Many people today are recognizing the importance of being “green” and are searching for ways to recycle more and more things that used to be relegated straight to the landfill. Paper towel and toilet paper tubes are free and readily available in most households, and they can be recycled in a variety of fun and creative ways. Don’t throw that cardboard tube away – transform it into something new!
1. Starting plants for your garden? Don’t spend money on flimsy and expensive starter trays! Simply take a toilet paper tube and cut it in half. Take the two resulting smaller tubes and place them upright on a flat surface such as a pie pan, cookie sheet, or plastic bin; repeat until you have enough tubes for the number of seeds you wish to plant. Fill each tube with soil and one or two seeds. Water regularly and place near a sunny window, and before you know it your seeds will be sprouting! When it comes time to transplant the seedlings, you can plant them in the tube (it will bio-degrade) or simply wet the tube and peel it away.
2. Craft organizers are costly and it’s often hard to find one that fits into the available space you have set aside for your materials. Make your own and you can customize the number and configuration of the compartments that are necessary. Start by taking a stiff sheet of cardboard and cutting it to fit the drawer, bin, or shelf that you want to store your crafts in. Take a toilet paper tube and cut into three equal pieces (you can customize the size of the tube to match the items you plan to store in them). Using a hot glue gun, glue the resulting short tubes upright onto the cardboard sheet in a honeycomb pattern. Once the glue is dry, you can use the tubes to store hardware such as nuts and bolts or craft items like beads, spools of thread, pens/makers, tubes of paint, or anything else that will fit. If you are concerned about dust, a towel can easily be thrown over the top, or you can use plastic wrap, aluminum foil, or another sheet of sturdy cardboard to form a lid.
3. Storing or traveling with necklaces and earrings? Keep your necklaces from getting tangled and the earrings from being lost by using paper towel tubes to keep them neat and together. Unhook the clasp at the back of your necklace and run it through the center of a paper towel tube, hooking it back up so the tube is essentially trapped by the necklace. Cutting the tube to match the size of the necklace so there is very little slack will help prevent tangles. Poke the earrings through the end of the tube that the matching necklace is attached to, using a needle if necessary, and attach the earring back so that the jewelry is held firmly against the cardboard. The completed tubes can then be stored in a box or drawer, or packed in a suitcase for travel.
4. Looking for a fun craft that’s easy to make with your kids? Making magic wands using paper towel tubes is fun and the finished wand provides your child with hours of entertainment. Take a long paper towel tube and carefully cut it in half lengthwise using scissors, trying to make the cut as straight as possible. Carefully spread non-toxic glue on the entire inside of the now-open tube. While the glue is still wet, take 12 inch sections of colorful ribbons or yarn and place them inside the tube, parallel to the tube lengthwise, with six inches inside the tube and the other six inches hanging out of the end of tube. Starting on one of the cut edges of your tube, roll the tube firmly and tightly into itself while making sure the ribbon is securely held inside. Once the tube is tightly rolled (it should resemble a wand or a thin stick), use clothespins or tie string around it to hold it in that shape until the glue dries. Once the glue has dried, you and your child can decorate their new wand with glitter, paint, string, or anything else you have on hand. If your child wants a twirling baton, you can make the yarn and ribbon pieces long enough to run the entire length of the tube and stick out of both ends.
5. Cats seem to prefer playing with items that were not originally intended to be toys, so why spend money buying those fake mice from the store? Take a toilet paper tube and rub non-toxic glue around the inside of one end, covering from the edge to about ½ inch in. Squish just that end flat and place the flattened edge between two heavy objects, such as hardback books, until dry. Once the edge is dry, you can place small items such as bells or pouches of catnip inside the tube. Take several feathers and insert them part-way into the open end of the tube, making sure enough of the feather is sticking out of the end to attract the cat’s attention. Leaving the feathers in place, glue the open end of the tube shut using the same procedure as above. Once dry, toss it to your kitty and let them have fun! Just remember that your cat may be determined enough to break into the tube, so never put anything inside of the toy that could harm your kitty if he manages to get it out!
6. Older children who love music will have fun making and decorating their own maracas and noise makers using paper towel and toilet paper tubes. Start by gluing one end of the tube shut using the same procedure you used above to make the cat toy. Place dried beans, beads, rice, bells, or anything else that makes noise when shaken into the tube and seal the other end. Once dry, decorate the outside with your child and let them shake away! As with the kitty toys, remember that kids sometimes play roughly with their toys, so don’t put anything inside the maracas that could harm your child if they break it open.
7. Traveling can be boring and frustrating for kids, especially on long trips. Use your old paper towel tubes as wrapping paper to individually store special treats to help distract your children and make the trip go by faster. Seal the ends as you did the cat toy, and you can place anything from candy to small toys safely inside. Let your child rip the tube open to get to the prize inside – they’re sure to have fun doing it! Hand one tube-encased surprise to each child every half-hour or so to keep them occupied with new toys throughout the entire trip. There’s no need to purchase flimsy wrapping paper, and because it will take longer for your child to rip through cardboard than paper it will occupy them for longer.
8. If you have small animal pets in your house such as rabbits, guinea pigs, hamsters, gerbils, mice, rats, chinchillas, parakeets, or parrots, toilet paper tubes can become great and inexpensive toys. They can be stuffed with hay for a snack or filled with paper towels that your pet can shred for nesting material. Pet-safe sticks or treats can be poked through holes in the tube to create fun chew toys, which larger pets like parrots love to take apart. Using some creativity, it’s easy to integrate the pet-safe toys treats you already have with these tubes and end up with a supply of all-new activities to keep your pets busy.
9. Another fun and easy craft to make with your children is a set of toilet paper tube binoculars. Use a hot glue gun to glue two tubes together lengthwise. Punch holes to attach a string so they can rest around your child’s neck when they need their hands free, just like real binoculars. Let your child decorate the outside with markers, beads, glitter, or stickers. Then take your child on a nature walk or look outside to see what can be found right there in your own backyard. While these binoculars don’t magnify anything, they do cut out distractions and make it easier to focus on the object they are aimed at. They are also lightweight and won’t break if they get dropped!
10. If you have a woodstove or fireplace, or if you enjoy camping, you need a reliable and inexpensive way to get the fire started. Stuff paper towel and toilet paper tubes with dryer lint and they make excellent and FREE fire starters! This gives you a way to recycle not only the cardboard tubes, but also the dryer lint that you would otherwise throw away. You can melt wax over the ends if you are planning on transporting the fire starters a long distance and you are worried about the lint falling out, but they will do an excellent job of starting a fire even without the wax. At home, rolled up newspaper can be stuffed into the tubes and stacked neatly next to the fireplace, ready to be used to start a fire on the next cold night.
Hopefully this article has given you some ideas that you can use in your own home. With a little ingenuity, we can find many ways to make something useful out of things we used to throw away without a second thought. As you’ve seen, recycling can save you money and provide you, your children and your pets with a new source of entertainment!