Five Fun Recycled Crafts to Teach Kids Sustainability

By Sher Warkentin in Thinking Sustainably

The cartons, bottles, jars, and boxes that quickly fill your recycling bin offer a treasure trove of fun, easy kids craft projects. The best part about recycled crafts is that they always offer a great lesson in sustainability. Not only do your kids learn the importance of reusing items, but they also discover ways to innovate on their own by looking at ordinary objects from a new (more colorful) perspective.

Here are a few of my family’s favorite recycled craft projects:

Milk Carton Bird Feeder

A bird feeder is a fun project that teaches kids both about recycling and about caring for nature. For example, why should milk be the last thing to come out of a perfectly good carton?

All you need is:

  • 1 milk carton.
  • scissors.
  • paint.
  • 1 unsharpened pencil or chopstick.
  • twine.

First, clean and dry the milk carton. Then, cut a square-shaped opening on one side right through the center. Paint or decorate the outside of the carton before making a hole just below the square cutout. Thread the pencil or chopstick through this hole to create a resting spot for the birds. Make a similar hole at the top of the carton in order to thread some twine through to hang it. Fill it with birdseed up to the square cutout, and hang it up in your yard.

A bird feeder made of an old milk carton.

Cardboard Doll House

Cardboard boxes are one of my kids’ all-time favorite playthings. From building blocks to robot parts, they’re so versatile. All you need is a little imagination, glue, and markers, and you can make just about anything. A dollhouse is a great example of a recycled craft you can make with a box, similar to a diorama they’d make in school.

You’ll need:

  • 1 large box.
  • scissors.
  • glue.
  • construction paper.
  • markers.

Cut the flaps off of the top of the box, using each one to create a divider in the middle of the box that you can glue into place for a second story on your house. Create furniture and decor out of construction paper and the remaining cardboard flaps.

Dollhouse made out of a cardboard box.

Coloring Box

Although neatly planned Pinterest projects may yield a fun keepsake, kids really start thinking creatively in open-ended art projects. With these, you simply provide tools and let them make choices.

All you need is:

  • 1 cereal box or paper bag.
  • scissors.
  • markers.

Cut the cereal box or paper bag open to create a flat rectangle. Let your child draw and create however he or she likes. It’s that simple!

Sensory Bottle

Sensory bottles make great recycled crafts because you don’t have to just stop at one—you can make several versions. In addition to learning how to reuse these items, a sensory bottle is a great tool for practicing mindfulness and calming down anxiety in kids.

You’ll need:

  • 1 empty plastic bottle.
  • small trinkets, beads, old buttons, or a similar item small enough to fit inside the bottle.
  • vegetable oil.
  • food coloring.
  • crazy glue.

A sensory bottle is as easy as filling a bottle up with water and food coloring. This can be a fun discovery toy for a younger child. For older kids, get a little more complex and add vegetable oil, small trinkets, or just about anything he or she would enjoy seeing swirl around inside.

Sensory bottle craft made with recycled plastic bottle.

Baby Food Jar Snow Globe

I wish my son had eaten more baby food, because I love reusing baby food jars. They have so many uses, from paint containers to terrariums. A snow globe is a one of my favorite recycled craft ideas using them.

All you need is:

  • 1 empty baby food jar.
  • 1 small toy.
  • water.
  • glitter.
  • crazy glue.

First, pick out a small toy that was eventually headed for the trash, like those irritating plastic knickknacks from goody bags. Glue the toy to the inside of the lid. Fill the jar with water, leaving about a 1/4-inch of air at the top. Sprinkle in a pinch of glitter, adding a line of glue around the outside rim of the jar and twisting the lid on tight. Give the glue an hour to set, then flip the jar upside down. Now it’s time to give it a shake.

Let your kids take the lead and come up with recycled crafts of their own using the objects they find in your recycling bin. Open-ended art has so many benefits; you just need to be innovative with the resources you have.

What crafts have you made from findings in your recycling bin? Tweet us pictures @TomsofMaine.

Image source: Sher Warkentin

This article was brought to you by Tom’s of Maine. The views and opinions expressed by the author do not reflect the position of Tom’s of Maine.

Why It’s Good

The recycling center isn't the only good place for recyclables to end up. Recycled crafts are a great way to make something new out of items like cereal boxes and milk cartons while teaching kids to be more innovative with recycling.