Blogger Amy Steinbauer

Recycle, Reuse, and Imagine!

I’ve been growing a reputation in my system. I am known as the trash collector. It’s not something I ever thought I would be… I haven’t always been the best recycler.

This is how it is in the land of children’s library programs– I have been thinking about how to stretch my precious dollars (this is a side note that I will discuss at another time) to create more opportunities for early learning, STEAM, and play for children.

People throughout the system send me bubble wrap and random clutter in their lives. My branch colleagues know to ask me first before they discard any odd containers or paper/cardboard.

Food Containers:

Lids from food platters make great sensory bins! They are big and may be readily available if your library allows foods for meetings. We have lots of meetings at my branch, and I am always ready to grab the plastic containers.

People love to bring food into work— one of my coworkers brought in a tray of macaroons and the little holes were perfect for making rainbow ice for an art/sensory program.

Wash out yogurt containers for perfect cups or bowls for dramatic play. Same as cheese or ice cream containers— I can use my dairy addiction to fund this endeavor. Also, besides play, they are great containers to organize and save items. I currently have edible water beads (tapioca pearls) floating in some burrata containers.

Mochi containers (frozen ice cream treat) are perfect for mini palettes for painting. They typically have six holes that you can use to share


We have used the packing material of brown paper to twist up for rainforest vines in our bimonthly programs. It is easy to save– and grab from all our book boxes.

Big boxes (also book boxes) can be used for photo props or other dramatic play adventures.

Food cardboard boxes can provide opportunities for pretend grocery store fun! This was one of my most popular and fun programs. Have your coworkers save boxes, and then recycle at the end!

Paper towel rolls can be used for so much more! I have made thousands of things with them– binoculars, kazoos, race cars, and stampers. Whatever doesn’t get destroyed in that activity, can be re-used again!

Bubble wrap arrives in packaging and can be used for a fun Jump Station or to make process art!

Final Thoughts:

You are only limited by your imagination! I like to try to hold a weird item in my hand and pause to think about what else it could be. It helps to take a second and think about how a child would approach this. Maybe this cardboard coffee carry container would be a fun stamp or play phone. You can always try searching for similar things on Pinterest or Google, and see what has been done with recycled materials. It is helpful for parents/caregivers because it shows them what they can recreate at home. And also, it helps me do my little part to help take care of the planet.



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *