In our prepackaged society, where everything is individually wrapped for freshness, garbage is more than a given. Indeed, we produce an inordinate amount of trash every year, but a lot of that comes from discarding household items that could easily be transformed into something else with a little care and creativity. Hit the jump for some eco-inspiration!

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Repurposed items not only help to reduce the mountains of waste that are carted off to the local dump, but they also help you save significant amounts of money. When you don’t need to run to the nearest store every time you need a new accoutrement for your home, you’ll develop a deeper respect for the belongings that you already own. With a little inspiration and a lot of creativity, you can transform your trash to treasures.

Inspirational inventiveness

This type of improvisation isn’t intended for creativity’s sake alone. It has an ultimate goal of transforming what was formerly considered useless into something functional and attractive. Such creative endeavors may serve as an inspiration to others, who in turn may try their hand at repurposing items they may have otherwise thrown away.

Crushed soda cans be used either at random or to make a pattern when making a concrete garden. Large or small glass bottles of uniform size can be cemented into a bathroom window to provide light but privacy. Glass bottles filled with soil and stack – with or without concrete – can form walls for flowerbeds. The only limit to a project like this is your own imagination, simply combine a process which you’re a skilled at with an abundance of a disposable material and art is bound to be the result.

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Tin Can Lanterns – see a DIY tutorial here

Preparing to get creative

When planning your project, it is important to be as environmentally conscious as possible. What’s the point of repurposing your garbage if you create even more garbage in the process? Instead of throwing something together, projects such as these require a little research in order to ensure that they are efficient and worthwhile, and that they achieve the desired result – namely to reduce and reuse resources.

There will be times when materials other than those being reused, such as craft supplies and the like, will have to be bought. Being thrifty when buying materials is in keeping with the overall philosophy of avoiding waste and excess, so use coupons when you have to buy materials, and shop at second-hand stores whenever possible.

Examples of trash to treasure

While repurposed items can be as seemingly insignificant as using a toothpick to mark the end of a roll of Scotch tape or using an old T-shirt to make a fun throw pillow, there are also larger projects that can be undertaken.

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Tetra Pak carton lamp

Designer Ed Chew is responsible for this transformation. Using old milk containers, he began “unfolding the packets and refolding them into hexagonal and pentagonal sections that are then pieced together to form a geodesic sphere or any other desired shape.” His designs include globe-shaped light fixtures lit from within, circular-shaped ’50s-style lampshades and tall, narrow columnar pieces that resemble mini towers.

Cola crochet bottle tree

The craft blog features a decorative tree made of plastic cola bottles that are cut into plastic “string” and crocheted into this particular form. Whether exclusively decorative, or functional as perhaps an earring holder, the piece is just an example of what might be created using this strong, waterproof material. A large bag for children’s beach toys might be a project for an inspired crocheter. The material is waterproof and the plastic would allow sand to fall through on the walk back to the car—a distinct improvement over trying to vacuum it out of your car upholstery.

Trash-to-Trash Can provides easy directions to transform your empty plastic water bottles into an awesome trash can capable of holding, well, more of your empty plastic water bottles until you get around to making another trash can! Using tweezers, wire, a drill, a sharp knife and a frame, the author reports that the process does become faster with practice.

We are a culture that produces trash at a prodigious rate and this type of inspiration and improvisation is going to become necessary to decrease the amount of material we throw into landfills that quickly reach capacity. Our understanding of recycling needs to come to include not just brightly colored plastic bins picked up once a week by our garbage department, but also on reworking materials into other forms for other functions.