Crafting from Trash: Low-Cost and Zero-Waste Programs

The average American throws away more than four pounds of garbage each day. That's a lot of pill bottles and pickle jars that could end up in a landfill.

But thanks to a partnership with our local waste prevention program, North Olympic Library System gave new life to cast-off trash and got people thinking about how they can reduce waste.

In late 2017, I connected with Megan Davis, Clallam County's waste reduction coordinator, whose job, in part, is to offer outreach and educational activities on waste reduction throughout our community. We partnered for our first zero-waste holiday craft program in December 2017, and the program grew from there. Our series focuses on repurposing materials that are tough to recycle and frequently end up in landfills.

Our first few programs attracted more than 175 participants at our four branches. Though most were designed with adults in mind, they have drawn participants from ages 0 to 90, including teens, dads, moms, kids and grandparents.

Below is a sampling of some of the activities we have offered. 


three woman pose with potted plants

Glass jar terrariums

Re-purpose clear, open-top glass containers (e.g., spaghetti sauce, pickles, canning jars) by turning them into terrariums. 

  • Lay down a layer of small rocks: Fill the bottom of the vessel with a 1.5-inch layer of small rocks to collect water drainage.
  • Add sheet moss: Soak dried sphagnum or sheet moss in water for a few seconds and squeeze out any excess liquid. Place the slightly damp moss onto the rocks, making sure it fills the entire surface area.
  • Plant: Fill the jar with soil and plant your succulent.
  • Decorate: Use book pages, stamps, ribbon, paper punches and more to decorate your jar. 


four girls pose in front of backdrop

Trashy fashion

Turn your old clothing, costumes and other "trash" into new, wearable art.

  • Prep: Gather old clothing and accessories. For supplies, see what you can get donated (bondable interface) or borrow (sewing machines, hot glue guns).
  • Design and create: Have attendees plan out their fashion pieces on paper or digitally and then cut, sew or glue to create their pieces.
  • Share: Finish the event with an impromptu fashion show or have attendees gift their creations.



pile of empty orange pill bottles

Pill bottle crafts

These little beauties can be used to create a range of useful items, including:

  • Travel-sized sewing kits: Buy sewing supplies (e.g., needles, safety pins, buttons, thread) in bulk (or get them donated) and have patrons assemble their own sewing kits.
  • Miniature first aid kits: Patrons can make a perfect travel-sized first aid kit by filling a pill bottle with Band-Aids, tweezers, alcohol pads, antibiotic ointment packs and more. 
  • Hide-a-keys: Pill containers are weatherproof, so they're perfect for hiding a key.
  • Rainbow crayons: Melt broken crayons into a pill box to make an awesome new rainbow crayon.


people at table making crafts

Artist trading cards

Create mini works of art to share, trade and display.

  • Prep: Cut scrap paper into pieces 2.5 by 3.5 inches in size so they can fit inside a trading card-holder.
  • Gather: Any medium that can fit on the trading card will do! Use art supplies you have on hand like paints, crayons or ink, and gather fabric, ribbon, stickers, old jewelry and magazines to embellish.
  • Create: Encourage attendees to use their imagination to decorate their card(s) however they'd like.
  • Swap: Finish the event by encouraging participants to trade their cards with each other. 



close-up of earrings made with nuts and bolts

Nuts and bolts jewelry 

Gather up spare screws, washers and bolts to save money on these project ideas.

  • Washer necklaces: Paint washers and nuts and string on a chain to create a modern necklace design.
  • Nuts and bolts earrings: Hook nuts and bolts onto earring backs.
  • Windchime: Have a plethora of old rusty tools, bolts, screws and washers? Tie them all together with wire to create a rustic, functional windchime.




table with plates and utensils and "Zero-Waste Events" text

BONUS: Zero-waste party kit

Reduce your program costs even further by creating your own zero-waste party kit. Although the upfront cost of the kit can be high (we spent $50 for a kit for 15), program costs are reduced in the long term because you no longer have to purchase disposable items. Shop garage sales and thrift stores and take inventory of your own home goods to save even more.

You can use the kits for your own office meetings or events or rent them out to your community. 


For more ideas on zero-waste programs and partnerships, take a look at our REthinking Craft Time presentation, delivered at the 2018 Washington Library Association Conference, or our DIY Creativities guide.