Home Connections: Repurposing Plastic Containers

by Melissa Harding

Phipps Science Education 004

In honor of Earth Day, April’s Home Connections will detail how our department uses recycled materials to enhance our programming and teach sustainability.

In last week’s Home Connections post, we talked about how our department utilizes reused materials in our programming; in many of our programs, students make crafts from reused and repurposed materials. Additionally, we repurpose items for program props, storage and general creative use. Reusing materials not only saves resources and money, but it is a great way to teach by example.

After the trusty cardboard box, our second favorite item to repurpose is the plastic container. So many of the foods that we eat come in plastic tubs: yogurt, dips and cheese to name a few. These containers are often not recyclable, as many of them are made out of #5 or higher plastics. Rather than throwing them away, we use them in our classes. Plastic containers are both waterproof and thin enough to punch holes through and easy to decorate. They come with their own lids and can be found in all sizes. An empty yogurt tub is just a blank slate waiting to be filled. Here are some ways that we use these items at Phipps; hopefully you will be inspired to reuse some of the plastic in your own life:

jan_14_13_camp_1_cShakers and drums
Sounds makers of all kinds are very popular with our students. We make seed shakers and drums with many of our campers; they love to play with during songs, while acting out stories and as part of nature play. They most efficient material for making a shaker or a drum is a plastic container because it already has a matching lid and is easily sealed; seeds and other small items stay inside the instrument. They are also ideal because the sound of seeds or rice hitting the inside of the container is loud enough to hear, but not too loud, and makes a pleasing sound. In short, plastic containers make the perfect instruments!

To make your own seed shaker, you will need: a plastic container with matching lid, seeds of various sizes, duct or packing tape (optional). To begin, place a handful of seeds inside the shaker, taking care not to fill it beyond a quarter of the way full at the very most. Place the lid back on the container and seal it shut with a strip of heavy-duty tape; if you want to reuse this container again, it is not necessary to tape it. After it is sealed, it is ready to be decorated.

To make your own drum, you will need: a plastic container with matching lid,  a small handful of seeds (10-20 max)*, duct or packing tape, yarn, scissors, drum sticks (we use unsharpened pencils). First, cut a length of yarn long enough to hang the drum from around your child’s neck with several extra inches left on each side to attach the string to the drum. Next, place your seeds inside the container. Before you replace the lid, drape your string so that several inches on each side dangles into the drum, and then replace the lid. Seal with tape if desired and decorate.

*The drum only needs a few seeds, as they will bounce and make noise when the child hits the drum. We do not punch holes in the drum and tie the string on because the holes may allow the seeds inside to escape; however, if you are using large seeds, this would not be a problem.

IMG_0362Hats
Many of our camps involve some form of dressing up. We make crowns, wings and wands, as well as hats.  Plastic containers make great hats because it is easy to punch holes in them and they sit on a child’s head fairly well. We use short and wide containers, like those for hummus and vegetable dips, for this craft because anything too tall will want to slide off.

To make your own hat, you will need: a plastic container (sans lid), hole punch, yarn, and scissors.  Punch two holes near the top of the container, directly across from each other. Cut a piece of yarn into two short sections, about 12″ each. Tie one to each hole. Place the container on the child’s head and tie under their chin so that the hat fits snugly against the head. Remove and decorate.

Pots
Planting seeds and seedlings are a big part of our programs. We plant container gardens, terrariums and single plants in almost all of our camps. Rather than purchasing pots for these plants, we often use plastic containers. Plastic containers are just like plastic pots, except that they do not have holes in the bottoms. To convert a plastic container into a pot that is suitable for growing plants, all you need to do is poke a few holes in the bottom with a nail or screw driver. Tall yogurt containers often make the best pots because they have ample room for roots to grow, but it can also be fun to plant in uniquely shaped containers as well.

Storage
We have tons of art supplies that come in all shapes and sizes, from small items like cotton balls to big ones like stamp pads. It is very important that we are able to effectively organize all of our materials, since we have so many, but it can be hard to find enough containers that fit everything. Luckily, the trusty plastic container comes to the rescue. Long, thin containers are great for paint brushes and short, squat ones are perfect for storing small foam pieces. As long as it has a lid, it can be used for storage. Just make sure to label it!

IMG_1404Decorating Plastic Containers
Decorating plastic containers can be tricky. Directly painting on the slick surfaces of many plastic containers can be difficult and water-based paints will often bead. One way to fix that problem is to wrap your container in decorative paper; construction paper, reused computer paper, scrapbooking sheets – the sky is the limit! All you need to do is cut a sheet of paper to size and tape or glue it to the container.  Not only is it easier to paint on, covering the entire container with a sheet of paper also covers any labels or brand information the container may have. This paper can be painted or drawn on either before or after attaching it to the container. For younger children, decorating with stickers can also be fun.

Hopefully some of these fun ideas are getting you to think about ways to repurpose the plastic containers in your own home. Once you start thinking of the items in your recycle bin as resources instead of trash, anything is possible!

For more ideas, check out What Can You Make with a Plastic Lid at the Crafty Crow.

Join us next week to learn how we use glass jars to create fun crafts and useful containers!

The above pictures were taken by Phipps Science Education and Research staff and our wonderful volunteer, Pam Russell.

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