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We’re challenging you to rethink how you reuse your everyday products. Worried your new green habits will clutter your home and garage with empty milk jugs, reams of newspaper and a garage full of sticky, stinky aluminum cans? Check out our tips on how to organize your recycling center so you can be a better global citizen without sacrificing your quality of life.

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In 2013, Americans generated about 254 million tons of trash. Of that waste, 75 percent was recyclable — but only 30 percent was ever actually reused. This probably makes you wonder: what does my ecological footprint look like?

What is biocapacity?

According to Greenfacts, “biocapacity refers to the capacity of a given biologically productive area to generate an on-going supply of renewable resources and to absorb its spillover wastes. Unsustainability occurs if the area’s ecological footprint exceeds its biocapacity.”

How much biocapacity does the average American need? About nine global hectares — or, in layman’s terms, about 17.5 football fields. That’s a lot of space. And how much biocapacity is actually available? Roughly 1.8 global hectares. That’s a problem.

We’re challenging you to rethink how you reuse your everyday products. Worried your new green habits will clutter your home and garage with empty milk jugs, reams of newspaper and a garage full of sticky, stinky aluminum cans? Check out our tips on how to organize your recyclables so you can be a better global citizen without sacrificing your quality of life.

Reduce, reuse, recycle: Turn your home into a recycling center

Plastic bottles

There are 1,500 water bottles used per second in the United States, and of those bottles, more than 80 percent end up in landfills each year. Even worse:plastic bottles do not break down naturally, and when they do decompose, they release toxic chemicals. Our efforts to stay healthy and hydrated are actually hurting the planet, which is more than a little ironic.

So what to do? First of all, let’s get our kids interested in reuse and recycling. Here are some interesting ways to reuse your plastic bottles while teaching valuable lessons about the environment:

  • Cherry blossom paint stamp: Here’s an interesting little craft project – use brown paint to freehand branches, and then dip the bottom of your plastic bottle in pink paint to create a cherry blossom stamp. Try mixing it up with different colors to make a unique design. Your children will be miniature Monets in no time.
  • Bird feeder: Take a knife and poke two parallel holes in a bottle. The holes should be large enough to fit a pencil, a pair of chopsticks or a wooden spoon to serve as a perch for the birds. Then, poke small holes above each perch so birds can feed from the bottle. Fill the feeder with bird food, screw on the cap and hang it in your yard.
  • Work bench organizer: Cut the top of a plastic bottle with a knife to your wanted height (you should do this, not your children). Use scissors to trim the bottle evenly and then place the bottle on a steam iron to smooth out any sharp edges. Use these containers to hold nuts and bolts, screws, nails and other small items.

Recycling it? Attach a pair of hooks to a wall in your garage and hang a sturdy bag. Not only will the bag keep them from rolling around your floor, but it’s the perfect way to transport them when you’re ready to cash in on your container deposit. Remember to thoroughly rinse bottles after use, or you may have to contend with unpleasant odors or insect visits.

Plastic bags

Many of us don’t think twice before accepting plastic bags when we do our weekly grocery shopping. ecent studies have shown how damaging these bags can be to the environment — so dangerous, in fact, that governments in Hawaii, China, Toronto and Rwanda have placed bans on plastic bag usage.

These bags can be reused, however. Here are some of the more creative ideas we found:

  • Paint tray liner: Skip the trip to the home improvement store for disposable plastic paint trays by replacing them with your bags. This also makes cleanup much easier – just remove the bag and toss it. That’s far preferable to an extended session with turpentine or other paint removers.
  • Stuffing: Use a ton of plastic bags to stuff items with a heavy fabric lining, like pet beds and decorative throw pillows.
  • Protective wrapping: Moving? Placing items in self storage? Protect breakable items by wrapping them in plastic bags and filling any open spaces with more bags to keep them from moving around and breaking, chipping or scratching.

Recycling it? You know those reusable bags that are popping up all over your favorite stores? Keep one in your house and fill it with all of your plastic bags. When it’s full, donate it. Many places like libraries, food pantries, thrift shops and other organizations are more than willing to accept gently used plastic bags.

Glass bottles

Glass containers used for food and beverages are 100 percent recyclable and can be used over and over again without losing quality or purity.

Feeling crafty? In addition to recycling your glass bottles, you can make your own:

  • Soap dispenser: Take those twist-top glass bottles and screw on a pump (most bottles will fit a standard size pump), creating your own custom soap dispenser.
  • Boot storage: If you have tall boots that tend to tip over, put wine bottles in them to keep them upright and free of wrinkles.
  • Chalkboard bottles: Cover empty bottles of various sizes in chalk paint and use them to put personalized inspirational or motivational messages on display around your home.

Recycling it? No room to hide your extra glass bottles in the garage? Purchase a wicker laundry basket with a lid, place a garbage can (or a few) inside, and use it to keep your recyclables out of sight.

Plastic containers


Milk, ketchup, peanut butter, vinegar — you name it — a pretty good chunk of the things we purchase regularly are packaged in plastic containers. The bad news: enough plastic is thrown away each year to circle the Earth four times. To break the cycle, consider these ways to reuse your plastic containers:

  • Pancake batter: Empty (and clean out!) a ketchup bottle, fill it with batter and use it to pour out the ultimate mess-free pancakes every time.
  • Water plants: Take your plastic drink container, poke holes in the lid and and repurpose it as a mobile watering can to nourish your plants both inside and outside of the house.
  • Scoop: Cut out the bottom and part of the size of a plastic milk jug and use it to scoop up kitty litter, rock salt, soil and more.
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Recycling it? Keep your plastic containers out of the way is by hanging plastic bins from a pegboard in the garage. Label each bin so your family can easily sort their recyclables, cutting down on your work when you bring them to the proper recycling facility.

Egg cartons

The U.S. produces about 75 billion eggs a year (and that’s only 10 percent of the world’s total supply!) Where most of those egg cartons end up?  One guess: it rhymes with “band pill.”

Give these solutions a shot instead of tossing your egg cartons blissfully into the trash:

  • Paint palette: Pour paint into each mold, keeping your colors safe from running in to each other.
  • Seed starter: Using an egg carton is a simple way to get your seeds started growing before they’re added to the garden. You can get started with only the carton, seeds and soil.
  • Chocolate-filled strawberries: Cut out the bit of your strawberries, place them in egg cartons and fill them with chocolate. The coves will keep the strawberries upright, allowing them to dry and harden. Heading to a party? They’re already in a to-go container!

Recycling it? If your community does not recycle foam cartons, most carton manufacturers, such as Eggland’s Best, will accept them by mail. Keep them in cardboard boxes and ship them away when they’re full.

Glass jars

Glass jars’ sturdy and functional structure make them easy objects to upcycle around the home. Impress your guests (and take a load off of the environment) with these jar ideas:

  • Picture frame: Measure the height of your jar, and if necessary, trim your photo to meet that number. Slightly roll the photo and slip it into the jar upside down, using a pen or your finger to slide it into place. Flip the jar around and put your pictures on display.
  • Paint canister: Pour a few ounces of paint into jars to quickly cover up the inevitable scuffs, scratches and nail holes that can show up around the house.
  • Homemade candles: With only a jar, candle wick and simple DIY wax, you can make your own candles to give away as gifts or adorn around the house.

Recycling it? Afraid your recycled jars will leak in storage? No matter how hard to try to wash everything out, there is always that one culprit that sneaks by. Make your life easier by using plastic liners inside of your containers (another great way to reuse your plastic bags!).

Tin cans

Like glass, aluminum cans are 100 percent recyclable and are always reusable. By recycling cans, you can save 74 percent of the energy it takes to produce them. You can also make:

  • DIY vases: Use spray paint, lace or wallpaper to decorate cans, then fill with flowers and arrange them to create your own centerpiece for everyday use or themed parties.
  • Jack-o’-lanterns: Use a hammer and a nail to create holes in your can, creating any face you choose. Then, spray paint the cans, add in a candle or light and watch them glow. You can use this craft all year round by using different patterns and paint colors.
  • Craft organizer: Leave cans plain or decorate them and attach them to a board leaned against the wall, taking your storage vertical. Fill each one with colored pencils, markers, glitter glue and more to keep supplies organized and out of the way.

Recycling it? Most recycling centers accept these cans, so store them in one of the hanging bins we mentioned above.

Cardboard

Before you toss those cereal, mashed potato or tissue boxes, take a look at these easy ways you can reuse the durable cardboard:

  • Gift tags: Cut rectangles out of your cereal box and wrap them in fabric or decorative paper, using a hole punch to slide in ribbon.
  • Stencil: Trace your desired design on the box and cut it out, giving you a sturdy stencil to use over and over again.
  • Bookmark: Like a gift tag, you can cut out any shape you want and decorate it with paper or fabric, or you can cut out two identical pieces and glue them together to show off your DIY idea.

Recycling it? Because of its breakdown structure, cardboard is one of the easiest things to hold on to for recycling. Find a bin that’ll fit the diameter of most of your boxes, so your items won’t bunch and take up unnecessary space.

Make space for your recyclables

If a lack of space keeps you from recycling, it’s time for a change. Start by sorting through what you can give away, what you can recycled and what you want to hold on to.

Remember not to let your new recycles clutter your home, either. Check out the United States Environmental Protection Agency to learn more about what you can and can’t recycle, and give your local government a call to find recycling facility locations in your city.

If you still need somewhere to keep the items you aren’t ready to get rid of, give storage units a try. Life Storage has a variety of units available to meet your specific needs. Check out our website for a look at storage unit estimator.

What are some of the best ways you recycle? Let us know in the comment section or tweet us at @LifeStorage.

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About the Author

Grace Gerass

I love to share all sorts of DIY and home decor tips with my readers here at the Life Storage blog.

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