DISCARDED CRISP packets, broken windscreens, empty Evian bottles - the everyday contents of an urban bin, or the latest in post-modern design? When used to create everyday amenities such as work surfaces, jewellery and lights, the answer is most definitely the latter.

Opposite (01279 600620), an Italian design group launching into the UK through Purves & Purves at the end of this month, calls it "Design Ironico" - the name of its range of wheel-hub clocks, trays made from melted-together bottles (pictured right), or lights from stacked Evian bottles. "It's about using shapes again; giving a second chance to domestic items; re- evaluating the inner design of industrial items - a little bit of irony," explains a company spokesman.

Its "Time Wheels" range, for example, fits Seiko movements into car rims of various colours and uses Moto Guzzi headlights as clocks. Brightly coloured coat-racks, with hooks made from crushed plastic bottles, make up the "Dune" range, while the "Deja Vu" collection turns Tynant, Grolsch, Corona and Smirnoff bottles on their heads and re-presents them as drinking glasses.

Nowadays such design is called re-using, but its origins lie in recycling - with one crucial difference: the original objects used can be new or old, as long as the retake looks good. "Even if something is recycled, it needs to be beautiful," says Piers Roberts of Same (0171-247 992), the UK stockists for the German company, Bopp, which produces recycled- plastic table lights for pounds 15, pendants for pounds 16 and free-standing lights for between pounds 48 and pounds 90.

New in, too, from the appropriately named ASA 100, are 100 white "fairy" lights made out of translucent film- canisters. It's a question of how you see, believes Pamina of the eponymous jewellery company, who got some strange looks when she began picking up bits of broken windscreen- glass from gutters. "It glistened so beautifully in the sunlight, and it breaks in unusual, neat shapes." Now, she bulk buys from Autoglass, choosing Fiat glass for earrings because it's lighter, and Volvo glass for heavier, chunky pendants. Her bold, one-off pieces (pictured left) range from pounds 120 for earrings to pounds 1,200 for a necklace (available from Harvey Nichols or direct on 0171-352 3470).

Being environmentally friendly is an aesthetic must for Jane Atfield and her company, Made From Waste (0171-278 6971). She recycles coat-hangers, Maxpax coffee cups, yoghurt pots and bottles for her recycled plastic sheets (ideal as a good-looking alternative for kitchen worktops; minimum order pounds 100) and furniture, which comes in colours from the brightest blue to the most neutral Welsh slate. Her newest furniture designs are a folding chair (pounds 160), and folding table and bench (pounds 190) made from recycled plastic and sustainable wood.

Indeed, her ethos is just what the national Buy Recycled Campaign - launched this week by local authorities with retailer and manufacturer support - would recommend if Britain is to reach its environmental targets of recycling 25 per cent of waste by 2000. But the re-using movement is as much, if not more, about invention and re-interpretation as simple environmental worthiness. This is portrayed in the Craft Council's (0171- 806 2500) current exhibition "Satellites of Fashion", which includes Sarah Crawford's fluorescent scrubbing-brush bag (constructed from nylon sheets, scrubbing brushes and fishing line), and Sharon Porteous' hand- woven textile bags made from born-again plastic carrier-bags.

The modern message is that everything can be anything and vice versa as long as it's witty and ironic. Even those old soft toys can become a child-friendly armchair or a teddy footstool, as designer Jackie Piper (0171-359 5300) showed children on Blue Peter earlier this week. So next time you're thinking of throwing out the rubber duck with the bath water, or you're working out how to squash piles of plastic water bottles into a bin, think twice. With a bit of innovation they could be the centrepiece of the room.