Summer is here, which means the kids are home more often than not. Even you might be itching to go to the brewery, to garden or to clean out your house. Between snacks at the playground, barbeques with friends and on-the-go meals, it seems like there are more single-serving snacks and drinks than usual. Looks like it is time to use that trash for something else.

The first step when turning trash into treasure is collecting. It may seem annoying or silly, but you probably have an Amazon box, cereal box or a bag from the grocery store that you can use to start. Bonus points if collecting is the activity you give your kids for a few days. The trash you can reuse includes junk mail, scrap paper, plastic bottles, old markers, boxes, clean take-out containers and anything else you can think of. Now, it is time to get crafting.

Related: Splash into summer with easy, sustainable tips and tricks


Have you been letting junk mail, receipts, the paper with half a scribble on it pile up? Time to get out some glue and see how creative you can be with paper mâché and collages.

For your older kids (including you!) or a supervised activity, try paper mâché. Start by finding the adhesive of your choice, which could include PVA glue, wood glue, school glue and even mod podge. Following these instructions or others you find, cut your paper materials into strips, soak them and apply them to your mold. Your mold can be a balloon, stiff wires you have shaped, a ball or just about anything that holds its shape that you do not mind never seeing again.

For younger kids or any leftover paper products, cut your paper and glue it wherever you want on a larger sheet of paper such as a brown paper bag cut open, a canvas or construction paper, and make a collage. This method is great for scissor and glue practice as well as creating imperfect art while reducing your recycling pile.

Cans and bottles

Collecting the tops of cans, screw top lids for plastic bottles and wine corks can be done throughout the school year as you build up to summer projects. These projects are generally made for older kids who will be less frustrated by them, and they make great backyard activities with adult-age kids too!

With yarn, lanyard material or necklace string, you can create necklaces, earrings and bracelets out of the tops of cans. Adding beads of all materials can add variety to this jewelry. For bottle tops and wine corks, you will want to start with a stiff backing material such as wood or canvas that can withstand hot glue or liquid glue. Then create anything you want by making patterns and shapes from the tops and corks. Add string or color to create a garden of flowers or color directly on the corks to give them some style.


Hot weather can mean a lot of take-out containers. Relatively clean pizza boxes can be turned into so many things like disco ball art and spaceships, but plastic containers deserve a home outside the landfill too. Clear plastic containers are great for cutting out and turning into sun catchers with a few Sharpies. This is definitely an activity for older kids or the materials should be pre-cut for younger ones because some of the containers can be difficult to cut. However, they hold Sharpies well and can be made into any shape to give you an activity that will not get old.

Clear plastic containers are also great for making upcycled shrinky dinks. Draw anything you want on them, then cut them out and bake them for an activity for sleepovers, birthday parties or wine nights. Turn them into keychains, mini sun catchers, jewelry and sweet gifts for friends and family.

School and art supplies

The backpacks are empty for the first time in nine months, but now you have a bunch of half-used school supplies, some of which do not work anymore. Summer is a great time to test all the crayons, markers and colored pencils to make and even get rid of the unusable chalk, crayon and pencil stubs.

You do not always have to buy new markers when they start to dry out. Try wetting the markers with a small amount of water to help dissolve the dried-out ink. Place them upside with the lid on them for a few hours and try again. If your water-based markers still are not working, try turning them into watercolors instead.

Make art with pencil, chalk and crayon stubs by gluing them to a canvas or wood. You can do this with hot glue or liquid school glue to create new art with old materials. You can melt crayons in silicon molds to create new crayons that may even be easier for small hands to hold.

Paint projects

Painted projects that will last a while may require some new materials, but they can be just as fun! Collect rocks on your long summer walks or decorate the ones already in your yard. If you don’t have rocks easily accessible, they can be found at art stores or pet stores. Add a little mod podge and they should weather a few storms while adding a little pop of color to your outdoor space. If your kids are painting them, add their name and date to the bottom to create a keepsake or gift for grandparents.

If you want to liven up your space, paint plastic or terracotta pots with fun designs and plant some succulents, herbs or flowers for your windowsill or balcony. If you have a yard, paint the above-ground planters! You can always paint over your designs later if they do not spark joy. Just make sure you seal the paint or use acrylic paint for the best waterproof art.

No matter your age, summer is a great time to get a little messy and use the materials you already have to create art and fun experiences. Get creative with your trash because you never know what might be your next treasure!

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