Do you feel guilty tossing stacks of flyers, scrap paper, and junk mail into the recycling bin? All that perfectly good paper, hardly even used. What a waste! Recycling is good, but it still takes energy and creates waste and emissions. The good thing is, there are plenty of things you can do to reuse paper before recycling it. (See also: 17 Ways to Use Old Newspaper)
Yes, it’s obvious, but it surprises me how many people don’t bother with printing on the back of scrap computer paper. Use scrap paper to print coupons, directions, meeting minutes, shopping lists, and other necessities. To make it easier, keep a tray of scrap paper next to the printer for easy access.
2. Pet Cage Liner
Newspaper and junk mail is perfect for lining a bird cage or shredding for hamster bedding. Just be sure that the paper you use is printed with non-toxic ink (brown paper bags and black and white newspaper is usually fine).
3. Woven Basket
Design*Sponge recently showcased an easy tutorial for reusing your brown packing paper (ubiquitous in Amazon shipments, for example) to weave this beautiful recycled paper basket. Use the paper basket to corral your junk mail or to hold scrap paper for further reuse!
4. Doodle Pad
Tear used computer paper (printed on one side) into quarters and stack them (or clip them) neatly by the telephone for doodling while you’re on hold, or for jotting down messages.
Used wrapping paper, greeting cards, the comic section of the newspaper, and even colorful junk mail can be used to fold all sorts of cute origami, from jewelry boxes to paper cranes to adorable origami cat bookmarks. Chocolate bar tablets used to be wrapped in gold or silver paper that was perfect for origami, but I've noticed that this isn't as common anymore.
6. Beads for Jewelry
Old magazines and wrapping paper can be rolled into pretty paper beads to make unique jewelry. There’s an easy paper-bead tutorial at HowStuffWorks. This would be a fun project for kids as well.
7. Light a Fire
We usually save brown paper bags, packing paper, and newspaper for the fireplace, but again, make sure that the paper is printed with non-toxic inks.
8. Wall Art
Frame pretty patterned wrapping paper (or greeting cards, or wallpaper) in simple frames for a boost of color in your home. Alternatively, use wrapping paper as matting for photos, create a garland or bunting to hang on the wall, or frame interesting magazine covers.
9. Paper-Mache Piñata
One of my family’s traditions was to create a paper-mache piñata for birthday parties. Ours were usually simple paper-mache balls filled with candy, but you could fancy yours up and make them all sorts of fantastic shapes (one year, I made a roly-poly pig using a balloon and toilet paper rolls as a frame). Kids love whacking the piñata with a bat and gathering the goodies at parties. Check out this easy video tutorial for making a piñata.
10. Gift Wrap
Reuse comics, sheet music, or even plain brown packing paper to wrap gifts. You can pretty them up with gift tags made from scrap paper and leftover ribbons. For small gifts, a fun idea is to use business envelopes turned inside-out to wrap a gift, showing the pretty blue or gray security pattern inside.
11. Window Cleaning
Nothing beats good ol’ newspaper and vinegar for sparkling, streak-free windows.
12. Garden Mulch
Non-toxic newsprint can be an excellent mulch for your garden plants. Tear the newspaper into strips and put a layer around your plants to keep the soil moist and deter weeds. The newspaper will eventually break down and enrich the soil. If you think this looks unsightly, use it only in the backyard vegetable garden, or add a layer of bark chips over the top to make it look prettier.
Newspaper can be an integral part of a well-balanced compost pile and counts as a carbon-rich (or “brown” component). Tear the newspaper into strips or small pieces to help it break down faster. Again, use only newspaper or paper with non-toxic inks (no glossy magazines).
14. Drop Cloth
Save newspaper and junk mail to use as a drop cloth for your painting and crafting projects.
15. Paper Dolls
Stiff cardstock (such as the back of greeting cards) can be cut into simple paper dolls, and then colorful wrapping paper or leftover computer paper can be fashioned into an entire wardrobe. Draw the dolls yourself, or find an easy template online.
16. Paper Wreath and Paper Mache
Martha Stewart has this idea for using the pages of an old book to create the leaves for this beautiful paper wreath, perfect for gracing your front door.
17. Gift Basket Filling
Shred colorful wrapping and tissue paper and use it as filler in DIY gift baskets or Easter baskets that you make with the kids.
18. Seedling Pots
Use leftover paper egg cartons or toilet paper rolls that have been folded on the bottom to start your own seeds for the garden. They’re perfect since they supply good drainage and aeration. Since the “seedling pots” are biodegradable, you can just break them up and bury them when you plant the seedlings in your garden.
19. Cable and Junk Organizers
Toilet and paper towel rolls are perfect for organizing computer cables and corralling other random stuff. Cut a slit in one side of the roll, and then slip rolled-up cables into the toilet paper “sleeve.” You can also use this to organize craft supplies such as ribbons and string, and keep your wrapping paper rolls from unrolling. Flattened rolls can be used to store knives.
20. Ripen Fruit
Place unripe fruit in a paper bag or wrap in newspaper to help it to ripen more quickly.
21. Homemade Cards
A sweet way to reuse greeting cards is to cut out the pictures (pretty flowers, birds, and other images) and use them to create a new card. You might reuse last year's Christmas card from your grandma to make a new card to send her this year, for example.
22. Packing Material
If you can’t find another creative use for your junk mail, just scrunch it up and use it to pack a box. Some thrift stores may also accept paper donations for wrapping up fragile objects when they’re sold.
Don’t forget to reduce the amount of paper that comes through your household by opting out of junk mail, and going paperless for bills if your area offers it. If you subscribe to magazines, offer them to a friend who might be interested in reading them before you toss them in the recycling bin. Donate or sell used books.
Please, never throw perfectly good paper into the trash. We have enough paper already lining our landfills, and we already cut down enough trees to make “virgin” paper products.