Ideas for upcycling things you already have at home

At Eco Collective, our goal is to empower individuals to reduce their waste with sustainable alternatives, but zero waste isn’t always about buying new! In fact, we encourage our customers to check secondhand stores first or see what they already have at home before investing in a new reusable. The truth is, the least wasteful thing we can do is to reuse something we already have. Of course, you can’t “reuse” personal care items like toothpaste and you may want to store your food in nontoxic containers, which is where zero waste stores come in! But you CAN reuse the glass jar your tooth powder was stored in, or retire your old plastic food containers for another use around the house. We believe in finding new and creative ways to use things you already have, to find zero waste solutions for your lifestyle. Here’s a list of some fun ways we’ve reused and upcycled ordinary things in our homes.

Reusing plastic tubs and plastic bags

An easy one is reusing the plastic tubs or plastic bags that might have found their way into your home. In my household, we try to bring our own containers to the store, but occasionally my boyfriend will bring home olives or something from the bulk section in one of these plastic tubs, and I reuse it for foods that we won’t be reheating. You can reuse plastic bags for short term food storage, like bringing food home from the bulk section to put in your jars. I don't like reheating anything in plastic or use plastic for long term storage because of the toxins that can seep into food. But it’s far better to get a few more uses out of them than to recycle them or throw them away! Especially if you live somewhere without alternatives, reusing might be the answer.

Reusing a plastic tubUpcycling glass bottles

Last year, I experimented with making my own laundry detergent to reduce the plastic in our house, and I discovered a DIY detergent recipe I really love. Instead of going out and buying a big glass jar or bottle to keep it in, I pulled this glass chai bottle out of my recycling bin and voila! 
Glass bottles can be repurposed to hold bulk dish detergent or castile soap, olive oil, water for plants, even drinking water around your house. We also accept jar donations at Eco Collective! Clean glass bottles and jars can be dropped off for customers to borrow for our bulk section.
Upcycling a glass bottle

Make your own utensil set

If you want a utensil set to take to work or school for lunches on the go, you can make your own! Bamboo utensils come in handy for traveling through TSA, but for other uses, just grab a set of silverware (and chopsticks!) from your drawer at home, wrap them up in a napkin and there you have it.
Marimar recently shared directions for how to make your own utensil wrap. Simply take a bandana, lay it flat, place the utensils diagonally at one corner, and wrap them up. Then tie the ends together and there you have it!
Make your own utensil wrap with a bandana

Repurposing jam jars and tea tins

I had a few jam jars and loose leaf tea tins pile up in my house, and decided to reuse them for toppings and food from the bulk section. I keep chia seeds in one and cacao in another, perfect for oatmeal in the mornings. I can’t see what’s in them like I can with glass, but they’re unique enough and I use them almost every day, so it’s easy to remember what’s in them. The last one houses my favorite specialty pasta (I have an enormous jar for regular pasta, don't worry).
Reusing jam jars and tea tins

Reusing old toothbrushes

Bamboo toothbrushes are compostable, but you have to remove the bristles first, so I like to reuse them as makeup brushes or for cleaning before they go to the compost bin. They make a perfect brow brush - my friend Sedona Christina taught me this trick: use an old bamboo toothbrush and dry bar soap for a cheap, zero waste brow balm. It gives them a little definition and shape without much effort at all. Old toothbrushes are great for cleaning too. They make excellent scrubbers for sink drains, stove burners, faucets and bathroom cleaning. You can use the bamboo handle as a garden marker too! It’s all about getting creative with what you have to fill a need in your latest project or undertaking.
Upcycling old toothbrushes to use for cleaning and makeup brushes

Making cleaning rags from worn out towels

Around our house, we are constantly using rags for boat work, cleaning or various projects. When a tee shirt or towel wears out, we’ll cut it up into rags to use for these purposes. When you have a zero waste mindset, you tend to see old or “worn out” items in a new light.
I recently wanted a set of bamboo face towels, but instead of buying a new item, I realized I could just use my organic cotton unpaper towels instead. I like to have a washcloth to dry my face every night, and these are so multipurpose! I can use them for light cleaning, throw them in the wash, and then use them in my skincare routine, no problem. I love using multifunctional items since we live in a small space.
reusing an unpaper towel as a face towel

Finding a use for containers that have lost their lids

I don’t know about you, but there will always be a couple of mismatched food storage containers in our set. Containers with no lids, lids with no container… I honestly don’t know where they all disappear to! I like to think they’re all hanging out together somewhere. An easy way to reuse these is as desk storage containers. We use this one above our navigation desk to hold loose change or Canadian currency (we go up to BC a lot for sail racing). The lids are harder to reuse, but maybe you’re trying to germinate seeds or mix a face mask and you need a simple shallow "bowl." Again, it’s all about thinking outside the box.
plastic tub without a lid being reused
We hope you enjoyed these simple ideas for upcycling what you have around the house! Zero waste has a lot to do with using and reusing what you have. Quoting the documentary Story of Stuff, “use it up, wear it out, make it do or do without.” We’re so happy to be a part of building a circular economy. Let us know your ideas for upcycling in the comments!