Even young children can learn about the importance of reducing waste. One way is by upcycling—making something new out of something old, instead of recycling it or throwing it away. Try one of these simple projects (first check items for sharp edges and small parts that may be choking hazards):


  • Stack boxes of any size to build a tall tower 
  • Use markers, scissors, and tape to turn big boxes into boats, cars, houses, or rocket ships (or recycling bins!) 
  • Decorate small boxes to create treasure chests 
  • Create musical instruments by putting rice, marbles, dried beans, or beads into oatmeal or other cylinder cardboard containers (use strong tape as a seal to avoid choking hazards) 
  • Cut apart the front panels of cereal boxes to create simple puzzles  
  • Cut an egg carton the long way and use paint to turn it into a caterpillar 

Plastic bottles 

  • Fill with water and play rolling games 
  • Use as bath toys 

Plastic tops and lids 

  • Play frisbee with large lids 
  • Use markers to draw faces showing different feelings and act out stories with the different characters


  • Create your own butter churn: fill small glass jars with heavy cream and invite children to shake, shake, shake to make their own butter 
  • Paint or cover with paper to use as pencil jars  
  • Store clay or dough 
  • Create an “ocean jar”: fill with one-third water, several drops of blue food coloring, and a dash of oil, then shake it to see bubbles appear 

Wrapping & Packing Material 

  • Print with bubble wrap: spread paint on a paper plate, press the bubble wrap onto it, remove and print onto blank paper  
  • After a party in which gifts have been opened, crumple wrapping and tissue paper and stuff them into paper bags for toddlers to pack and unpack