By Contributing Editor Kristina Strain

When it comes to promoting green habits, recycling gets all the attention. Everywhere there are recycling bins, recycling guides, recycling centers. Recycling gets to bask in the limelight, while its companion R’s, Reduce and Reuse, sit lonely in the dust. Nowhere are there Reduce Bins. There is no Reuse Pickup Night. Meanwhile, people eagerly rinse out and pile up their empty bottles and cans, and rush out to buy the latest trendy home recycling bin, happily rooting for recycling.

Recycling is sort of a green “gateway drug”– the green behavior people adopt before any other, the first step towards lessening their impact on the planet. And of course, recycling is green. The benefits of recycling are enormous. It’s easy, and it’s catching on. Precisely because of this, home recycling can blindside us into making some not-so-green choices. The aforementioned trendy home recycling bins, there’s a good example. Sure, you want to make recycling easy and attractive in your home– but going out and plunking down the bucks for a shiny new steel-clad unit? That might be sticking true to recycling, but reducing and reusing it emphatically is not.

With that somewhat long-winded introduction, I bring you a project. A re-purposed recycling bin you can make at home, from some junk you probably have stuffed in your garage or basement. Skills necessary: spray painting, using a power drill. Most of the time required is for letting the paint dry in between coats. Anyone could complete this project in the space of a weekend; the truly committed could knock it off in a single day.


1 two-drawer metal filing cabinet

1 metal wire dish drying rack

1 can spray-on metal primer

1 can spray paint, color of your choice

4 casters, 1″ or bigger

6 fender washers

22 all-purpose screws, 1″ long
1 pair heavy-duty wire or pipe cutters
1 power drill with metal drill bit
1 metal file

Notes: For touch-ups, you might want a second can of spray paint. Your wire or pipe cutters need to be capable of cutting through the dish drying rack; plan accordingly. Fender washers are found with the ordinary washers in the hardware store. They are unique in that the hole in the middle is small enough for them to be attached with an ordinary screw.

The first step, naturally, is to prime and paint both filing cabinet and dish drying rack, and let dry. Mine took about one coat of primer and three coats of paint. Before priming/painting, make sure your cabinet is free of dust by wiping the whole thing down with a damp rag. If there are any rusty spots, rub them out with a little sandpaper.

*For an even greener project, you can forgo the spray-painting– for a recycling bin that’s going to live in your garage, beauty need not be a priority– and stick with the cabinet’s original shade.

Once your cabinet is completely dry, flip it onto its head. Fit your drill with a metal drill bit, and drill holes for your casters.

Optional: For added stability, you could cut two pieces of 1″ plywood and fit them in under where your casters are going to go. This would give the screws something more to “grip.”

Attach the casters with screws. Turn the cabinet onto its side, now, and get ready to address the dish drying rack.

Use your wire/pipe cutters to trim away part of the dish drying rack. I cut away one of the short sides, giving me a sort of oblong basket shape. Set the modified dish rack face-down on the side of the cabinet where you want it to go, and mark six evenly spaced x’s around the perimeter where the washers are going to hold it down. Use your metal drill bit and drill holes where your x’s are.

Attach the dish rack using screws and fender washers.

To make the filing cabinet’s drawers easier to slide out, (which will be very necessary and important on recycling pick-up night) slide the drawer out as far as it will go and locate the “wings”– two flaps of metal that push out from the runners on the drawer. These flaps are pretty easy to push inward. Once you’ve done that, the drawer will slide out freely.

I made some magnets for my recycling bin, to label the drawers and give it some personality. I’ve chosen to use one drawer for paper, one for containers, and the “basket” on the side for cardboard. My recyclables will be organized and neatly concealed from here on out!

This project simplifies home recycling while at the same time providing a new use for some commonly discarded materials. Commercially available recycling bins, though attractive, are probably not the greenest choice. The energy cost just in producing them is enormous, and there’s the CO2 and petroleum involved to get them to your house, as well. Metal filing cabinets and old crusty wire dish racks are items that can be had close to home for very little money. You’re keeping things out of the landfill–or, ironically, out of the metal recycling scrap heap– and creating a unique home recycling solution.

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