Clean recyclable food containers in a recycling bin.

The headline may seem paradoxical, but there are several reasons that recycling bins may no longer serve their intended purpose. Cities may change their recycling programs to single-stream or integrated collection. They may even retire the programs altogether as increased Chinese restrictions on imported recyclables make it more difficult to turn on profit on recycled materials.

In such situations, it would be an ironic shame to toss recycling bins in the trash. “Reuse” is the second of the three R’s, after all.

Credit: Scott Haskell

With the integrated collection recycling system through Coastal Resources of Maine starting to take effect, cities like Bangor and Brewer have transitioned to a “one bin, all in” policy, where residents put all of their waste — including recyclables — into one trash can for collection, leaving recycling bins around the city without a purpose.

If you have a spare recycling bin lying around, here is how to upcycle it around the house.


Give your container garden some extra panache by using a recycling bin as a planter for your favorite flowers and edibles. Recycling bins already have holes at the bottom that are perfect for drainage. Depending on the size of your recycling bin, you can even follow square foot gardening methods on a small scale to maximize the number of plants you can grow in the compact space.

Garage storage

Save money on a large plastic tote by using your recycling bin as storage in your garage. Recycling bins are the perfect size and depth to gather errant sports equipment, gardening tools or large, loose materials.

Credit: Stephen M. Katz

Laundry basket

If you have already greened your laundry routine, you can also save money and resources on a laundry basket by using an upcycled recycling bin. The depth and graspable rim handles make recycling bins suitable for all sorts of laundry needs, whether you are cleaning your clothes at home or carrying them to the laundromat.

Pet food container

Whether you have a bunny or a pup, recycling bins are the perfect size to store bulk quantities of pet food. The container is easy to store and will keep stray hay or bits of kibble from spilling over the edges out and attracting snacky pets. Just make sure you plug the drainage holes to prevent food from escaping out the bottom!

Grocery holder for your trunk

When you are putting the effort into saving money on groceries, you definitely do not want them rolling around your trunk, breaking eggs or squishing loaves of bread. Keep a recycling bin in your trunk to keep your grocery bags steady even on the bumpiest road.

How do you plan to reuse your recycling bin? Add your ideas to the comments below.