This is your page for all things reduction and reuse.
Websites listed below are not exhaustive and do not reflect City endorsement or support of products and services. Follow all safety precautions when doing your own repair or upcycling projects.
These steps are recommended and prioritized before recycling and composting, because they prevent waste from being formed in the first place. Waste prevention saves energy and resources, preserves landfill space, and reduces our greenhouse gas emissions in Iowa City. All of these efforts go towards our emissions reduction goals outlined in the Climate Action and Adaptation Plan.
- Repair & Upcycle Series (Virtual)
- Reduction and Reuse
- Eco-Friendly Alternatives
- Local Events
- Contact Us
The Repair & Upcycle Series (late January through mid-March) is going virtual this year, and will offer digital resources on a wide variety of do it yourself (DIY) and at-home topics. All are welcome to join the waste reduction fun, and there is no cost to participate.
Each week’s topics will be centered around a theme, like metal, glass, and many more. Tuesdays will feature upcycling topics, while Thursdays will focus on repair topics.
The purpose of this series is to educate residents on the importance of waste reduction, and to offer resources on ways to reduce waste through reuse, repair, and upcycling. Waste reduction supports Iowa City's climate action goals, and it reduces our environmental impact by finding creative ways to continue using the "stuff" we already have.
Week 1: Fabric
- January 26: Make T-shirt Yarn
- Description: Got an old t-shirt in your closet that you don’t wear but are not ready to part with? Give it a new use by turning it into t-shirt yarn that you can weave into a new creation. Stay tuned for next week when we weave the yarn into a rag rug!
- Supplies Needed: Old t-shirt, Sharp scissors
- January 28: Sew on a Button (Paige Handmade)
- Description: You are buttoning up your sweater and, all of a sudden, a loose button detaches. What now?! Don’t let your favorite sweater perish in the landfill. Instead, learn an easy way to sew a button on fabric.
- Supplies Needed: Thread of choice, Sewing needle, Sharp scissors
Week 2: Fabric
- February 2: Weave T-shirt Yarn into Rag Rug
- Description: Last week, you made homemade yarn from an old t-shirt. This week, you will learn how to weave the yarn, and any other scrap fabric you have, into a rag rug that you can use as a stylish rug at home.
- Supplies Needed: T-shirt yarn (from last week), Sharp scissors, Square piece of cardboard
- February 4: Repair a Torn Seam (Professor Pincushion)
- Description: You’ve worn that shirt with dedication and love, and that torn seam is proof. Don’t give up on your beloved shirt just yet, as a torn seam is an easy fix with this tutorial.
- Supplies Needed: Thread of choice, Sewing needle, Sharp scissors
Week 3: Metal
- February 9: Turn Bottle Caps into Refrigerator Magnets (Diana Kitsune)
- Description: Ever wonder what you can do with metal bottle caps? Bottle caps are an attractive decoration in all sorts of applications—picture frames, mirror borders, table tops, birdhouses, and more. Today, we will use refrigerator magnets for an example, but for other bottle cap upcycling ideas, see DIY & Crafts.
- Supplies Needed: Round magnets (available at craft store), Glue (can be regular craft glue or hot glue gun/glue sticks)
- February 11: Clean a Scorched Pan
- Description: You walk away from cooking beans on the stovetop and come back a minute too late to overcooked beans and a burnt pan bottom to prove it. This tutorial will show you an easy way to clean the “burn” off the bottom of the pan with supplies most of us have around the house.
- Supplies Needed: Aluminum foil, Water, Baking soda
Week 4: Plastic
- February 16: Make a Bird Feeder from a Plastic Bottle (Eco Sapien)
- Description: You are all about reduction and reuse, but you still come across single-use plastic bottles for ketchup, mayo, and so on. There is a great way for you to put those bottles to another use this winter by converting them into bird feeders.
- Supplies Needed: Plastic bottle with a cap, Two sticks (tip: upcycle pencils or wooden chopsticks), String or twine, Push pin, Sharp scissors, Bird seed
- February 18: Repair a Shoe Sole Hole (I Fix It)
- Description: You and those sneakers have been through a lot of steps and experiences together, and the sole finally wore through. Give your shoes more steps with this easy repair method.
- Supplies Needed: Duct tape, Sand paper, Ice cube, Paper towels, “Shoe Goo” product
Week 5: Glass
- February 23: Use Cracked Ceramics to Better Your Garden (Green Talk)
- Description: Chipped coffee mug, cracked bowl, or broken plate? Put your ceramic or pottery pieces to good use in your garden. Hold onto these pieces to use as filtration at the bottom of your potted plants.
- Supplies needed: Broken ceramic pieces, Plant pot, Soil, Plant or seeds of choice
- February 25: Remove Scratches from Glass (This Old House)
- Description: There are several ways to go about this, but we will be highlighting the toothpaste technique. Remove scratches from glass windows, tabletops, glasses, and more.
- Supplies needed: Toothpaste, Soap, Washcloth or towel
Week 6: Paper/Wood
- March 2: Beautify Non-Recyclable Boxes for Another Use (Crafty not Shifty)
- Description: Cardboard or wooden boxes used for brie cheese, chocolate, or jewelry are often not recyclable due to metallic or glitter coating on the boxes. Instead of throwing these in the trash, turn these boxes into decorative organization trays, gift boxes, and more with an easy technique called decoupaging. Decoupaging involves painting on small pieces of paper with glue to create a design or pattern. You can buy paper specifically for decoupaging at a craft store, or you can simply use newspaper, magazine paper, or pages from an outdated book for this project.
- Supplies needed: Paper of choice, “Mod Podge” product, Paint brush
- March 4: Repair Wood Furniture (ForRent.com)
- Description: Worn, scratched, or stained wood furniture? These are all easy fixes. The above tutorial highlights how to repair scratches, but for more great tips on repairing wood nicks, chips, and stains view This Old House.
- Supplies needed: Sand paper or block, Stain marker, Wood wax stick, Cloth rag
Week 7: Food
- March 9: Use Banana Peels for Beauty, Cleaning, Gardening, & First Aid (Healthline)
- Description: You may be surprised to learn that banana peels have a multitude of uses. Use them to whiten teeth, repair skin, relieve a sunburn, remove a splinter, polish shoes, and a whole lot more. When you are done using them for everyday tasks, you can add them to your garden to provide your soil and plants with a nutrient boost.
- Supplies needed: Banana peel
- March 11: Revive Wilted Vegetables (Save the Food)
- Description: Food sometimes needs a little “tender loving care” just like our scorched pans and scratched furniture. Place limp carrots or discouraged lettuce in ice water, and watch them perk back up. If your veggies are past the point of an ice bath being effective, consider other recipes that work well with “not the freshest” produce such as sauces, soups, and casseroles. For more tips on reviving food, check out Save the Food.
- Supplies needed: Wilted vegetables, Large bowl, Ice water
Reduction and reuse are simply about using less stuff.
The amount of stuff we use and buy tends to translate into the amount of trash we produce. For example, when we reduce the amount of disposable packaging we choose to buy, our trash production decreases.
Reuse involves using items again and again, such as a washable, reusable face mask. Reusing items is an impactful way that each of us can reduce waste.
Reducing and reusing are all about our behaviors and habits. Changing behaviors can sometimes seem difficult, but the good news is that there are a lot of easy, simple steps you can take that make a big difference over time.
Drinking beverages: Choose a reusable water bottle or mug.
Shopping: Remember the importance of consumer choice. You make a vote for the products you want on the shelf with what you choose to spend money on. Choose products that are local, sustainably-made, Fair Trade, recycled-content, recyclable, reusable, durable, or organic.
For grocery shopping, have a strategy in mind before walking in the store. Make a list, and only buy the food that you know you can eat. For more great tips on reducing food waste, check out our Food Waste page.
Drying freshly-washed hands: Reach for a cloth towel at home the next time you wash your hands.
Meal time: Opt for cloth napkins for your next meal; only plate what you know you can eat; save leftovers for later.
Reading: Check out a book from the library. Sharing, or reusing books is a great way to reduce environmental impact. Did you know that you can also check out movies, music, and artwork from the library? More information at the Library's website.
Making do with what we already have reduces waste and our overall environmental impact.
Mending torn clothing, adding a coat of paint to an old table, or replacing a damaged bike tire are just a few examples of “making do” instead of buying new.
For Do-It-Yourself (DIY) repair resources, visit the Repair (Fix It and Do-It-Yourself) webpage.
For local repair services in the area, view the Iowa City Area Repair Directory.
Upcycling is taking an item, that would have otherwise ended up in the trash or recycling bin, and giving it a new use or purpose. Upcycling oftentimes involves some creativity and craftiness, and in a lot of cases, can be quite simple.
Some examples include:
- Using an old mason jar as a drinking glass or pencil holder
- Collecting wine corks to make a bulletin board
- Transforming a t-shirt into a reusable bag
- Turning a plastic water bottle into a bird feeder
- Sewing old sweaters into mittens
The following website have tons of upcycling tutorials to help you get creative while reducing waste:
Reduction and reuse are first priorities as they have the most beneficial environmental impact in terms of waste reduction. However, recycling is a necessary and important piece of the waste reduction puzzle.
For recycling to be a beneficial part of a sustainable system, it needs to be done correctly with minimal contamination. Materials not accepted in recycling are called "contamination" because they negatively affect the recycling process for accepted materials or create safety hazards.
It is important to keep contamination low. Too many of the wrong items can lead to the entire load being landfilled. We all have a part to play to ensure recycling actually gets recycled. Only put accepted, clean (no food residue) items in your recycling bin.
For more information on curbside or drop-off recycling opportunities in Iowa City, visit www.icgov.org/recycle.
Upcycle and Repurpose
- Rag Rug Making:
- Plastic Bottle Bird Feeder (Inhabitat)
- Weaved Magazine Drink Coaster (How About Orange)
- No-sew T-shirt Reusable Bag (Mommypotamus)
- Old Drawer Upcycling (DIY & Crafts)
Simplify, Reduce Clutter, Increase Meaning
- New Dream: This organization provides resources on how we can improve well-being and decrease consumption.
- The Story of Stuff: Check out this website for information on current issues and resources on how to take action to reduce plastic pollution.
- 30 Day Unshopping Challenge: This challenge encourages us to take a break from shopping, and to use this time for more meaningful experiences that bring us joy.
- Simple Homemade Cleaning Recipes: View this handout for natural cleaning tips that reduce your use and exposure to hazardous material.
- Iowa City Resale and Consignment Directory: This guide provides a list of local secondhand and consignment stores in Iowa City and Coralville.
- Freecycle.org is another great resource that supports local reuse. This website is a platform for locals to post items they wish to get rid of or need. The items are free, and it is free to participate.
- Fair Trade: Fair Trade offers a labeling system that focuses on conscious consumption related to social and economic fairness, and environmental protection.
Borrow, Check Out, Rent
- Iowa City Area Rental Item Directory offers a variety of rental opportunities in our community for equipment, supplies, tools, and more.
Reduce Food Waste
- The following Food: Too Good To Waste strategies can help you reduce food waste:
- For recipes, food storage and planning tips, and more, check out Save the Food:
- Are you a restaurant wanting to reduce food waste? Check out the ReFed Restaurant Food Waste Action Guide.
- Have food that could be donated?
- Table to Table is a local non-profit organization that rescues edible food and delivers it to organizations in Iowa City that can use it.
Holiday Waste Reduction Guides
- Repair and Upcycle Series: This event series is held every January, February, and March. More information is above on this webpage.
- Iowa City Fab Lab: This local maker-space has frequent events related to upcycling and reuse.
- Backyard Abundance: This local nonprofit can help you create a beautiful, organic, low-maintenance landscape that reuses materials for gardens, creates compost from kitchen scraps and yard debris, provides habitat for desired wildlife, grows food and manages rainwater.
- Iowa City Bike Library: This organization offers classes and workshops related to bike maintenance and repair.