Thrifty Tuesday Art Tips - Recycling Plastic Drink Bottles & Fruit/Meat Tray Styrofoam

40 fantastic ideas for recycling plastic drink bottles and meat/fruit Styrofoam trays to use in your art work, studio or around your home…including instructions for two art projects.

Tips and ideas submitted to the September 2008 Brainstorming Recycling Contest by Terry Howard, Martha B., Leslie, Donna Zamora, Susan Marie, Kelsey Jones Evans, Stephen du Toit, Moon Willow, Christine Bell, Pam Yee, Pam Crawford, Donna Hall, Alicia Edwards and some from yours truly!

Save those plastic drink bottles and...

  1. use them to carry water to do watercolours outside the studio
  2. fill them with paint or diluted inks and pour washes over your work.
  3. use the lids on bottles as tiny mixing pallets
  4. use them as a package in mail art and to mail surprises for art friends or grandchildren
  5. cut the tops off of several of them. Tape together like a wine rack. Use to store items that come in rolls, i.e. waxed paper, shelf paper, contact paper, Cut down small plastic bottles to store rolls of stickers, paper lace, etc.
  6. Keep a bottle filled with water for washing brushes, filling watercolour troughs, mini misters, or spray bottles. Saves a trip to the bathroom or kitchen sink!
  7. Fill them with craft items for storage or to send them to your crafty friends.
  8. Fill with water, freeze and use as a “cooler” for picnic lunches at the park or beach. When the ice melts on a hot day at the beach, you can drink it!
  9. Make them into wind twirlers! Cut off the top and bottom. Start cutting them evenly around the bottle from top to bottom.
  10. Cut bottles into sections or strips. Heat gently with a heat gun to make them flat. Use markers to colour and reheat. Use them as embellishments in altered books or art.
  11. Fill bottles with sand, cover with a glove puppet and use for doorstops.
  12. Fill small plastic bottles or containers with sand. Use as weights when sewing or anytime you need to “weight down” something in your art to flatten it. Can also use them as pattern weights when you are cutting out a sewing pattern.
  13. Make a pretty collage vase or paintbrush/pen/pencil holder by first painting with gesso, then painting and collaging.
  14. They can be cut down, inked, painted, embossed and stamped and shrunk down in an oven or with a heat gun to make unusual jewelry.
  15. Cut them up and punch holes all around and crochet or knit together to make a see through tote or purse.
  16. Use them as a string dispenser. Cut off the bottom, slip in the string making sure to pull the starter out of the hole and attach to a wall. Punch another hole and tie on some scissors.
  17. Fill with water. Insert plant cuttings you want to root.
  18. Fill with sand and use as a rolling pin.
  19. Cut plastic bottles in half and use the top as a funnel to put glitters, confetti, glues, sealers back in their containers. Use the bottom for mixing custom paints, soaking brushes, as water dishes, mixing bowls for grout, small trays for beads or trinkets.
  20. Here’s a gorgeous project from my art friend Zeb Loray using a recycled drink bottle with Radiant Rain Daubers available from After Midnight Art Stamps. You won’t believe just how beautiful these look until you make one yourself. If you like texture, you'll love to have one of these in your art room.
Save those meat/fruit trays and
  1. Use them for mono-print plates. Draw into them or texture them for unique textured prints on your paper.
  2. Use as covers for a book about groceries, a vegetarian or anti-meat theme.
  3. Use them to sort beads, bits you’ve assembled for a small project.
  4. Trays make a wonderful, disposable paint palette and are a flat surface when using a brayer with ink, paint or rubber stamps.
  5. Use the trays to capture excess glitter or embossing powders.
  6. Punch out snowmen, animals, flowers with punches for craft projects.
  7. Flat Styrofoam pieces make super bases for Christmas decorations or to mail breakables.
  8. Use the meat/fruit trays to plant seedlings for your garden.
  9. Cut into squares or circles and use them to separate your burgers before freezing.
  10. Make your own stamps by carving a relief design into the Styrofoam. Ink and stamp.
  11. Use as holding trays for project embellishments, brads, tiny watch gears, beads, etc.
  12. Put a baby wipe in the bottom of a tray and use it to clean your brayer.
  13. Cut Styrofoam trays into pieces and make stencils or quickie stamps.
  14. Use as a postcard or ATC back.
  15. Glue to the back of elements (i.e. photographs), cut out and create a 3-D effect when they are placed on your collage or assemblage. You can use the Styrofoam as a substitute “glue dot” or foam tape and as a way to “build up” different levels of element layers in your art project.
  16. Cover with paper and use to make frames or mats for photos/images in your art.
  17. Smaller pieces of Styrofoam can be covered with wide decorative ribbon for an interesting mat for an embellishment or image in your art.
  18. Cover Styrofoam squares with fabric and use as embellishments in your art.
  19. Sandwich Styrofoam between two pieces of heavy cardboard, cover with fabric and use as a “bottom” in an art tote, handbag or satchel.
  20. Cut them into shapes. Heat with a heat gun to shrink. Brush with paint to make unusual charms, embellishments or jewelry. Here’s a photo of some charms I made for a swap using black Styrofoam meat trays, some recycled pearls, corrugated cardboard and metallic paint. The instructions to make your own are below. Unfortunately metallic paint does not photograph well but you’ll get the idea of what you could create!

Styrofoam Fruit/Meat Tray Project

Cut the Styrofoam into rectangles (or alternatively just break them into unusual shapes) Make them larger than what you want in the end… they will shrink. Put on a mask and go outside.

Fire up your heat gun. Hold the Styrofoam down with a long bamboo stick while heating (Styrofoam is light and will fly away from you if you don’t hold it down). If you are not planning on mounting it onto another substrate and want a hole in the top to attach a jump ring to, pierce the Styrofoam with a safety pin. Leave the safety pin in while you are heating it.

Dry brush the shapes with metallic paint. Glue a bead or pearl to the shape when dry. Mount onto a piece of corrugated card board cut to the size you want the finished charm to be (you can either recycle some cardboard that you have ripped the top layer from and paint it or purchase some coloured corrugated cardboard). Pierce the top of the cardboard and attach a jump ring to turn your creation into a charm.

Raid, Repurpose, Rejoice

is a new recycling 3 R's slogan just for artists that popped into my head the other day! RAID your recycling bin (and your neighbours too if you are so inclined LOL), REPURPOSE what you find, REJOICE in making art from stuff headed for local landfills)

Go forth and make recycling bin art today my friends… See you all again on Friday!