Expect the recycling bin to be picked over, because with just a few craft basics, kids can transform old cardboard boxes, tin cans and even a plastic bottle into a creative treasure.

There’s something so satisfying about taking a piece of junk – something another person might simply throw away – and giving it a makeover. We’ve come up with seven ways kids can let their imaginations run wild and get completely creative with a handful of craft basics – paint, glue and paper – and some materials you’d usually recycle. Plus, like any good craft ideas for kids, they’ll be developing fine motor skills that help with dexterity and hand-eye coordination while they have fun.

Construct a Cardboard Box City

Building a city from recycled cardboard boxes is a project that can last for weeks, making it a fun school holiday activity or a great idea for a school project.‍

If you’re looking for a project that can be worked on for days or weeks (hello, school holidays) – and played with for months – this is one! A cardboard city has no end point. If you’ve got the space, the kids can simply keep collecting empty cardboard boxes and adding to it so it grows and expands. From a basic city skyline to more intricate designs, ideas and shapes, this recycled craft activity is all about sparking creativity in all ages, from preschoolers through to early teens.

Apart from a selection of empty cardboard boxes, you’ll need paints and coloured paper for decoration.

What You’ll Need

Create a white background on your cardboard boxes, then use coloured paper and Posca pens for detail.

Step 1: Take recycled cereal and snack boxes and either cover them with plain white paper or give them a couple of coats of paint, letting each coat dry before starting the next.

Step 2: Once you have a solid colour base for your building, start drawing on doors and windows using paint markers, or create them from coloured paper and stick them on using a glue stick.

Add more detail to your recycled cardboard crafts with Posca pens and colour markers.

Step 3: Creating a roof is easy. Make a tile print using a Posca pen or other marker on coloured paper. Once you’ve finished the pattern, cut it to fit and glue it to the top of one of your buildings.

Step 4: Once all the buildings are complete, arrange them and add some extra details like roads, trees and even cars. The sky’s the limit!

SEE ALSO: 5 Super-fun Sea Creature Craft Activities for Kids

Make a Milk Carton Cafe Bird Feeder

 The simple design of this recycled craft idea makes a milk carton bird feeder look like a cafe.

The kids will be beloved by all the flying friends in your neighbourhood after they complete this simple but sweet recycled craft activity. Children can transform a humble milk carton into a bird feeder with just some paint, popsicle sticks and scissors.

Apart from a milk carton, all you need for this bird feeder is some paint and popsicle sticks.‍

What You’ll Need

For this recycle craft, paint and cut a milk carton to create a simple bird feeder.

Step 1: Using the tip of scissors (ask for adult help) or a hole punch, create a hole on either side at the top of a milk carton so you can later thread through twine to hang up your creation.

Step 2: Paint the milk carton white all over. Give it enough coats so that you can no longer see the label on the carton, allowing each coat of paint to dry before you start the next.

Step 3: Cut out two rectangular panels on opposite sides of the body of the milk carton, so you can see through to the other side. Extend the cuts on the sides of the panels up a bit, fold up the flaps slightly and trim them to make a scalloped edge on each flap. Press the flaps back down again – these will be the awnings for your milk carton cafe.

Step 4: Taking yellow and plain coloured popsicle sticks, trim them to size and glue them to the awning so the curved ends of the sticks line up at the bottom.

Add details using a Posca pen to finish off the milk carton bird feeder.

Step 5: Using a Posca pen, add some details to the cafe, like bunting and a business name.

Step 6: Make a small hole towards the bottom of the bird feeder with scissors, and push through another popsicle stick for birds to perch on as they nibble away. 

Step 7: Thread the twine through the holes at the top of the feeder then seal the opening with glue. Finally, fill the bird feeder with seed and hang it from the branch of a tree or a hook on your verandah. Make sure it’s high enough so the birds are safe from any cats.

Fashion a Knockdown Can Game

Paint and decorate a set of tin cans and make a paper ball to make a fun knockdown game.

This recycled craft project is perfect if you’re looking for rainy day activities. Once you’ve finished the craft part of the project, it becomes a game kids can play again and again, making it twice as fun for everyone! 

Painting old tin cans gives them a fresh new look, while adding numbers to them means they can be used to gain points. A simple ball made using paper and rubber bands is all they need to start knocking them down.

Tin cans, paint, Posca pens, paper and rubber bands are all you need to make a knockdown game.

What You’ll Need

The first step in this recycled craft project is to paint tin cans with bright colours and add numbers.

Step 1: Wash out the empty tin cans and leave them to soak in hot water for 10 minutes to easily remove the labels.

Step 2: Once the cans are dry, give them a few coats of paint, allowing each coat to dry completely before adding the next. 

Step 3: Using a black Posca pen, add some numbers to the cans to create the game’s point system. 

Scrunch a sheet of paper (or two) and secure it with rubber bands to make a ball for the game.

Step 4: Scrunch a piece of paper into a tight ball, rolling it between your hands and making it as compact as possible.

Step 5: Add some rubber bands over the paper ball, making sure it stays as round as possible. If it’s too light to knock down the cans, add another piece of paper over the top until it’s solid enough to roll. Then it’s time to play.

Step 6: Pile the cans up a triangular stack – three on the bottom, two in the middle row and one on top. Set a starting line back from them, then throw the paper ball at the cans. After each throw, tally up the points. Best of three wins!

Build a Bits-and-bobs Necklace

Creating a fun, colourful necklace from scrap materials is one of the great recycled craft ideas.

Who knew plastic lids and scraps of painted cardboard could look so delightful when strung together? The beauty of this recycle craft activity is that kids can collect anything that can have a hole punched in it and string them all together. Lengths of cut-up drinking straw, old wooden beads, even chunks of colourful cereal boxes all add to the eclectic and fun effect. 

Painted cardboard, wooden beads and bits of drinking straw can be strung together to make a necklace.

What You’ll Need

Create the pieces of the necklace from recycled materials then string them all together.

Step 1: Pile up a collection of recycled plastic bottle tops, pieces of cardboard and odds and ends. Decide what needs to be painted or decorated with paint markers, then start transforming them. Try painting the cardboard pieces on both sides too, before decorating them, which will make the necklace look even better at the end.

Step 2: Use a hole punch to add a hole to the centre of each piece. The plastic bottle tops can be quite thick, so a grown-up might have to help.

Step 3: Take a length of string and start threading the bits and bobs onto it, mixing up cardboard, beads, lids and lengths of drinking straw.

Add a knot to the end of the design to hold the pieces in place then tie off your necklace.

Step 4: Once the necklace is nice and full, tie a knot at each end of the pieces to hold them in place.

Step 5: Measure it against your neck, finding the right length before taking the ends and tying a knot and trimming any excess string. This recycled craft project also makes a great – and green – DIY gift idea. 

SEE ALSO: Family Craft Project: Create Craft Box

Create an Egg Carton Wreath

You’ll barely recognise that old egg carton once they’ve finished this activity. They’ll need to practise good, steady scissor work to make the shapes, while the painting will inspire creativity. Once it’s done and the paint has dried, the kids can hang their sweet new handmade wreath on their bedroom door or in their room.

 Collect all these materials, including an egg carton, and we’ll show you how to make a wreath.

What You’ll Need

Cut flowers and leaves from egg cartons to create the decorations for your wreath.

Step 1: Start cutting out the round egg holders, giving them different edges and ‘petal’ shapes.

Step 2: Take the egg carton’s lid and cut out leaf shapes in all different sizes.

Step 3: Take a large piece of cardboard – part of an old cardboard box will work well – and cut out a large circle, then cut out another small circle inside it to make a doughnut shape. That’s the base for your wreath.

Hot Tip: Make sure you don’t cut the smaller circle too big when you make the inside hole, as you don’t want the doughnut part to be too thin.

Step 4: Paint the wreath base and the leaves green, then start painting and decorating your egg carton flowers in all different colours.

Use a glue gun to stick the painted egg carton flowers and leaves to the painted wreath base.

Step 5: Using a glue gun, stick down the leaves onto the wreath base, then add the flowers. (You might want to have a test run positioning the flowers and leaves on the wreath before you glue them down to make sure you’re happy with the design.) Try adding some embellishments like felt pom poms, too.

Step 6: Finally, add a small loop of string to the back of the wreath by threading it through some small holes you’ve punched through with scissors, a knife or a hole punch (it’s a good idea to get an adult to help with this part). Use the string loop to hang your colourful new wreath on the door handle or a hook on your wall.

Craft a Toilet Roll Shadow Maker

Cut the shape of the wreath from a cardboard box then paint it and the egg carton flowers.

This quick and easy craft activity is perfect for rainy days. As the sun starts to set, kids can shine a torch through their new shadow maker and create stories and scenes that dance across the walls. It’s also a great way to entertain kids at a sleepover. Just make sure you’ve collected enough toilet rolls for everyone to make their own and get them all to bring a little torch.

 Ready to make toilet paper roll crafts? A shadow maker will keep them entertained for hours.

What You’ll Need

The first step in this recycled craft project is to decorate a toilet roll.‍

Step 1: Decorate the toilet roll by wrapping it in washi tape from top to bottom. 

Hot Tip: No washi tape? No worries. Use paint and markers to do the decorating.  

Step 2: Trace a circle around a glass or tea cup onto a piece of clear cellophane, then cut it out.

Step 3: Trace the end of the cardboard roll onto the cellophane circle with a Sharpie.

Draw a line design onto the cellophane panel and attach it to the end of the toilet roll.

Step 4: Draw a design inside the circle. It could be an animal, shapes or a cool pattern.

Step 5: Use a glue stick to add glue around the top outside edge of one end of the toilet roll, then take the cellophane and place it over the top of the roll, making sure the picture is in the middle.

Step 6: Smooth the cellophane down over the glue and then tightly wrap a rubber band over the top where the cellophane meets the glue. This will hold the design panel firmly in place.

Step 7: Shine a small torch or phone light into the toilet roll and beam the design onto a wall. Move it back and forth to see the design come to life in shadow form.

Paint a Plastic Bottle Animal Planter

This recycled craft project uses plastic bottles to make fun animal planters.

With a little paint and some googly eyes, a clear plastic bottle becomes a sweet home for a plant. And because of the sturdy bottle base, kids can sit the end result on their desk or windowsill. They can even try using the top end of the bottle to avoid waste. With its triangular shape, this one is better if you add some holes around the top edge, loop through some string and hang it from a hook, as it might be unsteady just placed on a surface. 

We’re going to show you how to make a pig planter here, but let your imagination run wild to create other animals.

Keep those plastic bottles so your kids can make cute animal planters for around the house.

What You’ll Need

Step 1: Cut the plastic bottle in half, adding some ears as you go round. (Note: You may need adult help with the cutting and also take care, the edges of the ears may be sharp.) Then make sure the empty half bottle is clean and dry inside. 

Step 2: Paint the inside of the bottle with a thin coat of pink paint. When the paint is completely dry, add another coat. 

Googly eyes and a painted plastic lid nose are the finishing touches for this upcycled craft idea.

Step 3: Paint the plastic lid a darker pink for the nose, then finish with details like nostrils drawn on with a black Posca marker. Attach googly eyes and the nose with a glue gun

Step 4: The pig planter will sit quite happily on a desk, but, if you prefer, punch a hole on either side behind the ears and add string to hang it from a hook. Your planter is now ready for some potting mix and a new plant.

Hot Tip: If you like the mouse planter we made from the top half of the plastic bottle, just paint the bottle with brown paint, then use some construction paper to make the ears, nose and whiskers and attach them with a glue gun.

SEE ALSO: Create Craft Not Chaos: 5 Easy (& Tidy) DIY Kids Projects