StopWaste at School


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The Reuse Corner

~Resources and ideas for the thrifty and creative teacher.

Cell Phone Camera Lens Hack

Super-Macro ViewSuper-Macro ViewGuest post by Nate Ivy

Here's a simple way to get more out of your cell phone camera by reusing components from a "disposable" camera to create macro, wide-angle & fisheye lenses.

Disposable cameras are frequently reprocessed after they are turned in to a photo developer, and for good reason- they contain a wide variety of interesting and useful components including lenses, batteries, capacitors, LED's and more.  A strong argument can be made for NOT hacking a used disposable camera because it is likely to be remanufacuted,  However, if you are interested in expanding the range of your cell phone camera, the lenses from a disposable camera are a cheap way to go.

For safety's sake, locate a disposable camera without a flash.  Cameras with flashes contain capacitors, electronic components capable of storing a large electrical charge. Even after the battery is removed, the capacitor in a disposable flash camera can hold enough electricity to hurt or kill you!.  After taking all the pictures on the disposable camera, wind the film until the ratchet spins free- this ensures that you don't ruin the film when opening the camera.

1)  Use a pair of needle nose pliers to remove the plastic ring holding the camera's lens in place.  The ring breaks away easily, allowing extraction of the lens.

Remove the ring and lensRemove the ring and lens

2) Hold the lens over your cell phone camera lens and start taking pictures.  The lens shape is plano-convex.  Place the flat part of the disposable lens against your camera. When taking photos with the extra lens in place, you'll have to hold your camera very close to the subject.  You'll also have to experiment with different distances from the subject to find the right focus. I had good luck at about 1-3 inches away.  Once you've found a good focus length, you might want to slightly adjust the placement of the disposable lens to get the best image.

  Hold lens in placeHold lens in place

3) You can further enhance the magnification by using your camera's zoom feature if available.  Click on the images below to see examples.

No macro lens in placeNo macro lens in place  With macro lens in placeWith macro lens in place  Macro lens and ZoomMacro lens and Zoom

4) Disposable cameras also include a "view finder"- the part of the camera you look through to frame your photo.  The view finder is a set of two lenses, one concave, and one convex that focus an image to your eye.  The view finder provides a "wide angle" view representative of the photos the disposable camera takes.  Remove the view finder to create wide angle and fish-eye lens photos with your cell phone camera.

The view finder is easily separated from the camera after some strategic plastic breaking.The view finder is easily separated from the camera after some strategic plastic breaking.

5) Use the view finder assembly in its factory configuration to take wide angle pictures.  Simply hold the assembly up to your cell phone camera lens.

Standard viewStandard view  Wide angle viewWide angle view

6) To create a fish-eye lens, reverse the larger concave lens at the front of the view finder.

Standard configurationStandard configuration  Fish-eye configurationFish-eye configuration

7)  Hold the modified view finder in front of your cell phone camera lens to take fish-eye photos. 

Standard viewStandard view  Fish-eye viewFish-eye view

8)  Experiment with different lens and camera settings to get a new perspective on the world.  (Note, the smaller, convex lens at the front of the view finder also works well as a macro lens.)  Here are some more pictures taken from my cell phone using the lenses from the disposable camera.

Nickel, Macro lens, 4x zoomNickel, Macro lens, 4x zoom  Coins, macro lens, no zoomCoins, macro lens, no zoom 

Macro coins w/ 4x zoomMacro coins w/ 4x zoom  Fish-eye roomFish-eye room 

  Fish-eye kidFish-eye kid 

Fabric Gift Bags

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This project has been a long standing favorite of mine. I have taught kids as young as 6 to make these gift bags. All of my friends have received presents in these gift bags over the years. It reduces waste during the winter holiday season, which can be a time of consumerism and waste over-load.

Materials Needed:

  • Fabric- decorator samples work great, handkerchiefs, bandanas, dish towels, t-shirts, etc.
  • Pinking shears
  • Ribbon- I use at least 12 inches but could use as much as 30 inches
  • Glue gun and glue sticks
  • Steam iron
  • Scraps of lace, seam binding or decorative trim
  • Buttons
  • Tapestry needle (large, sturdy needle with large eye)


1. Select the fabric you wish to use.

Fabric Scrap from Design BookFabric Scrap from Design Book

2. If using a glue gun, plug it in to pre-heat.

3. Remove any stapled or glued tags from the fabric. The one pictured came from a interior designer upholstery sample book.

4. Using pinking shears, trim the edges of all four sides of the fabric. Sometimes fabric samples are already trimmed by pinking shears. Look for a zigzag edge. If using fabric sample, trim away any fabric with holes or glue.

5. Iron the fabric with the steam iron. Pay attention to the fabric content. If the fabric is a natural fiber (linen, cotton, silk, wool), use high heat and steam. If the fabric is a synthetic (polyester, nylon, acrylic) be careful not to melt or scorch it with an iron that is too hot.

Iron smoothIron smooth 

6. Fold the fabric in half and press the fold with the steam iron.

7a. If using a glue gun, put a thin, consistent line of hot glue around one edge of the fabric and quickly press the opposite side of the fabric onto the glue. You may wish to lay down about 4 inches of glue at a time and then press the fabric down.

 Attaching sides with glue gunAttaching sides with glue gun

Once you have glued one side, use the same procedure along the bottom of the fabric. You should have one open end when you finish gluing.

Closing the bottom of the bagClosing the bottom of the bag

7b. If stitching, thread the tapestry needle with 20 or so inches of very thin ribbon or yarn. Stitch along one side and bottom of the bag. Leave one end unsewn.

Closing sides and bottom with threadClosing sides and bottom with thread

8. Using the steam iron again, press the finished bag for a polished product.

9a. The bag can be closed with a ribbon, cinching the bag's top or open end. I will often hang a gift tag from the bow loop. The one below has a gift tag made from a paper bag and calendar illustration.

Decorative ribbon closureDecorative ribbon closure

9b. Or attach a button about mid way in the center front. Using thin ribbon, lace or yarn, a loop can be created to catch the button and close the bag.

Alternate button closureAlternate button closure

Variations of this project are many. Lace scraps or decorative trim make a nice addition to the top of the bag. Here are just a few samples.

Completed Gift BagsCompleted Gift Bags 

Make a Beautiful Tin Box From a Can

This wonderful video posted to YouTube teaches how to make an embossed tin box using an aluminum can, cure sandpaper, scissors and a pointed stick.  It is a great example of creative reuse showing a process where the artists creativity adds tremendous value to ordinary objects.

Like any project, the pro in the video makes it look easy.  You may find that the aluminum can is a bit too soft and thin.  When I tried it the first time, I ended up tearing the aluminum at a seam and poking a hole through when embossing.  An aluminum food service tray proved to be a bit thicker and easier to manipulate as I learned how to do this great project.

Tools of the Trade Part 2

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Essential Tools

After my last blog about tools, I thought about what tools I think are the most vital. So, here is what I would offer as my "can't do without" tools that help me repair, reuse, rehabilitate and renovate things that might normally end up in the trash. The tools are offered in no particular order.

  1. Power drill with a good selection of bits, including and especially a Phillips head bit. Nothing fancy is needed but it is great to have one that reverses.
  2. Hammer, nothing fancy but a good claw hammer is indispensible.
  3. Variety of screwdrivers, Phillips and standard, from really big to eyeglass repair size. Not a fan of the stubby ones but that is personal preference.
  4. Ice pick, great for opening a plugged tube of caulk or glue, putting a pilot hole for a nail or screw.
  5. Channel lock pipe wrench. A coworker suggested this tool to me when I bought my first house. Thanks Tom!
  6. Vice grip. It will open up the tightest pipe fittings.
  7. Nylon spatula. These work great for scrapping things you don't want to scratch and can also clean up a caulking seam.
  8. Glue gun. Ah... these are great. Be sure to get a good one that has both high and low temperature settings.
  9. Tin snips. These are great for cutting aluminum cans, steel and other metal.
  10. Bent or needle nose pliers. Can hold something tiny with one hand and work on it with the other.
  11. Loaf pans. I love metal loaf pans that I pick up from the thrift store. An excellent way to store drill bits , nails, screws or other tiny things
  12. Safety glasses. Don't dismiss these things! They have saved my eyes more than once.
  13. Staple gun. These come in handy often.
  14. Miter box and saw. It will give you the perfect 45 degree angle cut for picture frames or molding.
  15. Tooth brush. Great for applying paint is a speckly, random way (flick paint off the brush with your thumb by ruffling the bristles) or cleaning off something before you glue it.
  16. Hand sized rock. Perfect for closing a can of paint.
  17. Rolling pin. These can flatten a piece of aluminum or even clay. Don't use the kitchen one, though. I found one at a garage sale that is dedicated for craft and repair uses only.

Optional tools that make a job much easier would be a Dremel rotary tool with a tile cutting bit, wire cutters, tool belt, table saw, jig saw and caulk.  

Decoupage Transit Pass/Card Holder

I love this project. It is a great way to repurpose an Altoid's Mint box and keep it out of the garbage and recycling bin. My favorite children made 2 of these boxes for me and put their pictures on the inside lid!

Materials Needed:

  • 1 Altoid's mint box, empty
  • Scissors
  • Paintbrush
  • Modge Podge or other decoupage medium
  • Stickers, ribbon, paper, catalogs, calendar pages, sheet music or other interesting decorative elements


  1. Wipe out the inside of the box, making sure no mint dust remains.
  2. Cut out elements you want to use to decorate the box.
  3. Using a paint brush, apply Modge Podge or other decoupage medium to the elements and place on the box. Let box dry overnight.
  4. Apply a second coat of Modge Podge or other decoupage medium over the entire box to increase the durability of the applied elements. Again, let the box dry overnight.

These boxes have been in my back pack for about a year. They have held up really well, even with daily use.

Card HolderCard Holder