Six Fun Kid-Recycled Art Projects: One Man's (Recycled) Trash is Another Kid's Treasure!

Julie Pippert
March 29, 2016

Is your family working to go a little green? Are you on a shoestring budget and trying to keep spending low and kid entertainment high? Both? Yeah that's us too! That's a huge reason why we began making arts and crafts from stuff in our recycling bin.

I wish I could lay claim to the innovation of creating art from materials out of our recycling bin, but that kudo goes to my eight-year-old. She's a very creative and innovative child, and one day, temporarily out of art paper, she decided to investigate the recycle bin and find inspiration from materials there.

It was a rich source!

Here are a few of the many items we've made:

  • Fresh paper. This is simple, just soak torn up recycled paper in water, chop it up in a blender, then lay it out wet on a beach towel, fold the beach towel over, and stomp it flat. Jumping is fine too. How efficient is that? Exercise and a craft! We've used the paper when it dried to make flowers, craft sculptures, create little designs, and so forth. The key with this is we don't need those fancy kits and tools, either.
  • Storage bins. Using large, plastic milk cartons from the recycle bin (washed out well, of course) we cut these in half then used paints and markers to decorate the bottom half. Finally, we labeled them for items to store, such as crayons, barrettes, headbands...anything you'd like. Very simply, with a lot of fun, we created a nice little tub for storage and organization. The second time we did this, my daughter got fancy and threaded remnant ribbon so that some of them could hang. She put a couple of silk flowers in one and small, stuffed animals in another.  It all actually looks really cute (and neat! Oh my goodness, if they make it? My kids will actually use it. To tidy up. Glorious!)
  • Bird feeders. If you have those smaller, cardboard milk or juice cartons, you can use them to make a bird feeder.  This project was fun. We used cookie cutters to make interesting and fun shaped doors for the birdhouse. Then we painted and decorated. Finally, we used wire hangers from the dry cleaner recycling bag to hang them outside for birds, filled with birdseed (black oil sunflower, in case you were curious).
  • Toy houses. A few times we've had cardboard boxes from deliveries. My kids are crazy for boxes. Are yours? Have you ever, like us, thought maybe instead of toys you should have just gotten boxes for their birthday? It's so funny. And fun. We've used the paper we made to decorate, as well! You can form the paper into small bushes, even, for paper lawns outside the cardboard houses. Plastic forks make good tree bases, too.  We've painted trompe l'oeil furniture on the inside, but we've also dug in the recycle bin for items to make furniture. Cereal boxes can stretch to make a bed, sofa and coffee table if you plan and cut carefully. Small nut cans make good tables. 
  • Handmade puzzles. We take a picture the kids drew, glue it to a piece of cardboard (again, cereal boxes are great, so many uses), and cut it into shapes for puzzles
  • Jam Jar Banks. Jam jars, with a bit of recycled (but washed) foil on top, make great money storage. We made ones for "spend," "save" and "donate." We've tried several styles, from painting on goal lines to practically blacking out with lots of decoration. I've tried poking holes in the metal lids, too, for coins to go through.

There is so very much you can make from items in your recycle box. I've heard wood carvers say that they can see an object in a piece of wood. My daughter is amazingly gifted in being able to see a fun toy or piece of art in a piece of recycling! In case you need even more inspiration, we've found some fun ideas at Make-Stuff.com in their recycling section.

I like recycled art projects for the fun, reusing, and cheap sides, but it also tends to lead to more fun or good use, such as the sorting containers, or learning about animals in our backyard through bird watching. The kids will play for much longer with their cardboard houses than with the more elaborate wooden dollhouse they got as a gift a few years ago. Projects like these are great because they honestly use only things you already have at home—no need to spend big money and buy complicated kits or tools.

Tip: I often plan these projects for that super special witching hour afternoon time, around 3:30 to 4:00-ish. A little time invested in getting the project going and completed, and then time to make dinner (or whatever I need to do) while the kids play with their new crafts.

What are your favorite recycling projects? If you try any of these ideas, please let us know how it turns out!

From the Parents

  • Parent # 1

    Not only do we make stuff for kids using recycled products, we built an entire house from newspapers, tires, bottles, cans, etc! We are documenting it on builtfromtrash dot com.

    over a year ago

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