Ultimate Guide to Recycled Milk Jug Crafts

When the milk’s gone, you can repurpose the plastic jug into something else.
When the milk’s gone, you can repurpose the plastic jug into something else.
iStockphoto.com/Tom Hahn

Every week, we hit the grocery store and stock up on the life essentials. We fill our carts with food groups spanning the pyramid -- pastas, bread, fruits, vegetables and, of course, milk. From a young age, we learn the importance of incorporating this nutrient-filled beverage into our diets, and we've almost always got cartons sitting in the fridge. But this plethora of plastic can be a detriment to the environment.

At the end of each week, hundreds of thousands -- if not millions -- of jugs are thrown in the trash. They end up in landfills with the rest of our waste where they'll sit for up to a century, waiting to decompose [source: Berea]. New plastic is constantly being produced to provide us with milk cartons and other goods.

Recycling is a great option to save landfill space and re-use existing materials. But it's also an option that many forget or simply don't do because of the added effort or time. If you find sorting and delivering your old plastic cartons to the local recycling center is a tough habit to build around your home, there are plenty of alternative options. And if you're crafty -- or simply economical -- they might be right up your alley.

Milk jugs are resourceful tools for a number of household projects. Whether your interests focus on nature, family fun, garage work, sports or working out, milk cartons can be a valuable material for your life. Their versatility not only provides you with a wide array of options, but the products you can make might even save you money. Here, you can find plenty of suggestions and examples of ways to make the most of your leftover milk jugs.

Check out the next page to see how you can attract birds to your yard by creating a simple homemade bird feeder from your jug.

Recycled Milk Jug Bird Feeders

Creating a milk jug bird feeder is a fun and easy way to make good use of your empty milk cartons. Before you get started, gather the tools you'll need: a milk jug, scissors, pencil, wire or string -- and bird seed, of course!

After your family has polished off a quart or more of milk, wash the empty container out. Once it's clean, let the construction begin.

Decide where you'd like to make the opening(s) -- usually on the sides away from the handle. Trace the openings with your pencil and then use the scissors to cut them out. Make them big enough for small birds, but not so large that the structural integrity of the jug will be damaged. Consider making the holes anywhere from 2 to 4 inches (5 to 10 cm) wide [source: Owen]. Cut the holes a little bigger if you intend for the bird to perch itself on the edge of the hole and not on an added perch rod.

If you wish to add perches, use your pencil to poke a small hole less than an inch (2.5 cm) below the feeding holes. Punch another directly across and then push a straw, dowel rod, or unsharpened pencil through both holes. This will provide your visitors with a sturdy place to rest.

Use the pencil to poke two more small holes directly across from each other, less than an inch (2.5 cm) from the top of the jug. Thread your string or wire through, and then bring the ends up and tie them together. Now you can hang your feeder.

You're almost done. Fill the feeder with seed, up to the edge of the feeding holes. Put the cap back on the top to keep water out and hang where you please. For added fun, feel free to decorate your jug however you see fit. But remember, this feeder will be outside, so weather and time may damage your decorating efforts.

Interested in other uses of milk jugs that would make Mother Nature proud? Continue to the next page.

Recycled Milk Jug Garden Nannies

Watering your garden and indoor plants can be a hassle. This is especially true in the peak of the summer heat, when consistent water is a necessity for plant health. It can be a pain trekking out the hose or watering can everyday, or arranging for a neighbor to take care of your plants every time you're away.

For a convenient garden tool, look no further than that empty milk jug in the corner. This hollow container can make your life a little easier, while helping your plants blossom and bloom.

For this craft, you'll need an empty milk jug (with cap), water, a hammer and nail, a sharp knife and a thirsty plant. Start by cutting the bottom off the jug. This is how you'll fill the container with water in the future. Place the milk carton's cap on a workbench and use the hammer and nail to poke at least four holes in the cap. Be careful to just barely push the nail through, as to make a whole in the cap without nailing it to your workspace. (In fact, you may want to use the hammer to push a Phillip's head screwdriver through the cap instead.) Replace the cap to the top of the bottle.

Make a hole in the soil near the plant you want to water. Insert the bottle, cap side down, so that roughly half the bottle is in the soil. Fill soil in around the jug so it will stay in place. Then simply fill it with as much water as it will hold -- or as much water as your plant needs. Water will slowly trickle out providing your plant with a slow steady supply of water. Feel free to add fertilizer if you wish.

Be sure to pull the milk jug nanny out from time to time and clean the cap. The small holes can get clogged with time [source: Sanders]. Fill the jug when empty or when your plant demands, and then you're free to walk away.

If your garden is fully watered, perhaps a different craft would better suit you. Head over to the next page to be enlightened!

Recycled Milk Jug Lanterns

Adults and children of all ages can find entertainment from taking old empty milk cartons and turning them into decorative lanterns. In fact, the different types of lanterns you can make are limited only by your imagination.

One of the easiest types of milk jug lanterns to make requires a milk jug (gallon or half), a knife, sand and a candle. Begin by cutting the milk jug in half, saving the bottom half for your craft. You can use a pair of scissors to clean up the edge of the jug or even add some decorative edging. Once you're happy with the way it looks, simply put enough sand in the bottom to weigh it down and then set a candle in the middle. Be sure there's space between the flame and the plastic, as it may melt if they get too close.

You can also make a jack o' lantern from an old gallon milk jug. Simply draw the jack o' lantern face on the jug with a marker and then cut it out carefully. Once you're done with that, paint it orange and draw some black lines from top to bottom to make it look more like a pumpkin. Paint doesn't always stick to plastic well, so it may take a few coats. Acrylic is generally the best paint to use. Cut a hole in the back and place a lit flashlight inside. The end result is a jack o' lantern that's completely safe [source: Kinder Art].

For a more advanced project you can use half gallon milk jugs to make a string of hanging lanterns. For this one, you'll need 10 or more half gallon jugs and a string of larger bulbs -- sized between Christmas lights and full-sized light bulbs. Cut the jugs in half, just below the handle. Take the bottom and cut a hole in its bottom large enough to screw the light bulb into its socket from inside while holding the jug in place. Just paint as desired [source: Sipper]!

Keep reading to learn how to support your favorite team with a milk jug.

Recycled Milk Jug Noise Makers

No sporting event is complete without a throng of cheering fans. You can wave a big foam finger in the air as well, but it's not really intimidating. Noise works better. The problem is most sporting events last hours, straining your voice. Aggressive clapping will leave your hands red and sore. Fortunately, there's a cheap and incredibly effective solution: the milk jug noise maker.

You only need two things to make a milk jug noise maker; a milk jug with a cap and something to put inside it that will make a lot of noise when you shake it around. The best part is that it can literally be anything you have lying around the house that will fit in the milk jug. Pennies are ideal. In fact, one company did a study and found that 15 pennies produce the optimal amount of noise [source: Red Devils]. The other good thing about pennies is that people generally have a lot of them lying around the house. Popcorn kernels work as well, and so do nails or screws -- or just about anything small and metal that you might have out in the workshop.

So you've found an empty milk jug and something to put inside it. You're almost done. There's only one step left: customizing your milk jug. It's not completely necessary, but it might just give you that added edge you're looking for. Dig up some markers or some puff paint and go to town. Your team colors are generally a good idea as is the word "Go" followed by the name of your beloved mascot. You can even tie streamers to the handle of your jug to make it more eye catching. This works really well for distracting a pitcher or a free-throw shooter.

At the end of the day, milk jug noise makers are cheap and easy to make. They aren't just for sporting events either. Get creative. There are a lot of reasons out there to make some noise.

Looking for a practical use for that milk jug? Check out the next page.

Recycled Milk Jug Funnels

The last time you tried to put anti-freeze or oil in your car, did you have a funnel handy? If not, you probably spilled all over the place. We've all been there. In fact, there are probably a number of times in your life that you've wished you had a funnel. They're great to have around, but often get misplaced. Not to worry. Chances are, you didn't forget to pick up milk, and therein lies the solution -- the milk jug funnel.

You're going to need a milk jug and knife that can cut through the plastic. A serrated kitchen knife is fine if that's all you have, but a utility knife will be easier and faster. Cut the bottom half of the milk jug off. Turn the top half upside down, remove the cap and voila, you've got a homemade funnel. Whether or not you leave the handle of the milk jug on your funnel is up to you, but it might be a good idea because it gives you an easy way to hold it. Now you're ready to put a fresh quart of oil in your car without leaving splash marks under your hood.

You can also use a milk jug funnel in the kitchen for transferring dry goods from one container to another or canning fruits and vegetables [source: Momma]. In fact, it's a perfect funnel for making jelly as well. All you have to do is secure a jelly bag to the funnel and then pour your fruit juice in [source: Owen]. Funnels can be helpful and effective all around your home.

Head over to the next page to see how you can make a splash with one creative use for milk jugs.

Recycled Milk Jug Pool Floaties

If you screw the cap on a milk jug and throw it in the water, it will float. That's because it's full of air. In fact, some people use milk jugs as buoys to help them find boat moorings and anchors. You can use their buoyancy to your advantage.

Imagine you're at a pool or the beach, and you have a young swimmer who hasn't yet grasped the mechanics of swimming. Unfortunately, you couldn't find any floaties or a life jacket when you were packing up. This problem is easily solved if you've got a couple milk jugs lying around. All you need is two milk jugs and some shoelaces or good string. Put the shoelaces or string through the handles of each milk jug and then tie them to your child's arms [source: Owen]. That's it. You've got yourself a set of inexpensive floaties.

Be sure to inspect the milk jugs before you use them to ensure that they're airtight. This is very important! If the jugs have a hole in them, you'll endanger your child. Screw the cap on tight and hold the jug under water. If you see air bubbles coming out, you've got a leak. If not, you're good to go.

If you want to get a little more advanced with your homemade floaties you can always use some Velcro straps or a neoprene brace in place of the shoelaces or string. Either way you'll save yourself some money and an unnecessary trip to the store. Sit back, soak up the sun, and watch your kid splash away.

If swimming's not your thing, the next page offers an idea fit for a weight room.

Recycled Milk Jug Workout Weights

Purchasing a complete set of free weights from your local big box or sporting goods store could empty out your pockets. For those interested in recycling, working out and saving money, the answer may be found in their old empty milk cartons.

After you've finished a jug of calcium-filled milk, save the empty carton. Wash it out and then fill it with any number of substances to create your own personalized set of free weights. Water is commonly used, although other materials like sand would work as well [source: Charlebois]. You can use any size milk jug, although a gallon size would allow you more versatility as it's the largest.

Not only could this save you money from purchasing expensive free weight sets, but just one or two jugs can provide you with a complete set. Since you can add or pour out whatever substance you've been filling it with, you can change the weight whenever you want.

Once you've filled your milk jug to your desired weight, grab the handle and perform any of the exercises you would usually do with free weights.

There are plenty of options for making use of your leftover milk cartons. If you want more information and ideas, be sure to check out the links on the next page.

Related HowStuffWorks Articles


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