Green DIY Projects To Reduce, Reuse, Recycle In honor of Earth Day, inventor and author Cy Tymony shares projects from his new book Sneaky Green Uses for Everyday Things. From a robot recycling bin to a nuclear energy simulation, many of Timony's DIY projects can be tackled with items commonly found around the house.

Green DIY Projects To Reduce, Reuse, Recycle

  • Download
  • <iframe src="" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript


You're listening to SCIENCE FRIDAY on NPR News. I'm Ira Flatow.

If you are paying attention on Earth Day this week, the phrase reuse, reduce, recycle, I'm sure it's going to ring a bell. And for the rest of the hour, we're going to be talking about simple projects. Simple projects you can do at home using things you have lying around the house already. We want to hear your ideas, too. How can you reuse stuff around the house? New things that you can make with stuff that you might be throwing out, might be giving away. What can you do with it? What kind of interesting new projects can you come up with?

Our number, 1-800-989-8255. 1-800-989-TALK. Tell us about your green do-it-yourself projects and you can join our guest, Cy Tymony. He's author of a new book, "Sneaky Green Uses for Every Day Things" recently out from Andrews McMeel.

Welcome back to the program, Cy.

Mr. CY TYMONY (Author, "Sneaky Green Uses for Every Day Things"): Thanks for having me back, Ira.

FLATOW: Wow. You just keep turning out these sneaky books.

Mr. TYMONY: Yeah. This is the sixth one and it's been very successful. And a good part of that is your audience responding to it and it's sold in museum stores, in science catalogs because it has a resourceful reuse fun type of look at science…

FLATOW: Mm-hmm.

Mr. TYMONY: …practical projects you can do.

FLATOW: Well, let's talk about some of them that I've put out here. You have sneaky reusable cup wraps, I thought.

Mr. TYMONY: Yes. Basically, you know, no matter how green you are, we do go out, we go to fast food places and restaurants. And when you add up all the utensils and coffee stirrers and spoons and napkins and cups that we use over a year, it's tremendous. So if you can…


Mr. TYMONY: …go out with some of those things, I mean, see if you had a collapsible cup and a few utensils, you know, plastic and whatever, and you can bring that with you and then wash it later. You can save a tremendous amount. I hear there's a person that's saving all of his refuse for a full year on a project, and he's going to show how much just an average person does. So we can cut down on that just by bringing some things along with us, either a wristband or a sneaky vest or just a little snack pack.

FLATOW: That's interesting because this looks to me like if, you know, you take an old sock and you cut the top of the sock off and then you use it as a cup warmer.

Mr. TYMONY: Yeah.

FLATOW: Keeps the heat or cold in. It's a really interesting way to use it.

Mr. TYMONY: Yeah. I mean, look how many cup warmers - we got get a cup of coffee…

(Soundbite of laughter)

…or tea and, you know, and all that cardboard and wood is used up.

FLATOW: Right.

Mr. TYMONY: And yet, you can just use a wristband, like you said, an old sock, and you have one, think how many that saves for a lot of the coffee drinkers.

FLATOW: Yeah. Instead of sliding that little paper band on, it keeps your hand from getting burned, you just put a little sock on it.

Mr. TYMONY: Yeah. And then when you do that and people see that, you know, you're teaching them, too, to kind of think of other ways to conserve when we're out and about.

FLATOW: And you had a really, I mean, a lot of little interesting projects in here, and one I wish I had thought of over all these years, and this is how to take a cereal food box - the cardboard box. And just by cutting it the right way, you make it into a magazine or a file holder.

Mr. TYMONY: Yeah. So many things here - you can take a Pringles chip cans -those cardboard tubes, and make a magazine holders. You can make, in a cylindrical type, you can - I've even made a collapsible robot out of cereal boxes, cookie boxes and toothpaste boxes that I can put right into a backpack. And there's all sorts of things. And even the small things like the aluminum foil that's on a little coffee creamer lid that we peel off…


Mr. TYMONY: …or the aluminum foil in candy wrappers and baseball card wrappers, I can use that for a spare wire sometimes. I really try to see all the materials we use in our consumables and how we can reuse those and turn them into toys and other craft projects and other practical things.

And I remember on the last show I was on, we were talking about Amy Smith from MIT…

FLATOW: Right.

Mr. TYMONY: …where she goes out and she goes to third world countries, and she shows them how to be resourceful and repair some of the things - water pumps and things that they have there, and also found out about the solar cooker project where they, you know, they mail cardboards, solar cookers, to the third world countries and that saves a lot of lives. I have a project like that in my book, too.

FLATOW: Tell us about it.

Mr. TYMONY: Yeah. Basically, in the third world, a lot of people, you know, they actually die. They leave the village to go get wood, and they are attacked and things like that - a lot of women, too. So - and then when they bring the wood back, they sometimes burn wood or even dung inside of a hut and they get carcinogens when they breathe. And also, a lot of times, they have to use the wood for other things so they don't boil water enough, where there's a project called, like the solar cooker project, where they mail these collapsible, foldable pieces of cardboard that have aluminum on the side and all you do is just put it together and it becomes a solar cooker to boil water, to cook food. And that prevents them from having to leave the village in the dangerous area.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. What…

Mr. TYMONY: And so…

FLATOW: Go ahead.

Mr. TYMONY: Oh, so there're so many things that people can do in a resourceful way that can not only be good for not sending all these consumables and trash to an incinerator, but also save lives right now by being resourceful.

FLATOW: Mm-hmm. 1-800-989-8255 is our number if you've got an idea for recycling, reusing stuff that you have around your house. Let's see if we've got some folks on the line with some ideas. Let's go to…

BILL (Caller): Or your bread bag that your bread came out of.

FLATOW: Let's go to Dave in, whoops. Dave, are you there?

BILL: Hello?

FLATOW: Dave. Yes.

BILL: No, this is Bill from Alaska.

FLATOW: Bill from Alaska. Hi, how are you?

BILL: I'm good. Hey, I had a comment and a question.


BILL: I've been recycling bags since I was in my early 20s, and I'm in my mid-50s now. I take a core from a paper towel tube, put tape over the end so it doesn't deteriorate, write save on it so the grocery people don't throw it away, wrap it with tape, and I can get years of use out of that stuff. And it would - the bags that you put your produce in and thereby going in the store with not only my bag to carry my groceries out, but my bags to put my produce in.


BILL: So that's my comment. My question is, when they - Safeway, Fred Meyers, I'm sure any number other places offer to recycle your bags. And would your panel or would you know - do you contaminate that load if you put a bread bag or something? I mean, there's all kinds of different things that come in plastic bags.

Primarily they want you to recycle the bags that you walk out the door with. Do you contaminate their batch? Can they not make as good a hairbrushes or whatever they make with that stuff? And do they actually have a history of making stuff or is that just another one of our facades in society.

FLATOW: Those, you know, those plastic bags are one of the worst banes of all recycling.

BILL: Couldn't agree with you more.

FLATOW: You know, and the dumps and everything, they last forever and get stuck in birds, in people. They get stuck on everything. Cy, you have any comment on that?

Mr. TYMONY: Yeah. I mean, what he's doing is a great idea, using the same bag over again. And when you mention the wrist wrap, also suggests, you know, we do still get bags if we buy clothing and other things. They're almost unavoidable. But when you do get them, you can compress them down to a tiny little cube and actually put them in the wristband or the vest and bring it with you.

And also, if you have extras, give them away to other people before they get a new one. So to - and like he was mentioning about recycling, now, you know, they have ways of recycling all sorts of plastic, so what - you know, like you said, if you brought back a bread bag or things that may have crumbs in it or whatever, they have ways of cleaning that up and processes for that, too.

But it's great that he has good ideas about - and just thinking about how can I reuse something and not throw it away so it doesn't wind up in a landfill or an incinerator?

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. Let's see if we can go to get Sean(ph) in Rockville. Are you there, Sean? I guess we lost Sean in Rockville.

Cy, let me go to your book. And I thought this was really cool, because I've always - I have so many books. I never thought I could make a safe out of the books like you see in the movies. You can take your hardcover book and make a little safe out of it.

Mr. TYMONY: Yeah. Basically, you know, we have some books that - we try to give away a lot of our books…


Mr. TYMONY: …as much as we can, but sometimes a book is something that a lot of people won't pick up for some reason. So if you can cut out in the center of a thick book about 30 pages or so, you have a nice little safe there. And you can glue the top and bottom pages over it, so even if they ruffle through it they won't see it.

But, by the way, speaking of refuge, when I took a trip to Toronto about a year ago, I noticed that all of their outside trash containers are all separate multi-bins for recycling, every single one, so that way they have an opening for cans, bottles or paper and regular trash.

And that's why in the back of the book, I designed some indoor multi-bins because out - you know, recycling and separating outside the house is one thing, but I tried to show people how they can take cardboard boxes and make them into a fun project like a rocket ship, or a race car or a robot. And separate things inside the house and make it fun, and including batteries. A lot of people don't separate their batteries enough. They're probably one of the least recyclable, but they could use - to be separated, too, as far as…


Mr. TYMONY: …having a separate little bin and pocket for everything.

FLATOW: Yeah. You talk about a lot of little recycling bins there, too. Another thing that doesn't get separated enough are these compact fluorescent light bulbs with mercury…

Mr. TYMONY: Yes.

FLATOW: …in them now.

Mr. TYMONY: Yes. Yeah. That's a good idea, too, to have a separate little slot for that, too, because they have to be disposed of in a special way.


Mr. TYMONY: So I tried to create an indoor multi-bin project, and even one for the trunk of the car, too. Sometimes just even taking a hanger and bending it a certain way around an existing trash bin or even in the trunk of your car gets people to want to separate things…


Mr. TYMONY: …and then take them to the recycling center and make it fun.

FLATOW: Yeah. So if you - as you show in your book, if you take a wire hanger and you bend it the right way and with a regular trash can - just the fact that you have created that separate area helps you to recycle is what you're saying.

Mr. TYMONY: Yes. Yes.

FLATOW: You see the visual cue, it's there. You say, well, I may as well put it in a little bag I'm making. And you've invested that time in making it, why not use it?

Mr. TYMONY: That's right. That's right.

FLATOW: Yeah. Talking with Cy Tymony, author of "Sneaky Green Uses for Everyday Things," part of his sneaky series of all kinds of good stuff. I was just wondering if, you know, there are ways to recycle all these ink cartridges. And they get pretty messy if you try to, you know, put the ink back in them yourself.

Mr. TYMONY: Yes.

FLATOW: Ever try doing that?

Mr. TYMONY: Not me personally because basically some of those can - well, in the modern-day ink cartridges, you know how, you know, in the past, ink jet printers were barely as good as the dot matrix? Then they out-passed lasers and they are so fine they make photographic quality outputs. Well, those nozzles are very thin. And I personally didn't want to take the chance of coagulation taking place and ruining my printer.

But like you said, a lot of people take recyclable ink cartridges and as long as it's from a reputable dealer…


MR. TYMONY: …I think it's a good idea. And also, for either regular or recyclables, to definitely put them in the package and mail them back or take them back to the dealer so that it can be disposed of or recycled properly.

FLATOW: 1-800-989-8255. Lucia(ph) in Somerville, Mass. Hi, Lucia.

LUCIA (Caller): Hi.

FLATOW: Hi there.

LUCIA: I'm a preschool teacher. And we recycle everything. So we make our own games. And some of the ideas that are so simple to do - the milk caps, you can make a lot of games off with them, you know, concentration or memory games. And you can make them so that they're - what the kids are interested or learning about. We use toilet paper rolls. We use them to make kazoos, and we also use them for indoor bowling. And we make puppets out of those, and also any kind of socks or old sleeves. Speaking of socks you wear - make great puppets.

The other thing that we do is that we've talked to kids - we have to use plastic cups for brushing our teeth, and paper towels we use all the time when we wash our hands, and so we recycle those into two separate little bins. And it took the kids - these are three and four-year-olds - it took them two days to figure this out.

FLATOW: Do they feel like they're part of something bigger?

LUCIA: They absolutely do. And the first time I was really aware of this was when they were playing in the block area. And the kids had made this incredible machine. And they were carting around all these things. And I said, where you are you going? And they said we're going to the recycle place. They had filled up this truck with all kinds of stuff that they were going to recycle.

And they learned this pretty much for me because we also drink a gazillion half gallons of milk. We don't have recycling curbside at our place of work, but I have it at home. And so I would take them all home. And that's the origin of all of this.

FLATOW: Wow. You've gotten your hands full. And you've got some great ideas there. Thank you for calling.

LUCIA: Oh, you're welcome. I love your show.

FLATOW: Thank you.

LUCIA: Bye-bye.

FLATOW: All right. 1-800-989-8255 is our number. We're talking with Cy Tymony on SCIENCE FRIDAY from NPR News. Cy, the author of a new book, "Sneaky Green Uses for Everyday Things." You know, you should've gone to the school teachers first. They have all these great ideas.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TYMONY: Yeah, I like her ideas.

FLATOW: For the yogurt cups and, you know, the used stuff, she had some great ideas.

Mr. TYMONY: Yeah. In fact, I'm glad that she's incorporating fun in that because in my books I show how to take old paper, junk mail and cardboard from product boxes and make boomerangs, and Frisbees and origami toys to make things fun so that, you know.

FLATOW: Right.

Mr. TYMONY: Recycling is one thing, but it's a little mundane, a little bit of a chore. But if you show people how to reuse things, then their minds are cranking along. And like she said, she's making great use of bottle tops. I mean, even a dispenser of tape, all that plastic and the little tape holder itself that we discard, there's all sorts of things. If you look around you can always make another use out of something. And that's why I try to design my books after that style of innovative reuse and fun. And also, you learn science at the same time.

FLATOW: Hey, I want to know, in all your books, is there one project that stands out most, is the most popular project?

Mr. TYMONY: Actually, there's two. In the first book, "Sneaky Uses," I show how to turn a penny into a radio. It's modeled after the old crystal radio projects that started back in World War I and World War II. And I show how to turn a penny, and a paper clip and some wire into a working AM radio.

The other one that people like is my gadget jacket. I take a denim jacket. And I take things that people discard like little personal alarms and all the gadgetry and put it in there with Velcro and make Velcro pockets. And it's like a James Bond jacket. And people love that.

And so there's so much. Like I say, after six books, there's so many reuse ideas there. And people come up with things all of the time. And I'm always looking for something that deals with a mass consumer product as far as product packaging to sort of reuse that and put that back into use.

FLATOW: So, have you got another book in you now?

Mr. TYMONY: Yes. I'm working on a "Sneaky" science book for next year. And I think you'll like that, too. I think the audience will.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. TYMONY: I'm getting more into the background of what I'm doing. The other books I tried to show the trick or the gimmick and excite people with things that they didn't think they could do with everyday things, like turn milk into plastic and things like that. And so now I'm trying to write a science trick book that's similar but goes more into the theory part, too.

FLATOW: You mean, tricks you can perform with science magic.

Mr. TYMONY: Yes.

FLATOW: That sort of stuff?

Mr. TYMONY: Exactly.

FLATOW: All right, Cy, we're going to look for that when it comes out. And I want to thank you for - as always - taking time to be with us today.

Mr. TYMONY: Oh, thank you for having me back.

FLATOW: You're welcome. Cy Tymony, author of "Sneaky Green Uses for Everyday Things." He's got a whole series of "Sneaky" books. And I think you heard about him first right here on SCIENCE FRIDAY.

Copyright © 2009 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.