When you think about reducing, reusing, and recycling packaging, it’s often the reducing and recycling that get the most attention. Plastic-free packaging movements are becoming more commonplace, and packaging is increasingly both easier to recycle and more frequently made from recycled materials in the first place.
These are both great developments in sustainability, but between our growing online shopping habit and continued reliance on single-use packaging in the grocery store, we are still awash in a sea of packaging that often ends up in the landfill. We’re here with some tips – some practical, some fun – on how to creatively reuse some of that packaging and round out the famous three Rs.
Top Ways to Reuse Packaging Materials
Art it Up
UPPERCASE Magazine started shipping out their magazines in recycled kraft mailers to get away from using plastic poly bags. But how in the world are you supposed to reuse a kraft mailer?
To showcase this environmentally-friendly change they made, UPPERCASE asked their crafty customers to reuse the packaging, encouraging them to use it in their art and post it on Instagram.
To their delight, several customers actually did just that, pioneering the medium of kraft mailer art! Now, we don’t expect everyone to cross-stitch every kraft mailer you receive, but if you have kids, or feel like doodling yourself, why not use the already recycled surface of a kraft mailer as your canvas?
Reuse it for Shipping
Now for a more practical tip on ways to reuse packaging materials: shipping boxes and mailers, unless they’ve been destroyed in transit, can be used to ship stuff again. We all do so much shipping and online shopping these days that we have boxes lying around all the time. Try reusing them again! Just make sure to cover up the old shipping label, or you’ll have some very confused delivery workers.
Note: This doesn’t just apply to private consumers. We actually do this in our own warehouse. When we receive things like office or equipment supplies, we consider these “reusable boxes” and use them to ship out appropriately sized orders.
Create Coloring Books
This one takes a little more foresight on the part of the shipper, but with the right custom packaging, your box can become a coloring book. Deconstruct and flatten the box before coloring, creating larger panels that are just begging for kids to get their crayons and markers on them. Check out this amazing example of coloring book packaging:
For a more “adult” take (who doesn’t like coloring every once in a while?), leave a blank space and encourage your customers to draw what the rest of the packaging inspires in them. Have them hashtag it on social media to keep the conversation going!
Weave Goodbye to Bulky, Expensive Looms
Is your industrial loom taking up too much space in the living room? For the super-crafters out there, you can actually turn your unused corrugated cardboard into a functioning loom. Making your own textiles while also reusing packaging? It doesn’t get much more eco-friendly than that! Wow your friends with your medieval crafting skills and weave on with cardboard corrugate.
Make a Cardboard Box Guitar
This one speaks for itself. You probably have all the materials lying around already! Your kids will love jamming on these sturdy faux guitars, and you don’t have to deal with the volume of an actual guitar.
Stop Weeds in Their Tracks
We recommend nonprinted boxes for this (ink isn’t always the best for the environment). Take out all of the labels, tape and, adhesive. Deconstruct the box and then lay the corrugated sheets flat at the bottom of your raised beds or 1-2 feet below your healthy soil to drastically cut down on weeds without laying out a bunch of plastic. Less fun than a cardboard guitar, but there’s probably still enough cardboard to do that, too. More detailed instructions on this crafty way to reuse packaging materials here!
Remember that loom you made earlier? If you don’t have any yarn on hand to start weaving, might we introduce you to “plarn?” Plarn is simply yarn made from plastic bags, another type of packaging material that can really pile up around the house. Plarn isn’t just for fun – a Utah student is using it to help people experiencing homelessness by weaving them into life-saving sleeping mats. Crafts can save the world.
Create Custom Postcards
You know those rigid mailers sometimes used to mail photographs or important documents? Get a ruler, cut them to your desired size, and turn them into postcards with your own original art. What better way to keep in touch with a relative than with a hand-drawn postcard? Sketch your surroundings and send it to a friend, or just leave the front blank to keep them guessing.
Less Tupperware, More Sauce Jars
I have stopped buying Tupperware and drinkware. Instead, I use spaghetti sauce jars which are free and easy to clean. Use these jars to give away treats and homemade soups! Or use them to make candles, store change, and as a substitute vase. My house is covered sauce jars; send help!
Turn It Into a Pot or Planter
Egg cartons make great planters for seeds; coffee and tea canisters make great pots; and yes, you can even use sauce jars! Pasta alla succulent. Just be sure to wash the container out thoroughly before adding the plant – they don’t tend to like human food.
There is a myriad of ways to reuse packaging not mentioned here, so don’t be afraid to get creative! If you can’t come up with a way to reuse it, and your house is getting filled with old packaging, make a trip to your local recycling center. When it comes to packaging, reducing, reusing, and recycling has never been more important. Just because excessive waste is a serious problem, that doesn’t mean reusing can’t be fun!