42 Crafts and Activities That Utilize Upcycled Materials
Earth Day is fast approaching (April 22), though there really is never a bad time to celebrate Mother Earth. It’s important to teach students the environmental benefits of recycling, like conserving energy and natural resources and reducing air and water pollution, all year long. While recycling breaks down old items in order to create something new, upcyling makes something new from an existing object in its current state. Challenge your students to create something unique and wonderful from preexisting items like magazines, plastic water bottles, tin cans, egg cartons, and more. Check out our list of the best upcycled crafts for Earth Day or any day, and give some of them a try!
1. Make wildflower seed bombs.
Give back to Mother Earth with these easy-to-make seed bombs. Blend together used scraps of construction paper, water, and wildflower seeds in a food processor, then form them into tiny muffins. Let them dry, then toss them in the ground. As the seed bombs receive sun and rain, the paper will eventually compost and the seeds will germinate.
2. Create nature wreaths.
Take your kids on a nature walk to gather interesting leaves, flowers, berries, etc. To make the wreath forms, braid together strips of old T-shirts and form them into a circle. Then attach natural items into the crevices and secure with clear fishing line or hot glue. Attach a ribbon at the top to hang your wreath.
3. Construct a bug hotel.
Create a cozy place for all the creepy-crawlies to hang out. Cut a two-liter plastic bottle into two cylinders, then stuff it with sticks, pine cones, bark, or any other natural material. Make sure to pack the organic material tightly. Then loop a piece of twine or yarn around the two cylinders and hang your bug hotel from a tree branch or fence.
Learn more: Red Ted Art
4. Make a quilt.
Textiles make up a huge portion of municipal solid waste—over 16 million tons per year. Teach your kids to repurpose old material that would otherwise end up in the landfill by putting together a cozy quilt.
Learn more: Teach Student Savvy
5. Use magazines to create a bowl.
We love Earth Day crafts that result in a practical object you can use around the house. This project is best for older students who have the patience and dexterity necessary to carefully roll their magazine strips and glue them together.
Learn more: DIY Joy
6. Create Earth moss balls.
Pay tribute to our lovely planet on Earth Day with these fuzzy moss balls. Kids who love getting their hands dirty will particularly love this craft. All you do is squish pre-soaked sphagnum moss into a tight ball, wrap it tightly with blue yarn or strips of discarded T-shirts, layer more moss and more yarn, etc., until you’ve created an Earth-shaped orb. Finish with a loop of yarn and hang it in a sunny window. To keep your moss ball healthy, simply spray it with water every couple of days.
Learn more: Mother Natured
7. Create a hanging garden.
Large plastic bottles become beautiful hanging planters in this green-living and green-thumb project. A great way to make a gorgeous hanging garden.
8. Upcycle trash into flower art.
Scraps of paper are the only supplies you need for this recycled-flower-garden activity and lesson. The measurement and math element is an added bonus.
9. “Grow” an egg carton tree.
Save those egg cartons! This simple project only requires a few supplies to make a recycled egg carton tree.
Learn more: Glued to My Crafts
10. Create binoculars using paper towel rolls.
Save those paper rolls so your class can customize their own binoculars! Have a variety of paints, stickers, etc., on hand so your students can really personalize their bird watchers!
Learn more: Today’s Parent
11. Create your own flexible seating.
One of our favorite Earth Day crafts has to be upcycling tires into comfy seating for our reading nook.
Learn more: Hanging With Mrs. Hulsey
12. Fashion a pop-top bracelet.
Aluminum beverage pop tops become wearable jewelry thanks to some ribbon ninja work. Put this video onto your interactive whiteboard to give your students the full 411, and then get crafting!
13. Chime the wind.
Go outside for a nature walk and gather sticks, weeds, and pickable blooms, then bring the treasures inside to be showcased in recycled jar lids. With some wax paper and string, your students can craft this surprisingly beautiful recycled wind chime.
Learn more: Hands On as We Grow
14. Paint paper bags.
Brown paper bags become eco-canvases for artwork and a perfect way to adorn fridges for Earth Day. Bonus points if you can source handled bags, because the handles serve as built-in artwork hangers.
Learn more: Small for Big
15. Make a recycled city.
Create an adorable village using little more than paper rolls, paper, scissors, paint, glue or tape, and your imagination!
Learn more: Today’s Parent
16. Create pebble art.
Take students outside to collect small rocks and pebbles. Have them arrange the rocks into a creative pattern of their choice. Get creative, and try for as many different designs as you can! Once you’re finished, simply leave the rocks where you found them.
17. Use old crayons to make new ones.
This isn’t just any recycled crayon. It’s a gorgeous Earth crayon! You can make these with your kids using a muffin tin. You just need to sort out the right colors.
Learn more: The Gunny Sack
18. Use upcycled objects to make mazes.
STEM and recycling go together wonderfully! This idea is a great way to challenge kids to make mazes or something else entirely.
Learn more: Hello, Wonderful
19. Make a rope snake.
Recycling projects that use objects you may have laying around your garage or shed are some of our favorites! Grab that old rope you’ve been saving and create these adorable rope worms/snakes with your students.
Learn more: Make Film Play
20. Feed the birds.
Herald spring with this easy crowd-pleaser: the large plastic bottle bird feeder. This short video will teach kids how to get started constructing their feeders.
21. Get organized with old cans.
Tin cans are easy to get your hands on, and they can go a long way in organizing supplies. Get your kids involved by having them help decorate the cans. They’ll really take ownership of this, which will hopefully help them want to keep supplies more organized.
Learn more: Sandy Toes and Popsicles
22. Make papier-mâché pots.
Cut off the bottoms of beverage bottles or reuse food containers and jazz them up with bright-colored paper scraps. Except for the glue, these papier-mâché planters are composed solely of recycled materials.
Learn more: Childhood 101
23. Make a necklace out of junk.
Earth Day art that is wearable is a bonus! Use found objects or some string to create these unique necklaces.
Learn more: The Awesome Childhood Project
24. Make chair fidgets out of old tees.
Give old T-shirts new life with this craft by making chair fidgets. This uses a simple braiding technique, and your kids will love helping out.
25. Collaborate on an aluminum can recycling bin.
Kids can work together to create an aluminum-can recycling center. Watch the video above to get the simple instructions and learn how your school can make recycling fun and rewarding.
26. Create tin can robots.
Recycling projects like these are the best since kids love robots. Be sure to have an extra pair of adult hands around to help with the hot glue.
Learn more: Creative Jewish Mom
27. Fashion fairy houses.
Are these the sweetest Earth Day crafts ever? Plastic bottles from home become homes for fairies, thanks to paint, scissors, glue, and real or faux greenery.
Learn more: Crafts by Amanda
28. Create a giant upcycled art wall.
This is an amazing recycled wall masterpiece. You could set it up on a cardboard backing and then let students add to it, paint it, and create with it whenever they have free time throughout the day.
Learn more: Art Bar Blog
29. Make your own games.
Use bottle caps in a game of tic-tac-toe. They can also be turned into checkers. This would be a great makerspace activity. Give your kids several upcycled items and challenge them to create games!
Source: Reuse Grow Enjoy
30. Make a treasure magnet.
These treasure magnets are just so beautiful! Recycle a bottle cap and glue a variety of gemstones and beads inside. Finally, add a magnet to the back.
Learn more: Hattifant
31. Turn old magazines into art.
We love how this upcycled magazine cut-paper art project can be modified for primary students or used to inspire sophisticated art by high school students.
Learn more: Suzy’s Artsy Craftsy Sitcom
32. Build beautiful terrariums.
A bottle gets a second life as a museum-worthy terrarium as well as a home for an environmental science project. Be sure to add the activated charcoal and moss for plastic bottle terrariums that flourish.
Learn more: Adirondack Girl at Heart
33. Paint with corks.
This is the perfect kind of Earth Day art since you use recycled material (corks) to paint your favorite scene from nature.
Learn more: 30 Seconds
34. Set up a self-watering planter.
Your classroom studies of plant life, photosynthesis, and water conservation will get a boost with this hands-on crafting of a self-watering planter. The base? A good ol’ large plastic bottle.
Learn more: ehow
35. Form flowers from water bottles.
Upcycled water bottle flowers are an easy craft that can be sourced directly from your recycling bin, with the help of some paint.
36. Build cardboard castles.
Gather all your recyclables and put those tiny engineers to work. You’ll be amazed by what they create!
Learn more: Fun-a-Day
37. Make these newspaper owls.
Old newspapers find their spirit animal when they become recycled newspaper owls. All you need are markers, watercolors, and paper scraps to make them come alive.
Learn more: I Heart Crafty Things
38. Construct a plastic bottle recycling bin.
Water bottles come together, as do your kids, to make this water bottle recycling center. This project combines teamwork with respect for our environment, a double win.
39. Create genius ideas out of cardboard.
Cardboard is one of the easiest, least expensive materials you can get your hands on. Grab a ton of it and challenge your kids to make awesome creations. You never know what they might come up with.
40. Make an instrument.
There are no limits to the recycling projects you can create using paper rolls. We especially love that this DIY instrument will teach kids about vibrations and sound.
Learn more: No Time for Flash Cards
41. Create a spinning top.
Do you have a bunch of CDs lying around that never get played anymore? How about a box or drawer of markers that barely write? If you answered yes to these questions, then this is the perfect project for you.
Learn more: Artsy Momma
42. Fashion lady bugs from bottle caps.
These little ladybugs are so cute and yet so, so simple. Grab some bottle caps, paint, googly eyes, and glue and get ready to make some adorable friends!
Learn more: Love and Lollipops
Love spending time outside? Try these 50 Fun Outdoor Science Activities.
What are your favorite Earth Day crafts? Share in the comments below!
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