Trash to Toy: 6 Creative Projects to Make With Recyclables

Are you constantly looking for creative projects for your kids?

Do you want activities that ignite their imaginations?

Make things with recyclables.

When you use items found in your recycling bin or around the house to create toys and treasures kids love, it inspires them to tap into their creativity and use what’s available.

In this article I’ll show you six things you can make with found items in your home.

Are you constantly looking for creative projects for your kids? Discover 6 creative projects you can make with recyclables found in your home.

Why Create Things With Recyclables?

When you create things using items from the recycling box, it’s good for the environment and also helps develop your child’s imagination and creativity.

It teaches kids that once something has been used for its initial purpose, it doesn’t mean that we have to throw it away.

And it’s an excellent family project, because you’re working on something together.

Most importantly, it’s just plain fun to turn trash into treasures. There’s no limit to what you can make when you take random items and turn them into something else.

Some kids will find this more challenging than others. They’ll get stuck, and just see random things. That’s okay. Lay out the items you have and talk about what you can make from them.

Pull out other craft items you have around the house as well. Once they get the hang of it, their imaginations will run wild. And yours will too!

oni mask

An Oni (Japanese devil) mask is a fun project to make with recyclables.

If you don’t already have a craft box for recyclables, make one. This will be your first project!

Take a medium to large cardboard box or plastic container and use it for recyclables. Then decorate it with your kids.

Now, whenever you have an old cereal box, milk carton, plastic bottle, etc., put it in the box so it’s ready when you are for creative playtime. Be sure to rinse and dry sticky containers before you add them to your craft box.

Have a conversation about the recycling process with your kids. Share how different things are made and then broken down after you throw them away, and how it’s better for the environment when you reuse and repurpose certain materials.

Once you have your first mini-stash of recyclables, let those creative wheels start turning. It’s time to make something great.

You Will Need

  • Items from the recycling bin: Milk cartons, egg cartons, cereal boxes, PET bottles, food packaging, toilet rolls, scrap paper, etc.
  • Craft supplies: glue, tape, scissors, wire, craft knife
  • Craft materials: feathers, googly eyes, glitter, buttons, ribbon, paint, markers, etc.—whatever you have around the house
  • PDF of the topic ideas, printed and cut out

Preparation Time

5 minutes

Activity Time

30 minutes+


At home or in the garden

Before you get started, make a topic jar.

Come up with a list of ideas of things you can make. Then write them on scraps of paper and place them in a jar.

If you’re ever stuck, pick a topic out of the jar and make something with that idea in mind.

This helps narrow down the subject matter and gives you a starting point. You might want to set a rule that says you can only change the topic once.

Here are six things you can make using recyclables.

#1: A Friend

You can turn just about any box into a friend.

Use a large box for the body, add milk carton legs and use scraps of paper for the arms and head. Then add a face, hair and other accessories using items from your craft box. Use a strong glue or low-heat glue gun to attach your “body parts.”

For an extra imagination-booster, make a robot. Same steps as a regular friend, only add buttons, dials and levers.

zon the robot

We made Zon the Robot using a box, milk cartons, glove insets, buttons, food tray, googly eyes, brads, pipe cleaner and glue.

Once you have the basic robot, start up a conversation. Ask questions like, “What’s the robot’s job?” “Where does your robot live?” and “What does each button do?” Be sure to name your robot.

When you make items that you and your kids can play with later, it’s a double win!

#2: Music

Music is fun for kids and adults alike. If you have a large family or want to invite a bunch of kids from the neighborhood, music’s the perfect creative activity for a group.

Have everyone make an instrument, then put on a show or concert.

A “toot toot” with a toilet paper or paper towel roll is probably the easiest. Or connect a paper towel roll to a shoebox, and then attach strings to make a guitar. Decorate the box beforehand in your own rock-star style.

box guitar

This guitar is made using a tube from a foil roll, tissue box, elastic and a lot of tape.

The more complicated the instrument, the trickier the construction. Work as your kids’ assistant and let them figure out how to put it together.

Once you have your instruments, play familiar songs, song parodies or compose your own. Don’t forget to take a video of the performance.

#3: Costumes

Kids love to play dress-up. Throw on a costume, and let your kids’ imaginations run wild.

Even better than buying them is to make costumes from recyclables. They’re less expensive and you can personalize them as much as you like.

Find inspiration for costumes in a few different places: books, movies, cartoons and video games all have characters your kids might want to emulate.

Also, sneak in some history or geography by making costumes from another time and/or place. Once you have an idea, use books and the Internet for research.

viking shield and ax

This Viking shield and ax were made using cardboard boxes, a foil card middle, foil, glue, tape and paint.

Once you decide what costume to create, make your own version rather than attempt an exact copy. Invest in some good tape and your dress-up items should last a long time.

Each time you make new costumes, set them aside. There are hundreds of exciting adventures to be had with a dress-up box.

#4: Décor

This next idea is fun and functional. If you can’t seem to get your kids to clean up their desks, make some kind of storage container or caddy.

Cover paper roll middles with craft paper or old gift wrap. Attach them to each other, and then to a base such as a shoebox top. Your kids will love their own creations so much, they’re more likely to use them. Definitely a win-win situation.

With any luck, they’ll want to make some sort of storage container for every room in the house.

pencil cups

This desk tidy was made using toilet roll middles, origami paper, gold cardboard from a gift box, glitter glue and paper glue.

When you get some fancy packaging or a box or container with an interesting shape, keep it to the side. Next time you embark on this kind of craft, show your kids these treasures and ask what they think they could make with them.

Also, save pretty wrapping paper, foil, wallpaper scraps, envelopes, newspapers and magazines in your craft box, too.

#5: A Game

When you make a game, you double the fun: first you have fun making it, then playing it.

See what items are in your recycle box, and then decide what kind of game to make: board game, maze, puzzle, marble run—the opportunities are endless.

  • To make a board game or maze, paint or draw it on a piece of cardboard.
  • For a puzzle, paint a picture, let it dry and then cut it into different pieces that fit together.
  • For a marble run, design how you’d like to see it and figure out what other recyclable pieces you’ll need to make it work.

    marble run

    For this marble run game, we used a large packing box, milk cartons, cookie box, glue and pens.

This is a multi-step, multi-faceted project. Design and make the game, decide the rules and then play it. Be sure to write the rules down. Ask your kids questions throughout the project to keep it on track.

When you make something that needs precision (rather than just whacking two things together), it hones measuring and design skills. A lot of trial and error testing is also involved to get your games to work just right. The results, and the sense of accomplishment, will be well worth it.

#6: Transportation

Do you have a large box in the house? Then you can make something that’ll take you and your child anywhere. Grab costumes from your dress-up box, and make a form of transportation for your next adventure.

Create anything from a car or space ship to a submarine or pirate ship. Once you have a vehicle, you’ll have hours of adventuring fun.


This spaceship is made from large cardboard boxes, smaller boxes, plastic cheese containers, toilet roll middles, marker pens and stickers.

Make your vehicle as complex or simple as you’d like. Paint it or leave it blank, so you can use the piece for a future project.

Our spaceship’s held together with a great product called Makedo. It allows you to easily attach items together. It can then be removed when you’re done playing. You can deconstruct your creation and return the boxes to the recycling bin and make something new next time.

If your kids need help creating a hinge or axle, guide them through the steps. Show them how with some scraps. Then let them apply the new skill to their creation. Watch their eyes light up as they turn their vision into reality. You will never see a prouder child, and you’ll be proud too!

Some Final Thoughts

Playing with items from the recycling bin opens your kids’ minds to so many possibilities. It’s fun for adults too!

These days, kids don’t have nearly enough downtime. They’re always being entertained, whether it’s through television, video games or some other form of technology. Even after-school activities are structured. Therefore, they have little opportunity to use their imaginations. Creating things with recyclables is the perfect solution.

Imagination and problem-solving are essential life skills. Children who are good at problem-solving are more independent and often more confident. If they are ever stuck in a tricky situation, they’re more likely to be able to handle it.

So train your kids early and often, raid your recycle bin and go on this adventure as a family.

What do you think? Do your kids love making things from the recycling bin? What are some of their favorite things to make? Share your ideas and photos in the comment section below.

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About the Author, Jo Ebisujima

Jo Ebisujima is the founder of My Organized Chaos where she helps busy mamas organize their home, kids and homes so they have time for the fun stuff. Other posts by »


  1. Thanks, Jo! There are so many creative ideas here. What a great way to help kids look at things in a different way and find new uses for them. Love the guitar, the marble run…all of them, really! Yoku dekimashita. Arigatoo gozaimasu!

  2. Crystal Foth says:

    Great cute ideas! I have a supply of cardboard rolls that I’ve been saving up! I see some organizing in our future.

  3. jo ebisujima says:

    Thank you Jennifer! Hope you can come up with some exciting things to make too!

  4. jo ebisujima says:

    Cardboard rolls are great, so many fun things to do!

  5. Stacy says:

    My son helps himself from our recycle box all the time. I also keep boxes and bits under his bed for his creative time. My question: how do you throw out/deal with creations? I cull and bin them when my child is not home, and make sure he can’t see them poking out of a garbage bag. I take photos of most of his creations before getting rid of them. They become clutter if I don’t trash them and he won’t let me trash them.

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