42 Crafts and Activities That Utilize Upcycled Materials

Save the earth; make art.

Examples of upcycled Earth Day crafts including tin can robots and flexible seating made out of car tires.

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.

A wreath is shown made from gold wire and dried flowers.

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.

Green paper is wrapped around bundles of sticks and pinecones (earth day crafts)

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.


A patchwork quilt is shown (earth day crafts)

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.

Two bright bowls are made from rolled up magazine twists glued together.

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.

Text on image reads DIY Earth Day Moss Ball. Strings are attached to balls of moss that are wrapped in blue yarn to look like globes.

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.

collage flowers are made from scraps of magazines and book pages. (earth day crafts)

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.

A tree trunk is painted on white paper. The leaves are made from cut up, painted green egg carton pieces (earth day crafts)

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.

Two paper towel rolls are joined together to form binoculars. A string is attached. (earth day crafts)

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.

A tire is spray painted blue. A patterned fabric covers the cushion in the middle.

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.

recycled lid wind chime craft (earth day crafts)

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.

paper bags are decorated with paint and chalk in bright colors.

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.

Paper towel rolls and other pieces of paper are used to make brightly colored buildings and houses.

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.

Stones are laid out from largest to smallest in a swirl pattern. (earth day crafts)

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.

Crayons are melted down to form new crayons that look like the earth.

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.

A child's hands are shown holding a yellow box. There are straws and other objects laid out inside to form a maze (earth day crafts)

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.

A rope is decorated with different colored yarn wrapped around it. Googley eyes are attached to the top.

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.

Old cans are painted green, blue, and yellow and are used as holders for scissors, pencils, markers, etc.

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.

Pots are made from collages of different patterned, brightly colored papers (earth day crafts)

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.

Two necklaces are made from found objects.

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.

Two robots are constructed from tin cans and other found objects (earth day crafts)

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.

Bottles are painted and decorated to look like fairy houses. They have battery operated tea lights inside.

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.

A large display of recycled cardboard containers, etc. is shown attached to a wall. A little girl sits in front of it attaching more to it.

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.

A burlap bag has a tic tac toe grid drawn on it in permanent marker. bottle caps either have X's drawn on them or are left blank on the tic tac toe board.

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.

A bottle cap is filled with beads and gems.

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.

Recycled pieces of magazine are ripped into strips and serve as the background for a flower. The outline of the flower is on a solid black background (earth day crafts)

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 coke bottle has a terrarium planted inside it (earth day crafts)

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.

Several paintings of trees and flowers, etc. are shown. They are stamped with a cork dipped in paint.

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.

three plants are planted inside clear plastic water bottles (earth day crafts)

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.

Castles are created from different forms of cardboard.

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.

Owls are made from newspaper pieces that have been painted.

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.

A cardboard box is made to look like a television set. The center has been cut out and a little boy stands in front of it making it appear he is "on tv."

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.

A little boy is seen blowing into a flute that is made from paper rolls.

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.

CDs are painted neon colors. A marker is stuck through the hole in the middle (earth day crafts)

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.

Several bottle caps have been painted different colors and have black dots on them to look like lady bugs. They also have googley eyes.

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!

Raid your recycling bins for supplies and then try one of these eco-savvy Earth Day crafts that is sure to be a hit with students.