Repurpose Old Trash Cans In A Variety Of Ways To Use In And Outside Of Your Home

What do you do when you need to throw a garbage can in the trash? Taking it to the dump is an option, but landfills are already infamously overstuffed. Meanwhile, upcycling is a creative way to repurpose items; trash cans, waste baskets, and garbage bins can all be repurposed for use inside and outside the home. With this in mind, we've put together 16 ways to reuse an old trash can. Our list includes projects for multiple sizes, models, and materials. Many of these ideas require little alterations, so they're easily achieved regardless of your crafting experience. 

The tools you'll need depend on the material of the garbage can you're working with. For example, a wire cutter is appropriate for modifying mesh baskets, and strong shears are better at cutting through plastic. Trash cans are typically made with durable materials that are full of reuse potential — to cite two examples, galvanized metal has an elevated appearance that adds a decorative quality perfect for upcycled decor and small mesh wastebaskets are easily molded by hand. 

1. Compost bin

Composting is a free way to get nutrient-rich soil that boosts plant growth, and you can convert a trash can into a compost bin with little effort. Outdoor garbage cans with lids work the best. Prep consists of drilling evenly spaced rows of holes to increase airflow. Once the can is set up, you're ready to add soil, food scraps, leaves, and other organic matter from your yard. 

2. Rain barrel

Rain barrels are valuable sources of water, especially in times of drought. Water that lands in a rain barrel after falling from the sky is totally suitable for watering your lawn, garden, and house plants, and an outdoor plastic garbage can works superbly as a rain barrel. Simple models consist of a hole punched through the lid for rain to enter. Additionally, attaching a screen to the top will prevent debris and bugs from entering the barrel.

3. Side table

Some wire trash cans have exciting patterns that are interesting enough to be furniture. You'll need a solid surface like a tray to attach to the bottom of the trash can, hot glue, and spray paint. The tray will serve as the tabletop and can be affixed to either the open or closed end, depending on the trash can's shape. You can also set the tray on top of the open end and utilize the inside of the waste basket for storage.

4. Container garden

A container garden is an excellent solution if you want to grow flowers, herbs, or vegetables but lack yard space. Many easy-to-grow plant species thrive in a container garden. Transforming a garbage can into a garden simply requires a drill to make drainage holes. The holes should be made in the bottom of the can so excess water will run out.

5. Cat shelter

Harsh temperatures and stormy weather are just a few elements feral and stray cats must endure, but you can make things a little easier for your neighborhood feline friends with a DIY cat shelter. It's a simple matter of turning a medium or large plastic and rectangular garbage can on its side and insulating it with straw or bedding that can absorb moisture. Then you've just got to elevate the shelter with cinder blocks to keep it off the ground and away from any snow or pooling rain.

6. Transport firewood

Firewood is heavy and difficult to carry. A rolling trash can could make transporting wood much easier and safer. You'll be able to move a larger quantity with less stress on your body, and with less contact with the wood, you'll reduce your risk of picking up splinters. Just keep the trash can handy when you're chopping wood, and toss in logs as you cut them.

7. Mulch storage

Mulch should be kept from excessive moisture; that way, when added to a garden bed, it's clean, dry, and ready to use. You can store mulch in plastic bags for a while, but condensation may build up on the inside when temperatures and humidity fluctuate. So, empty the bags into a lidded garbage can and move the can away from humid areas.

8. Small item storage

Smaller trash cans, like the ones used in bathrooms and home offices, are similar in size to many organizational bins, so they can be utilized as such. Plastic trash cans with handles are easy to retrieve and will typically fit on a shelf in a cube storage unit. This makes them a good organizational solution for small items that need to be easily accessed.

9. Garden decor

Garden decor needs to withstand multiple types of weather, and outdoor garbage cans are designed to do exactly that. Metal provides a great foundation for paint and is easily aged for a rustic appearance. Plastic is also pliable and suitable for making more complex and lightweight sculptures. Should you choose to paint the plastic, make sure you're using paint designed to work on plastic surfaces. 

10. Wire bowl

Mesh trash cans are pliable, so it's possible to mold them into a new shape. DIY pro Sarah Teresinski transformed her mesh trash can into a chic raised wire bowl, and she did so without any tools. Teresinski used her hands to squeeze the mesh so there were two distinct sections, the bowl, and a wide pedestal base. Be sure to coat the bowl in food-safe sealant if you intend to use it to store fruit or other foods. 

11. Lampshade

Mesh lampshades fit design aesthetics from industrial to modern and beyond, so why not turn a small wire trash can into a stylish lampshade? First, cut out or remove the bottom metal base so that the light can come through the lampshade. Then, mold the wire with your hands to create your ideal shape. Pliers and wire cutters will help you fine-tune the structure. Lastly, round the edges by folding them inwards.

12. Laundry basket

Large wire trash cans are useful for moving clean or dirty laundry. It's an easy and lightweight alternative to thick plastic hampers. The wire structure provides more ventilation than a typical hamper, thus preventing musty odors and limiting bacteria growth. Bacteria can thrive in a closed or poorly ventilated hamper, so swapping your plastic laundry basket for a more open wire design can reduce the spread of bacteria-borne illness. 

13. Cooler

Need a cooler in a pinch? Clean out your plastic or metal trash can, add a liner, and pour in ice for a quick way to chill drinks. Plastic is a better insulator and will keep things cooler than metal, so it's better for outdoor use. Metal cans work better for indoor gatherings, as they look more like decor and warm up more slowly at room temperature.

14. Earring holder

A mesh earring holder is a quick DIY project that'll help you display your jewelry and keep it organized. The thin mesh of many small wastebaskets is perfect for hanging earrings. You'll need a wire cutter in order to deconstruct the wastebasket and shape the mesh. A frame is optional but suggested for a finished appearance. Mount the mesh on the wall to save space, or put it in a picture frame that stands on its own.

15. Store yard tools

Rakes, shovels, and hoes are tall and long, making them a challenge to store. Mounting them is an option, but if you lack the space to do so, a garbage can will hold them upright and keep them out of the way. Storing them in a wheeled trash can also permits easy transportation from the shed to the yard.

16. Pet food storage

One last idea: Here's a way to keep your pets from stealing food in between meals, if that's been a problem for you. Trash cans with lids will protect dry pet food from excess moisture and prevent sneaky pups from chewing holes in the bags. When storing the food, keep it in the original bag, which is designed to prevent the breakdown of key nutrients. Also, if your pet has a reaction to the food, the nutritional info on the bag might make it easier to figure out the issue.