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Recycle! Upcycle! Downcycle!

Updated on April 14, 2015

Protect Earth, Have Fun

Earth. We love it. It's the bomb. We want to protect it for future generations. The average American household produces around four pounds of recyclable waste in just one day, from paper products to organic waste. This lens provides ideas about recycling and upcycling, which can be considered as turning some of the things we'd ordinarily throw away into usable items, such as using food scraps to create healthy compost for our gardens and salvaging old pallets to fashion unique coffee tables. Recycling is a must. Upcycling is FUN! Some experts report that only one tenth of our garbage gets recycled or repurposed. We can do better!

Photo Credit: free image from:

Teacup Candles DIY - Upcycle ordinary teacups into beautiful one-of-a-kind candles

Photo Credit: Meridith Zelaya
Photo Credit: Meridith Zelaya

I'm not sure about you, but I don't drink much tea. Coffee, yes, but I tend to use plain old coffee cups. However, there are some very and unique pretty tea cups lying around in thrift stores, or possibly in our cupboards, and the possibilities for them are endless. This is a fun project in which you can use old candle wax and teacups to make candles for your home or as a gift. A few years ago I made these with my kids for my mother and mother-in-law for Mother's Day and they were a hit! Who doesn't love a handmade gift from someone they love? Click here for a tutorial and have fun turning trash into treasure!

Image from, via creative commons
Image from, via creative commons

Don't Throw Away Those Bananas!

Composting Basics

Vegetable scraps, coffee grounds, leaves, peanut shells, and dozens of other things you might normally throw away can be used to create healthy soil for your garden. Heck, even if you don't plan on using this natural fertilizer for your garden, or maybe you don't even have a garden, the less we contribute to landfills, the better, I say. I suppose it just feels warm and fuzzy to put natural things that came from the earth back into the earth. Makes sense to me!

To create a quality compost heap, you'll need to pick a good location, preferably one that is not visible to your neighbors since these heaps are generally not going to win you any "yard of the month" awards. The other necessities in composting are the correct amounts of moisture, oxygen, temperature, organic waste, and slimy, slinky worms. Do not add meat, chemicals, diseased plants, inorganic materials, or pet droppings as these will not do Mother Nature any favors. Continuing to add your food scraps, churning the heap to oxygenate the soil and maintain the proper temperature, and letting those helpful worms do their job will create soil that is very rich in healthy nutrients. For more information about composting, click on the picture as well as the clickable links.

Recycling, Upcycling, and Downcycling on YouTube

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Photo credit:

8 Uses for Used Wrapping Paper

I don't know about you, but I find it a bit frustrating and irresponsible to wrap presents only to then throw away the wrapping paper. Don't get me wrong, I love gifts and giving them. There aren't many other things that make me happier than seeing my kids tear into gifts on Christmas morning or on their birthdays, huge smiles on their faces. BUT, what to do with the used wrapping paper in lieu of throwing it away after merely one use? Well, if you're not going to upcycle it, recycle it by throwing it in your recycle bin. But where's the fun in that? Let's talk about some useful, and in some cases fun things to do with used wrapping paper.

- Use the paper to line dresser drawers. We used the paper from our baby shower to line our baby's dresser years ago and it is still in there! (she's now 14) (Perhaps I should think about changing out the "baby" liner at this point)

- If you can somehow keep the present-opener from tearing it too badly, fold the paper up neatly for use on future gifts.

- Donate it to preschools! As a preschool teacher, I can tell you the kids would LOVE it for their projects!

- Shred the paper and use it for confetti or in a gift bag/box instead of tissue paper.

- Have your kids make collages with the pictures on the paper. Or, use it for your scrapbooking projects.

- Use the paper to decorate and dress up plain picture frames.

- Laminate strips of paper and use them as bookmarks.

- Make crafts! Check out these links for awesome upcycling craft ideas for your used wrapping paper:

Crafting A Green World


AHC Arts & Crafts

Pallet Obsession

Photo Credit:, via creative commons
Photo Credit:, via creative commons

I have to admit I am a bit obsessed with things you can make with old pallets. There is something uniquely attractive about the ruggedness and distressed look of a pallet, I guess. I actually have one (can't remember where it came from) on the side of my house that I'm hanging on to until I find the perfect thing to do with it. Coffee tables from old pallets are very cool. Our local Walmart has a gardening center that has countless pallets that I think I may go ask for. I think they are pretty easy to come by, and there are a bunch of things you can do with them, even if you just take them apart and use the wood for another project. For a ton of ideas on what you can make with old pallets, check out Make Something Mondays! and Home-Dzine.

Photo Credit:
Photo Credit:

Mother Earth Does Not Like Plastic Bags

Plastic bags pose a huge threat to our environment! In addition to taking up loads of space in landfills, plastic bags also interfere negatively with precious ecosystems and create flooding problems by clogging drains and pipes. 380 billion plastic bags are used by Americans every year and, sadly, only 1-2% of them are being recycled. Approximately 12 million barrels of oil are required to make this many plastic bags. What an enormous waste of resources. Maybe the most depressing of all is that thousands of marine animals and more than one million birds die each year at the hands of plastic bag litter.

If you use plastic bags at the store, take a look at how easy it is to recycle them and consider the difference we all could make if we all do better at recycling them. Make it a goal to never throw a plastic bag, or any other plastic object, into the regular trash. Yes, I do realize that many trash companies go through and sort the trash anyway, but if you collect your recyclables on your own, you'll feel great about what you are doing for the environment, plus you won't even be using as many plastic trash bags to line your trash can, right?

The simplest thing to do is just to throw your plastic bags in your recycle bin or take them to a local store that collects them for recycling. Also, implement and reuse them in other ways. We always use ours as trash bags for our little trash cans and also use them when scooping out the yucky cat litter. I've heard you can also use them in lieu of plastic wrap and utilize them in cooking, such as when you are baking bread. One of my favorite ways to reuse them is as packaging materials (I'm an Ebay and Listia junky). Why use a bunch of tissue paper or peanuts if you don't have to?

How about upcycling your plastic bags? Soccer balls, plarn (plastic yarn) (see tutorial below), tote bags, pastry bags, and countless other items can be made from them. One time I made plarn and knit a bag out of a bunch of plastic shopping bags (well, ok, so I didn't actually finish it). Plastic bags can be used to fill in gaps in plumbing, pipes, and ducts. Another great idea is to use a plastic bag to seal paint cans so the dried flakes don't fall into the paint. You wouldn't believe how many uses there are for the plastic bags we are too quick to throw into the trash. Get more amazing and simple ideas at Real Simple and "25 Brilliant Uses for Plastic Grocery Bags", or simply do a search for "uses for plastic bags". You'll be amazed at all of the creative and handy ideas out there.

How to Make Plarn, or Plastic Yarn

Photo Credit:, via creative commons
Photo Credit:, via creative commons

What to do with Old Batteries?

The EPA has determined batteries to be environmentally unsound if not disposed of properly. This means we should not throw them in the trash after use. When batteries end up in landfills, over time their heavy metal content can seep into the ground and contaminate the water supply. These heavy metals are hazardous to humans and animals and can result in serious health problems. Check out Call2Recycle to learn more about how to dispose of your old batteries.

Guestbook Comments - Let's Hear From Ya!

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    • merfzel profile image

      merfzel 4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      @DawnRae64: Ha ha.. yes, plarn! :) Thanks for visiting!

    • DawnRae64 profile image

      Dawn 4 years ago from Maryland, USA

      wow... plarn. Who knew?!! I'll have to give that a try. Thanks for sharing.

    • merfzel profile image

      merfzel 4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      @goldenrulecomics: True! Thanks for visiting :)

    • goldenrulecomics profile image

      goldenrulecomics 4 years ago

      Very nicely done. We try to re-use, recycle or give away as much as we can...The real key is to keep consumption to a minimum so you don't have as much piling up around your house!

    • notsuperstitious1 profile image

      Edith Rose 4 years ago from Canada

      Already doing the teacup candles, but your lens provided me with other ideas for upcycling that I never thought of.

    • merfzel profile image

      merfzel 4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      @ArtbyMAR: Yay!!! Thanks for stopping by!

    • profile image

      ArtbyMAR 4 years ago

      Great ideas for recycling, love the teacup candles. I have a box of my grandma's old teacups--now I know what I will do with them!

    • merfzel profile image

      merfzel 4 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      @Snakesmum: That is great! We do a pretty good job here, but I could stand to see some improvements.

    • Snakesmum profile image

      Jean DAndrea 4 years ago from Victoria, Australia

      Our local council is great on recycling - we can even take cd's and dvd's there!

    • profile image

      anonymous 4 years ago

      This is an awesome and informative page... I love the teacup candles!

    • merfzel profile image

      merfzel 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      @Linda BookLady: I know... I find it very intriguing myself! Thanks for stopping by :)

    • Linda BookLady profile image

      Linda Jo Martin 5 years ago from Post Falls, Idaho, USA

      I'm focused on upcycling projects... it is fascinating to see what people can make from used objects.

    • profile image

      achivevery 5 years ago

      upcycle and downcycle was coined way back 1994 but I got familiar with the terms just now. I always use recycle.

    • profile image

      happynutritionist 5 years ago

      ....and all around cycle! Another great page.

    • profile image

      athrunzala 5 years ago

      yes protect mother earth

    • TapIn2U profile image

      TapIn2U 5 years ago

      Wow! I just loved your lens. Sundae ;-)

    • ahrendi profile image

      ahrendi 5 years ago

      Thanks for the useful information. I try to reuse/recycle as much as possible. That is my way of helping in conserving earth's natural resources.

    • merfzel profile image

      merfzel 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      @Sher Ritchie: Thank you!!

    • flycatcherrr profile image

      flycatcherrr 5 years ago

      My family has an on-going challenge to see how many uses we can get out of one piece of wrapping paper. It gets a little smaller every time, but if we start with something neutral (not Santa Claus print or baby-and-stork or such) we can usually pass it through a number of occasions within a single year - the record now is 18 uses for the same piece of gift wrap. Recycling is fun!

    • Sher Ritchie profile image

      Sher Ritchie 5 years ago

      I love your lens. I've featured it on mine: . Thanks for sharing!

    • merfzel profile image

      merfzel 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      @CatJGB: I just looked up "recycling rubber dish washing gloves" and, you're right, you can't find info on recycling them. I did find this: It's a list of things you can do with them, or make with them. Thanks for stopping by my lens!

    • profile image

      CatJGB 5 years ago

      Love this lens, most of our 'stuff' is hand-me-down/recycled etc, mainly because we don't see the point of buying it new, from an environmental point and a price point. Instead of wrapping paper, we use home made cloth gift bags. So pretty and they never need to be thrown out at all. One of my lenses is a tutorial on making them, if you're interested in seeing them :)

      One thing I struggle with? Rubber dish washing gloves. I use HOT water when I hand wash dishes and it would trash my hands. But the gloves don't last well, they get holes after a few weeks at most. They're not compostable or recyclable (to my knowledge). The kids occasionally want an old glove for a craft but beyond that, they're just trash. They are my achilles heel in my otherwise green/recycling life.

    • Lee Hansen profile image

      Lee Hansen 5 years ago from Vermont

      I love finding new ways to reuse old or outgrown stuff. Most of our home is furnished with flea market finds or upcycled goodies. We just had my mother-in-law's original sofa (she bought it new in 1931) refurbished and reupholstered. It's now our "new" sofa!

    • flinnie lm profile image

      Gloria Freeman 5 years ago from Alabama USA

      Hi I like this lens on recycle, it was a great read on upcycle and downcycle.

    • WriterJanis2 profile image

      WriterJanis2 5 years ago

      Great ideas. Thumbs up.

    • Zebedee32 profile image

      Zebedee32 5 years ago

      A very responsible lens.

    • merfzel profile image

      merfzel 5 years ago from Atlanta, GA

      @anonymous: Thanks for stopping by and for the kind comments!

    • profile image

      anonymous 5 years ago

      I always appreciate a lens where I learn something. Thanks for making my day.

    • microfarmproject profile image

      microfarmproject 5 years ago

      Nice lens. I love the teacup candles!