See all tips to
GreenYour Gardening

Use recycled materials in the garden

This feature is only available to GreenYour members. Please sign-up.

Many common household items can be re-purposed for functional and decorative use in the garden. Before you head to the mall, garden center, or local hardware store, why not get creative and look for unused items that can find new life in the garden?

How to use recycled materials in the garden

Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Make planters out of recycled objects. Old wheelbarrows, wooden barrels, olive oil or coffee cans, leaky watering cans, rubber boots, and toys are just a few options. See the Crafty Gardener for other ideas to spark your creativity.
  • Build birdhouses from recycled lumber, gourds, or household cast-offs. Birds & Blooms has instructions for cute birdhouses made from coffee cans, gourds, and a single board.
  • Create "garden bling" from found objects. Trash-to-treasure project ideas from the Crafty Gardener include rock houses and buildings, "tipsy pots," a toad abode, and mosaic stepping stones.
  • Use recycled brick for paths or edging. Check with house renovators, craigslist, or Freecycle for unwanted bricks. See an instructional video from the DIY Network on how to install brick edging. Watch a video from This Old House on how to make a brick walkway.
  • Use an old rural mailbox or newspaper box to keep garden tools handy. Attach to a metal or wooden post near the garden to store small garden tools and keep them dry.
  • Hang shiny, reflective objects in your garden to scare away birds and animals. Sunlight flashing off old CDs, aluminum pie plates, or juice can lids as they move in the wind keeps pesky varmints from eating your garden vegetables.
  • Use a clean, recycled, food-grade barrel to collect rainwater. Recycle an inexpensive wooden, metal, or food-grade plastic barrel and make your own rain barrel. Sources include local producers of beverages, distilled liquors, or fermented products, such as wine, soft drinks, juices, pickles, olive oil, and whiskey.
  • Use recycled wine bottles for container watering. Bury a water-filled gallon or half-gallon wine bottle upside down with a perforated lid next to a large plant such as a squash or pumpkin for an inexpensive, effective watering system.
  • Make homemade cloches or hotcaps from plastic soda bottles or milk jugs. Make a mini-greenhouse or frost-protective covering from a 2-liter soda bottle or a 1-gallon opaque plastic milk jug. Just soak off the label and cut out the bottom. Cut the top off the handle of the milk jug and insert a stick to keep it from blowing away.[1]
  • Make row covers out of clear scrap plastic. Heavy plastic such as that used to cover new furniture or mattresses is best. Attach the plastic to a frame made from bent PVC pipe, bamboo, or wire mesh sunk into the ground to anchor it.[1]
  • Build cold frames out of old wooden storm windows. These can often be found on Freecycle or craigslist. See instructions in the Countryside & Small Stock Journal on how to make a cold frame from an old storm window and scrap lumber.
  • Make your own row markers. Cut plastic strips (rounded on one end, pointed on the other) from the flat sides of plastic milk jugs, tofu containers, or other recycled plastic. Wooden Popsicle sticks can also be used. Mark with an indelible marker.

Recycled materials to avoid

Here are a few items you shouldn't recycle for use in the garden:[2]

  • Don't use a barrel that contained any form of petroleum, chemical, or toxin to make a rain barrel.
  • Avoid old railroad ties, which are treated with creosote.
  • Don't use landscape timbers or wood products that contain lead paint or that have been treated with chemical preservatives.
  • Avoid using old tires, which can leach chemicals.

Find it! Recycled material for the garden

Good websites to look for recycled garden materials include:

  • Freecycle - Find a Freecycle forum near you.
  • Craigslist - Find a local Craigslist and check the “free” listings under “for sale.”

Check out books that offer frugal, eco-friendly ideas on how to use recycled materials in the home and garden.

Using recycled materials in the garden helps you go green because…

  • It keeps materials out of landfills.
  • It prevents the use of electricity, water, oil, and other resources needed to manufacture new products.
  • It prevents air pollution resulting from transporting new products.

Reusing objects is the second-most sustainable approach to solid waste management (next to reducing waste).[3] Reusing items is more sustainable than recycling them or otherwise getting rid of them, since the items don't require energy or other resources to collect, transport, and sort them, and then either process them into their individual recyclable components, incinerate them, or put them in a landfill. Reusing items has the added indirect environmental benefit of conserving the energy and other resources needed to manufacture a new product.


  • cloche: A glass or clear plastic cover, often bell-shaped, placed over a plant to protect it from frost.
  • cold frame: An unheated outdoor structure, with a frame usually made of wood and a glass or clear plastic top. Used to protect and acclimate seedlings and plants.
  • hot cap: A plastic or paper bag, or small tent-like structure, placed over plants to protect them from frost.
  • rain barrel: A barrel used as a cistern to hold rainwater.

External links


  1. Hart, Rhonda Massingham (1995). Dirt Cheap Gardening. North Adams, Massachusetts: Storey Publishing: 127
  2. Hart, Rhonda Massingham (1995). Dirt Cheap Gardening. North Adams, Massachusetts: Storey Publishing: 120
  3. US Environmental Protection Agency - Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle