Today I'm showing you how to upcycle a carton into a trendy terrazzo planter + sharing a little bit about the importance of recycling cartons and how to!
Did you know you should be recycling your cartons?
Cartons are recyclable!
I didn't know this until this past earth day when I got to go behind the scenes of a recycling facility here in Denver to learn all about it — more on that later + some fun facts about carton recycling)
It turns out not all cartons are labeled with the recycling icon even though they're recyclable — think milk, juice, soup cartons, etc.
Let's dive into this DIY before we get to some more super interesting things about carton recycling.
MAKE AN UPCYCLED CARTON PLANTER
I definitely recommend watching the video above for details because its way easier to understand if you watch my show you vs tell you — AND there are some other hidden gems you HAVE to see *cough* lizard story *cough*— but here are the written instructions too:
- Empty Milk / Juice Carton
- Polymer Clay —White for base
- Polymer Clay —Mix of colors for stone texture
- Faux plants / floral picks —You can also use real plants
- Floral Foam or soil if you're using real plants
- Clay Roller OR Rolling pin — one not used for food
- Box Knife
- Knife to cut clay
- Pan / Cookie Sheet for baking clay
01. MEASURE & CUT YOUR CARTON — Cut the top of your carton off all the way around — making sure it stays even on the cut edge. Recycle the top of your carton!! Set aside.
02. ROLL OUT THE WHITE CLAY — Roll it out into a long strip that is wide enough to cover the sides of your carton and long enough so that it can wrap all the way around your carton, with an additional square to go on the bottom — and about 1/4" thick.
03. CUT COLORED CLAY PIECES & CREATE TERRAZZO PATTERN —Cut little pieces of colored clay. Press these into the white clay, varying colors shapes & patterns. Roll over the entire surface to get these chunks flat and even into the white base.
04. WRAP IT UP — wrap the clay around all four sides, trimming the excess and attaching the edges. Leave a little room at the top to fold your clay over and into the carton for smooth edges. Trim and attach your bottom square.
05. BAKE IT — Preheat the oven and bake according to the temperature on the package. Optional — over with foil to prevent discoloration. Let cool.
06. ADD PLANT & STYLE — Add floral foam or a layer of gravel into the bottom of your planter. Add & arrange plant(s). You can also add a layer of rocks on the top if your plants don't cover the foam.
- You can't really over bake clay, but you can under-bake so its better to err on the side of too long vs to short.
- You can also re-bake it, so if you don't go long enough you can put it back in for longer.
- If your clay is browning, your temp is too hot.
Measure and cut the carton
Decide how tall you want your planter to be, and measure up from the bottom.
Cut the top of your carton off where you measured — all the way around — making sure it stays even on the cut edge. Recycle the top of your carton!!
You can rinse this part out if you haven't, pat it dry with a towel, and then set it aside. You want it to be totally dry before you wrap the clay around it.
Roll out your white clay
Start rolling out your clay. You want it to be about 1/4" thick (thicker will take longer to bake).
Roll it out into a long strip that is wide enough to cover the sides of your carton — with extra so you can fold it inside to create clean edges — and long enough so that it can wrap all the way around all 4 sides of your carton, with an additional square to go on the bottom.
As you add a new piece to the strip, use your fingers to smooth the crack where the two pieces attach for a seamless look.
Cut colored clay pieces + create a terrazzo pattern
Cut little chunks off the block of your colored clay — sticking with geometric shapes.
Press these into your white base clay, varying colors shapes & patterns.
Once these are pressed in, roll over the entire surface to get these chunks flat and even into the white base.
Wrap it up
Starting on the side of your carton, wrap the clay around all four sides, trimming the excess and attaching both edges so that everything is fully covered.
Leave a little room at the top so that you can fold your clay over and into the carton to create smooth and polished edges.
Trim and attach your bottom square.
Work your way around the piece, smoothing it out with your hands and making sure to fix any wrinkles or tears.
Preheat the oven according to the temperature on the package — mine was 300°. It's important not to exceed this temp since it can cause your clay to burn and turn darker, especially white clay.
You package will also note a bake time — usually referenced in terms of # of minutes per 1/4 inch thickness. My package said 10-30 min, but I baked mine for 50.
You can't really over bake clay, but you can under-bake so its better to err on the side of too long vs to short. You can also re-bake it, so if you don't go long enough you can put it back in for longer.
*If your clay is browning, your temp is too hot. You can also put a piece of foil over your pieces while backing to ensure they dont darken.
When your clay is done, it will bend but not break when you try to bend it. Hot clay will still break so let it cool before testing it.
Add your floral foam or a layer of gravel into the bottom of your planter.
Arrange and add in your plants.
You can also add a layer of rocks on the top to cover up your floral foam if your plants dont cover the foam.
Display & enjoy!
The scoop on carton recycling
What do recycled cartons become?
Recycled cartons can be turned into paper goods like tissue & toilet paper AND building materials like Rewall which is used to cover stadium roofs — see how the roof looks towards the end this video.
Recycling cartons keeps them out of landfills — plus it takes less energy to make goods out of recycled materials vs starting from scratch.
How do you recycle your cartons?
01. Empty out the carton
02. Put it in the recycling bin
03. Take it to the curb
While 63% of households across the country have access to carton recycling, you'll want to make sure carton recycling is available in your area. You can check using this locator from Carton Council.
When recycling, you can leave the caps on and push straws in — these items won't get recycled by themselves because they're too small, but can if you leave them with the carton.
No need to rinse — just empty the food / beverage out.
Don't crush your cartons — it's actually easier for the recycling robot (more on him next) to pick them out if you leave them uncrushed.
Clarke the recycle robot
I got to go behind the scenes of a recycling facility to see how the process works.
Some facilities use AI robots to scan the conveyor belt and pick cartons out from the other recyclables.
The one here in Denver is named Clarke, and you should totally check out the video above for a little clip about how he works because it's pretty amazing.
The recycling industry is actually super innovative, which is something I didn't expect.