The Frugal Café | Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup"</a> | Creative Commons License,
Photo credit: Rebecca Anne, "Flora's Cup" | Creative Commons License,

Frugal Café Philosophy
Save more.
Spend wisely.
Use resources responsibly.
Laugh often.
Kindle passion in life.
Give back.











Frugal Café Site Search:



Second Time Around: Smart Ways to Reuse & Recycle Things around the House (video)

By Vicki McClure Davidson


To cut down on waste, save money, and slow the massive amount of trash you unwittingly contribute to landfills, here are some some innovative tips on how to recycle and/or reuse common household items that typically get tossed in the garbage bin.

With just a few minutes of tinkering or cleaning, you can give many of them a second go-around. Most of these are easy enough to accomplish that they can serve as fun activities for children, while reinforcing the importance of frugality and recycling. For Boy and Girl Scouts, many of these projects can be used to fulfill some requirements to earn arts/craft or environmental/recycling merit badges. For children who are home-schooled, they can be incorporated into lessons about the environment, civic pride, family service, and financial stewardship.

  1. Plastic Water/Soda Bottles: One area that we can employ a second go-around is with plastic bottles. Americans throw away an estimated 2 million plastic bottles an hour. Annually, we throw away more than about 868 million pounds of plastic bottles (about 75% of what's produced, only about 25% is recycled). That's an estimated $130,000,000 worth of plastic! Here are two videos with innovative ideas on how reuse empty water and soda bottles.

    8 Ways to Recycle a 2-Liter Bottle


    Flower Basket by


    Excellent article on more recycling ideas using plastic bottles: Ecoble: Extraordinary Reuse Projects – 10 Amazing Ways to Recycle Plastic Bottles

  3. Plastic Mesh Bags: You can use the plastic or nylon mesh bags that vegetables or garlic bulbs sometimes come in for various cleaning jobs around the house and yard. Wad the mesh bag into a ball and tie, then use it as a scrubber for pots, car windshields, or bathtubs. You can also use one (or part of one) for placing various stemmed herbs in (garni bouquet) to toss into a simmering broth on the stove. The mesh bag makes retrieval of the herbs easy. Secure the open end(s) with knots or twist ties. Once the broth is done, clean the bag with hot soapy water, hang dry, and store for future use.

  4. Pantyhose: When camping, put a cake of soap in the foot of the pantyhose and tie the top end to a low-hanging tree branch. This will keep the soap out of the dirt and makes it less slippery to use for "roughin' it" hand washing. Use pantyhose strips in the garden to tie plants securely to stakes; the stretchy nylon won't cut through tender shoots or stems. Make shower spa bags. Cut across the leg to make rings, roll the rings up, and you have a quick, stretchy ponytail holder that won't break and damage hair like rubber bands do.
  5. Coffee Cans: Use empty coffee cans to pack cookies or other baked goods for mailing. With some glue and construction paper, make into Santa Claus centerpieces for Christmas. Use three to make a toilet paper holder in bathroom; use a can opener to remove the can bottoms and decorate with paint, adhesive craft paper, or small craft items, like sequins, buttons, bows, seashells, or metallic cord. Make one into a cheap and quick "dog pooper scooper." Use for storing compostable scraps in the kitchen.
  6. Butter/Margarine Wrappers: Once you’ve removed a block of butter or margarine from its wrapping, place the wrapping in a plastic container or bag, and refrigerate. Use it to easily grease baking pans.
  7. Used Envelopes: The backs of used envelopes make handy lists for groceries, "To Do" lists, labels, and cheap bookmarks.
  8. Egg Cartons: Use egg cartons to hold and organize small craft materials (i.e., sequins, buttons, beads, etc.) to make corralling these small items when doing arts and crafts projects easier. They can be used to start seeds indoors before it is warm enough outside to plant. They also are handy homemade firestarters (cardboard only for this); to accomplish this, melt old candle scraps in a double boiler, then fill each cup in the carton halfway with sawdust and/or wood chips or small dried twigs. Carefully ladle the melted wax over the sawdust/wood mixture, and let it cool until it's hardened. Store these in a cool place until you need them to take camping or to grill outdoors; to use as a fire starter, just light the edge of the carton. Either Styrofoam or cardboard egg cartons can be used to store golf balls. Cardboard egg cartons made quick and cheap bird feeders: trim off the lid, thread string through holes in each corner of the tray, fill the cups halfway with birdseed, and hang in a tree.
  9. Facial Tissue Boxes: Use an empty tissue box as a plastic bag dispenser. Fill with plastic grocery bags and you’ll be able to neatly pull out one at a time. They can be used as simple toys for young children, such as small beds for dolls and garages for miniature small cars. Store packets of seeds, instant drink mixes, gravy packets, and other flat, thin items in them that normally slip between things in the drawer or refrigerator.
  10. Plastic Grocery Bags: Use as garbage pail liners, paint tray covers, stuffing for various craft projects, protection for hands and household items, or packing materials. For more ideas on how to reuse plastic bags, click here for this article: Plastic Bags: Frugal, Smart Ways to Use Them Again Before Chucking Them into a Landfill.

    Plastic bread bag clips can be reused in a number of projects, including labeling and organizing computer cords
  11. Plastic Bread Clips: Save a few of the square plastic tabs that keep bread bags closed to use as tiny kitchen scrapers for baked-on crud on pots and pans or dirt from windows. They will also effectively remove adhered labels and price tags from surfaces and will safely scrape dried paint off windows. Use them to scratch lottery tickets. Use them when drying laundered pantyhose or stockings — attach them to a thin metal coat hanger with old bread bag clips, then hang to dry. They can be used by knitters and crocheters as markers for counting stitches and to keep yarn on a needle. Bread clips can hold together a collection of loose rubber bands so that the bands won't scatter about in a "junk" drawer. Likewise, they can be used to organize and label electrical cords or all the cords behind your personal computer.
  12. Newspaper: Crumple several sheets and place inside a plastic bag to pad your knees when gardening or as a soft seat pad at a picnic or sporting event. Place under and inside the refrigerator or freezer during defrosting to absorb water. Line kitty litter boxes for easy cleanup (top with kitty litter). Use old newspapers to protect work surfaces from crafts and interior paint jobs. Use as novel gift wrap (the Sunday comics section is fun for children's birthday gifts parties). Use as packing material when moving or shipping.
  13. Packing Foam Peanuts: These are excellent to fill a layer at the bottom of a large pot when transplanting. Fill the pot several inches with the peanuts before putting in the potting soil; they aid in draining to keep plant roots from becoming waterlogged and keeps the pot from becoming too heavy, making moving it around lighter than if the pot was filled totally with soil. Save packing foam peanuts and reuse when packing breakables, storing Christmas decorations, or sending gifts in the mail.
  14. Cereal Liner Bags: Clean and use for stacking meat patties before freezing. They can be used to store bread crusts. Use them to cover food when it is cooking in the microwave. Slit and use instead of wax paper when rolling out dough. Use to wrap sandwiches in students' lunch boxes.
  15. Plastic strawberry baskets can be reused in a number of projects

  16. Plastic Strawberry Baskets: Make candy baskets for the holidays by weaving ribbons through the holes and attaching decorations with appropriate glue, or a hot-glue gun. Place the basket(s) over a damp area in the carpet so it/they can dry without being stepped on. Use as a homemade bubble machine or a playpen for small dolls. Use one on the kitchen counter to hold kitchen scraps (much like Food Network's Rachael Ray's counter garbage bowl, only smaller), like fruit peelings or veggie scraps, which can later be tossed into the compost bin. They can hold and organize small packets, such as instant gravy or dry-mix drinks, in the pantry or fridge. Doubling them makes them stronger.
  17. Hair Product or Cleaner Spray Bottles: Clean thoroughly and use to hold your homemade cleaners or spray starch. Use to spray plants with water. It's very important to clean thoroughly first to remove all residue.
  18. Styrofoam Food Trays: Clean thoroughly, wrap in foil, and use as trays for giving gifts of baking. Use to sort small craft items, like beads, while crafting. Use as a paintbrush rest—can be discarded once the painting project is done.
  19. Paper Towel Cardboard Rolls: Use to wrap extension cords, Christmas lights (keep untangled). Use to protect sharp knives in a drawer from being banged into other utensils and to safeguard yourself from being cut when rummaging through the utensils drawer. Give to pet rats, gerbils, or hamsters to gnaw on and crawl inside. Fill with small candies and wrap with colored tissue paper to have as unique party favors for children's birthday parties.
  20. Citrus Peels: Use to make your own homemade citrus cleaners. They are needed to make candy peels to use in baking. Save lemon peels to use as needed for zest in recipes. Save lemon and orange peels, dry them, and when you have a fire in the fireplace or outdoor pit going, toss them into the fire to fill the air with a citrusy, fresh smell.
  21. Brown Paper Bags: Twist used paper bags into tight rolls and use as fire starters. Slit and use to line a flower garden before putting in mulch or potting soil. They keep weeds at bay and will decompose, acting as a natural mulch. Be sure to poke holes through first so that water can seep through.
  22. Dryer Sheets: Save your dryer sheets after they've been used in the dryer. You can use them to dust your furniture and they're great for removing foods stuck hard on your pots and pans. Fill the pan with water and drop the sheet inside. Let soak for about an hour and wash as usual. If you quilt, you can use them to keep the edges of your blocks straight and keep the blocks all the same size.
  23. Laundry Bottle Caps & Powdered Detergent Scoops: Wash thoroughly and use as sandbox, pool, or bathtub toys, or as pet food scoopers with dried food.
  24. Dry Cleaning Bags: Tie a knot in the end, turn the bag inside out, and it can be used as a liner in a tall trash can. Use to pack suits, dresses, and formal clothing when traveling to help protect them from wrinkles when packing. When storing the bags make sure to keep them safely out of the reach of children; a plastic bag can quickly suffocate a child who is playing with it.




Related Reading and Videos:
Cheapskate Lifestyle: Thrift Store Shopping Exploding As People Rediscover the Savings & Joys of Second-Hand Bargains
DIY T-Shirt Transformations: Save Big Bucks with Adorable Fashion Makeovers Using Old T-Shirts
Budget-Friendly Home Security Tips
DIY Recycling & Fashion: ThreadBanger | Video Demo: Recycling/Repurposing Plastic Bags & Making Shopping Tote Bags from Old Clothes
25 Quickie-Cheapie Clean-ups
Travel Plans to the Desert & Higher Elevations: Pack a Survival Mini-Kit
Frugal Café Blog Zone: Frugal Japanese-Inspired, Eco-Friendly Christmas Candy Gift Wrap & More "Cheap but Chic" Christmas Ideas (video)
Top 7 DIY Tips from "Ty's Tricks" Book by Home-Improvement Guru Ty Pennington
Use It Up, Wear It Out, Don't Waste... More Cool Vintage World War I & II Food & Frugality Posters of the Depression Era
Frugal Café Blog Zone: DIY Trends: Popular Online Kitchen How-to Videos Skyrocket in Views on YouTube, Shucking Corn & Peeling Garlic Have Had Millions of Views (video)
The Mind-boggling Wonders of... WD-40



Heloise from A to Z - An Indispensable Home Reference Guide by America's Most Trusted Household-Hints Advisor, Perigee Books, NY, 1992.
Huang, Christine, "Recycling Around the House: Uses for Plastic Grocery Bags, Use Them, Save Them and Reuse Them," (, December 20, 2006.
Real Simple website, (,21863,1097755-7,00.html).
Tipnut website, "20 Things You Can Use Twice Before Tossing", (