start.

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{ 3 comment… read it below or add one }

Erika Slater April 14th, 2010
Garbage out - recycle in! Love these ideas, especially CD's on the mailbox.
Alex Roe April 15th, 2010
Nice tips! I'm all for turning trash into something new, or using it to create art! Good stuff! Best, Alex
Computer Recycling and Disposal October 28th, 2010
When you buy new electrical equipment it might be worth asking the reseller if they have a takeback scheme in place for the old equipment it replaces (in many cases they can take the old away when they deliver the new).

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