• Macs

3 Sense-tingling Ways To Reuse Glow Sticks

Updated: Jul 31, 2018

I can't let my concentration slip as this is the crowning glory of my snow-based version of a tower of cards. I smooth off one last icy orb to place on top of my carefully (and precariously) stacked snowball lantern. It stays standing. Delighted, I hurriedly pull fist-fulls of thin glow-sticks from my pocket for the final pièce de résistance and poke them in through the gaps. The snow lanterns come to life, their temporary existence is quietly celebrated in the muffled chill of the lightly snowing evening.

However, I'm acutely aware that this glow-stick fun comes at an environmental cost; glow-sticks are non-recyclable. Which is why with bit of creativity I plan for the fun to go on and on.

Glow-sticks in bath

What do you know about glow-sticks?

It just so happened that stashed at the back of a cupboard I had a packet of 20 glow-sticks a friend had given me, and I had been waiting a while for an occasion to use them. The Beast from the East presented that very opportunity and the snow lanterns were created. But, as with any single use, non-recyclable item I was very aware that the sticks could sit in landfill for hundreds of years, all for just a few hours' use. So I did some research to better understand glow-sticks and found out 4 key things:

1. Recycling glow-sticks is not possible due to the type of plastic and the chemicals they contain. So they go to landfill where they take many years to even partially decompose.

2. They glow due to a chemical reaction between three substances. A thin glass vial inside the plastic tube contains hydrogen peroxide in phthalic ester. The surrounding liquid is another chemical called phenyl oxalate ester. These chemicals are mostly used to help make plastics soft and flexible – but also used in glues, nail polish, leather, inks and dyes. These aren't highly dangerous, but like all chemicals should be treated carefully as they can cause irritation to skin, and are harmful to your eyes and respiratory tract. There is, of course, the chance once in landfill they can break down and create pollution.

3. Cold air slows the chemical reaction in the glow-sticks and makes them last longer. They can be kept in the freezer and 'reused' in warmer conditions such as in hot water, which prompts the chemical reaction to begin again. They will, however, be less bright compared to first use.

4. Glow-sticks actually glow in UV light even once the chemical reaction has ceased.

It's upsetting to know that there is no possibility these items can be recycled, even if we wanted to.

Recycled glow-sticks

Remarkably, the single use aspect of glow-sticks is not something others seem too bothered about. There are numerous blogs out there by creative mums finding ways to entertain their children during the cold and dark winter months. Many involve the use of glow sticks – and there really are countless ways, using countless numbers of these sticks....

I wonder why it is that the K-cup has become the most iconic example of frivolous, waste creating non-essentials, when these little chemical-filled environmental disasters are sold by the box-load for only a pound. I suspect it's all to do with their association with fun – and anyone criticising would be considered a party-pooper.

Luckily, I have a few different ideas up my sleeve for pro-longing their use and up-cycling them to give me as much entertainment, and them as many lives, as possible.

There is so much more you can do with these little plastic tubes of magic...

I came came up with a plan to use them for 3 separate sensory experiences:-

1st Incarnation: Swedish Snowball lanterns.

Swedish snowball lanterns using glowsticks

By using glow-sticks in the snowball lantern in cold temperatures, I could enjoy them for three days (admittedly much dimmer by the second and third night but still emitting an eerie glow), until the snow begun to thaw. Then I put them in the freezer in preparation for their next incarnation.

2nd Incarnation: Glow bath fun.

Ideas for glow-sticks

Yes, I admit I may have been inspired by one enthusiastic mum's website post called 'bath time fun for kids.' Except, why should children have a monopoly on sense-tinglers? This is visually pleasing to children and adults alike and made for a fabulously relaxing and alternative bath experience, especially when accompanied by some pleasant fragrances candles and a little music.

3rd Incarnation: Hidden UV painting.

Glow-stick colour swatches
L: Swatches of glow-stick liquid from four differently coloured glow-sticks. R: Blue glow-stick liquid mixed in PVA glue, to help it set better on the acrylic painting.

Inspired by a National Geographic article on how differently coloured and patterned flowers appear under UV lights, I hit upon the idea to create a painting on the same premise: One image visible in natural light, another under UV light. More on this project in my post The Visible Vs The Invisible - Two Paintings In One.

As used glow-sticks still glow under UV light, I would use the glow-stick liquid as my ink.

Alongside traditional paints, any areas which I wanted to show up under UV light, I painted with the glow-stick liquid mixed with PVA glue. The result is a painting which looks like a sunset in normal light, but transforms into a beautiful moonscape under a UV bulb.

Glow-stick painting

Final Incarnation: Making bracelets or wall art.

Up-cycled glow-stick bracelets

With just the plastic tubes left (all the glass carefully removed and the ends re-sealed), these flexible pieces of plastic can be decorated and up-cycled by anyone with the creative nous and motivation to do something cool.

These colourful bracelets are from a creative blog called Babble Dabble Do. But they don't have to be this colourful, any fabric or decorations such as beads and satin ribbon can be used depending on your preference.

Should we being using glow-sticks at all?

My plan to use up some glow-sticks which had sat in the back of a cupboard for some time involved a lot of thought and several stages to pro-long their use. As fun as this challenge was, I will be sure to avoid glow-sticks in the future – regardless of how much sensory fun can be had with them. With a clear message of how single-use plastic is affecting our environment, I can only hope people choose more environmentally friendly alternatives to glow-sticks such as glow-in-dark-paint and led lights.

You see, I love nature, and if one type of momentary delight ruins another far more important one then a choice has to be made. After all, there are only so many up-cycled bracelets and bits of wall art a person can have use for – and an alternative endless array of environmentally sound sensory experiences to chose from instead.

What great up-cycling ideas do you have to pro-long the use of glow-sticks? Do you have more sense ticking ideas that use alternatives to glow-sticks? Let us know your thoughts in the comments section below:


 Welcome to Sensorama - a blog to tickle the senses.


This blog is dedicated to curiously exploring the world via the 5 senses of sight, sound, smell, taste and touch.
Our perception of reality is determined by our own senses - and there are millions of sensory experiences out there for us to explore. Join sensorama bloggers Macs and Oliver as we take you on an extraordinary tour of the world all around us through sensory science, experiences, stories and sensations.


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