Upcycling Plastic Waste
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20 DIY Ideas for Upcycling Plastic Waste at Home

Plastic bottles and bags are usually single-use items; people use and dispose of them without little or no thought of recycling. Plastics are rapidly expanding as a section of municipal solid waste. It is a fact that plastic is not great for the environment; therefore, reducing how much plastic we consume is necessary. In this article, you’ll find 20 ideas for upcycling plastic waste at home.

Upcycling is a form of recycling, and it involves creating something new and better from a waste product. It differs from recycling because it gives a waste product new life rather than turning it into new material. Upcycling plastic can be fun to do, and you can make items for everyday use or decorative use.

Related: 10 Best Upcycled Clothing Brands Turning Old Into New and check out our tips for upcycling clothes yourself and DIY

Why you should upcycle plastic waste

Can you keep track of how much single-use plastic you throw away each day? The number of plastic-based consumer products we use in our everyday life is enormous. Globally, we purchase about 1 million plastic bottles every minute and 5 trillion plastic bags yearly. Plastic production is a large sector of the economy.

Plastic bags and bottles are super convenient ways to carry stuff around. They are cheap and readily available; therefore, it is the easiest choice of packaging for companies and individuals. This makes living plastic-free difficult for people who desire to live eco-friendly lifestyles. A 2018 research study established that the containers and packaging industry produced 14.5 million tons of plastic waste.

There are different types of plastic waste, but polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is the most used. We use this particular polymer to produce soda bottles, shampoo bottles, bags, trays, textile fibers, garden hoses, and tires.

PET is notable for its strength and versatility. Even the construction industry finds a use for PET1. Researchers estimate that we’ve manufactured over 8.3 billion tonnes of plastic since 1950. Around 60% of that amount is now trash.

Better for the Environment

Plastic has a lot of environmental issues. It is made using chemicals from fossil fuel, which is a non-renewable natural resource. This means that one day we may run out of fossil fuel. Research has also shown that plastic is a significant player in the pollution of large water bodies like oceans and rivers.

Each year, 8 million tonnes of plastic end up in the oceans. These create eyesores like the Pacific garbage patch. Apart from entangling sea creatures or choking them to death, research has shown that plastic breaks down into microplastics that attract dangerous toxins.

Scientists have found that fish and birds swallow these microplastics, which affects growth and reproduction and blocks their digestive tracts. A lot of these animals starve to death. Humans also ingest these microplastics when they eat fish or drink tap water from specific sources.

Dealing with plastic waste is a daunting task, and despite the best efforts of governments and organizations, our plastic consumption is still a problem. Of all the plastic waste ever produced, only 9% has been recycled, about 12% has been burnt, and 79% remains in landfills.

China was once the highest importer of plastic waste, but in 2018, the Chinese government placed a ban on importation. They cited the negative impact on the environment as one of the significant reasons. China’s new policy may result in a displacement of 111 million metric tons of plastic by 2030. This dire forecast should inspire other nations and individuals to consume less plastic and recycle plastic more. Presently, the world generates about 300 million tons of plastic waste every year.

Further Reading: What Happens to Our Plastic Waste?

Upcycle for less plastic waste

The advantages of plastic upcycling are worth the time put into the project. One reason to make it a habit is its benefit to the environment. When you transform an item destined for the trashcan into something new and useful, you reduce your contribution to landfills and play a role in the circular economy.

If you recycle plastic, you reduce the need to buy new products, which encourages slow consumption, leading to slow production. Slower production lessens the pressures on our natural resources and could help reduce the amount of greenhouse gas emissions associated with plastic production. Upcycling also enables you to save money that you might otherwise spend on new products.

While we can’t recycle some plastic products using current technology, upcycling can find a good use for them. It is just a matter of getting creative, and you don’t even need complex tools or machines to upcycle.

Further Reading: Importance of 4Rs – Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

20 DIY projects to upcycle plastic waste

Plastic is durable and readily available today. Upcycling plastic waste can help you take advantage of those qualities. The list below contains some DIY projects you can attempt at home. One or more of the projects will require that you watch a video demonstration for safety and a proper understanding of all the steps involved.

1. Bubble wrap painting

In many new product packs, you will find bubble wrap used as a protective covering. If you do a lot of shopping, you will most likely find that you have more bubble wraps than products. If you enjoy art and crafts like painting, bubble wrap can come in handy to make it easier and more fun.

To make a forest painting like the one in the picture needs just three steps. First, cut the wrap into circles of different sizes. The various sizes will create perspective or depth. Then apply paint on the wrap and press it against your picture.

2. Bubble wrap jewelry

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A post shared by Angela Smith Bead Jewellery (@pearlysmith)

With a pressing iron, bubble wrap sheets, and some tools, you can create crafty jewelry from bubble wrap beads. Bubble wrap necklaces, bangles, and earrings make great costume accessories.

Related: Is Bubble Wrap Recyclable?

3. Plastic bottle bin

How about instead of buying a new wastebasket, you simply make a basket out of the waste the next time you need one? You can create colorful DIY baskets out of bottle caps or the bottles themselves.

4. Plastic bottle planters

Whether you prefer indoor or outdoor gardening, plastic bottles can save you the cost of buying planters. There are many creative ways to use plastic bottles as DIY planters. You just have to find one that works for you. Apart from the plastic bottle, you can upcycle other types of plastic containers as planters.

5. Ping pong ball game from plastic cups

Have fun with friends and care for the environment at the same time with this fun ping pong game. All you need is four plastic cups, some glue, and a cardboard or wooden frame.

6. Garden beds

Soda bottles come in various colors, making them the ideal material for building a colorful garden bed—no need to spend money on garden bed demarcations. Plastic bottles can do the job.

7. Icicles decorations

You can upcycle plastic bottles to create DIY decorations for the festive seasons. A clear plastic bottle is great for this project.

8. Plastic jewelry stand

The next plastic bottle you buy could help you keep those trinkets and jewelry that you value safe. Create an upcycled jewelry organizer using plastic bottles.

9. Holders

You can use shampoo bottles, plastic water bottles, milk gallons, and other plastic containers as holders for stationeries, soap, sponges, and lots of other small items.

Related: Advantages & disadvantages glass milk bottles

10. Bird feeder


Make DIY bird feeders out of a ketchup bottle or a soda bottle.

Like this one? You might also like our DIY bird bath ideas!

11. Plastic flowers

12. Plastic bottle cap art

Get creative with bottle caps. They come in different colors and sizes and are great for creating colorful mosaics. All you need is some glue, a board, and lots of bottle caps. This craft is safe for kids, so it provides a fun opportunity to educate your children.

13. Candy wrapper tote


Having a sweet tooth can mean that you accumulate a lot of candy wrappers. Candy wrappers are small and colourful. Turning them into a DIY tote bag gives you something pretty unique to carry around.

14. Straw baskets and coasters


Don't toss your straw into the trash anymore. You can weave them into coasters and baskets.

15. Plastic bag yarn

Cut your old, torn plastic bags into strips. You can use the strips as yarn to weave or knit rugs, bags, baskets, etc.

16. Fused plastic tote


Polythene bags are the most common type of plastic bags we use daily. They are usually flimsy and tear easily. This makes it difficult to use them multiple times. However, fusing the waste bags can give a more robust tote bag that you can use for a very long time.

17. Milkcrate shelves


Make a bookshelf or a stand for your knick-knacks with old plastic milk crates. You may require some help with this project if you do not know how to use drilling tools.

18. CD coasters

19. CD mosaic


Add some sparkle to your picture frames or mirror with broken pieces of old CDs.

20. Beer crate shoe storage


With some cleaning and painting, you can turn your old beer crates into shoe shelves. The crate shoe case can also double as a low stool.

Conclusion

Upcycling plastic is a creative and fun way to play your part in protecting the planet. You can save money, reduce the amount of plastic you consume, and send it to the landfill. Instead of trashing the next plastic bottle or bag you get, upcycle it.

1(2007) Polyethylene terephthalate (PET, polyethylene glycol terephthalate). In: Gooch J.W. (eds) Encyclopedic Dictionary of Polymers. Springer, New York, NY. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-0-387-30160-0_8932

Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.

Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.

Main photo by Nareeta Martin on Unsplash
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