How to upcycle plastic milk jugs

Photo by Linda Coan O’Kresik

For most of us, the days of the milkman are long gone. You can no longer leave your glass bottles on the porch for the milkman to collect and fill. Now, plastic milk jugs (and the occasional carton) tend to reign on supermarket shelves and in our refrigerators.

Most plastic milk containers are made from high-density polyethylene, or HDPE, which is accepted by most curbside recycling programs. The track record on recycling milk jugs is not good, though. According to a report from the Environmental Protection Agency, only about 30 percent of these plastic jugs end up in the recycling bin.

And while plastic milk jugs can be melted down and made into new bottles for other beverages, no new milk jugs (and many other food containers) can be made from recycled plastic because of strict Food and Drug Administration guidelines spurned by fears over contamination.

Luckily, there are many uses for the milk jugs around your home and garden as long as you wash your jugs out thoroughly before you use them. Here are 11 ways to reuse plastic milk jugs.


You can make a handy scooping tool out of a used plastic milk jug for compost, fertilizer, soil or animal feed. Cut on an angle about two-thirds of the way down the milk jug, remove the bottom of the jug and sand the edges smooth. Half-gallon sized milk jugs are ideal for the task, but you can make larger scoops out of larger jugs. These step-by-step instructions from the magazine The Family Handyman shows you how.

Photo by Linda Coan O’Kresik


Use the bottom half of a clean plastic milk jug as a planter for shallow-rooted plants like herbs and leafy greens. Remove the top half of the milk jug, drill several holes in the bottom, line with a coffee filter to prevent soil from passing through, fill with soil and plant your seedlings. The containers are also fun to decorate and personalize before setting them out in a sunny spot.

Watering can

Save money on gardening supplies by making your own light-weight watering cans. Simply drill holes in the cap of your thoroughly cleaned milk jug, fill with water and screw the cap on tightly. The handle makes this DIY watering can easy to carry, and the plastic is strong enough to last you the whole season but light enough to help you conserve your energy while watering your garden beds.


Cloches are a popular season extender used to protect tender seedlings from the cold and pests. Instead of spending money on expensive clothes, cut a plastic milk jug two-thirds down and sand the edges. Place over your transplanted seedlings to create an enclosure from the chill, birds and rodents. Unscrew and remove the caps during the day to relieve the delicate shoots from the heat and to prevent mold. Remove the jug cloches once the plants’ shoots begin to develop.

Saucers for pots

If you have already used the top half of your plastic milk jug to make a cloche, repurpose the bottom half as a saucer for your container garden, indoor herb garden or houseplants.


By removing the cap, the top half of a milk jug can be used as a makeshift funnel for everything from transferring try or liquid kitchen goods between containers to adding fluids to your car.

Toilet brush holder

No need to spend money on a fancy toilet brush holder when you have a gallon-sized milk jug in your recycling bin. Cut a grooved opening in the top of your milk jug, leaving half of the top intact to support the handle. Thrifty Fun shows you how.


You can make self-watering irrigation system using milk jugs. Punch holes in the body of the jug, bury so that the cap is poking above the soil and fill with water every few days. Follow these step-by-step instructions from Off Grid World to get started with your own DIY upcycled irrigation system.  

Photo by Linda Coan O’Kresik

Hanging planters

You can use a trellis, or even a thin balcony or porch railing, to grow tomatoes (upside down, no less) in hanging milk jug planters. Following this DIY from Green Leaf Tips to start your own topsy-turvy upcycled garden.

Bird feeder

Transform your milk jug into a simple bird feeder by cutting one or two openings about three inches from the bottom of the clean, empty jug. Drill a hole about an inch below each hole and push a wooden dowel through to create a perch. Fill the bottom of the jug with bird feed and hang your feeder in a tree or on your porch to attract birds.

Tangle-free twine storage

Wily strings of twine often seem impossible to store effectively without the whole roll ending up in knots. Cut the bottom 4 inches off a half-gallon plastic milk jug, cut an “X” in the cap, thread the end of a spool of twine through and tape the two halves back together for easy access and storage.

Do you have a creative upcycled use for plastic milk jugs? Add it to the comments below.

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