It happens to the best of us. You’re excited for a live event, and you optimistically predict that hundreds are going to swarm into the venue. In your moment of hype, you order a bunch of branded swag to hand out.

But alas – not as many people showed up as you originally thought. Maybe it started storming or aliens took over the planet. Life is unpredictable, and as a result, you now have a ton of extra promotional products weighing you down.

Leftover promotional items don’t have to go to waste! There are four easy solutions: repurpose, trade, donate, or recycle. Find out how!

1. Repurpose Trade Show Swag

The trade show is behind you, but good marketing never sleeps. Use your extra swag as a creative way to reach new customers, whether it’s online through social media or offline at other marketing events.

Do you have extra trade show giveaways? Here are some ideas on what to do with them!

Prizes in a Social Media Contest

social media

Do you want to hear something that will blow your mind? A staggering 34% of new customers are acquired through social media contests. If you have a strong presence on Facebook or Instagram, consider hosting an epic giveaway with your leftover freebies as prizes.

Swag at a Pop-Up Shop

pop-up shop

Portillo’s, Amazon, and Nike are just a few brands who have had pop-up shops. These temporary stores provide an interactive experience where people can stop by, take pictures with cool backgrounds, and play fun games that are related to a particular brand. Set up your own shop, and bring along some extra branded swag to either sell or give away for free!

Direct Mailers in Local Community

direct mailers

Flat promotional items, like notepads or phone wallets, are perfect for mailers. If you have leftover promos, send them out to addresses within a 10 mile radius of your store. Don’t forget to also include a coupon or a brochure with creative marketing copy.

Gifts for Positive Reviews

positive reviews

It’s the little things that go a long way. Next time you see a stellar review on Google or the Better Business Bureau, grab the customer’s info from your CRM and mail them a swag item and a “thank you” note. This unexpected gesture goes above and beyond and will make your customers feel even happier to have worked with you.

Incentives for Money Spent

online spending

Around the holidays you might see stores offer a gift card or some other freebie with purchase. Why can’t that freebie be your leftover trade show swag? Hang onto your merch so you can use it to increase sales at your store.

Displays of Good Customer Service

customer service

Your business can’t be perfect all the time. Let’s say you totally botched an order, and now a customer is less than thrilled. Show them you’re sorry by sending a free swag item and a handwritten note. Keep extra trade show giveaways in storage so you can always use them in these situations.

Souvenirs in a Gift Shop


Hotels and theme parks aren’t the only ones who have gift shops! In fact, many fast food brands like Taco Bell, McDonald’s, and Dunkin’ are selling branded merch to their customers. Think about opening your own gift shop and selling surplus swag to your dedicated fans.

2. Trade Extra Giveaways

Hershey's swag exchange at South by Southwest

Your trade show neighbors aren’t just competition. Use leftover promotional items as an opportunity to network. You can trade any extra giveaways you have at your display at the end of the event. It’s kind of like swapping business cards, but only more exciting!

In 2016, Hershey’s hosted a massive “swag exchange” to promote their new logo for the Take 5 candy bar. Conference goers at the South by Southwest festival could trade promotional items from other booths for something else. As a result, they didn’t have to go home with something they wouldn’t use. It was a win-win!

So what did Hershey’s do with all of the extra swag from the exchange? They donated it to charities! Hershey’s found a creative way to cut down on waste, all while giving back to the community and giving their brand a big boost.

3. Donate Leftover Promotional Items

A little altruism goes a long way, so don’t be shy about gathering all your leftover promotional items and donating them to a worthwhile cause. There are a ton of wonderful organizations out there who need goods and supplies!

Where to Donate Office Supplies

where to donate office supplies

Did you order any of the following custom office supplies for a trade show?

Donate the leftover swag to any of the following:

  • UNICEF USA – Kids in impoverished areas do not have access to the basic school supplies they need to be successful. Donate your extra sticky notes, ballpoint pens, #2 pencils, or other supplies to UNICEF, and they’ll ship them to students who really need them.

  • Classroom Central & Kids in Need Foundation – There are so many organizations that can use extra office supplies, so there’s no reason to throw yours away! Classroom Central and the Kids in Need Foundation, for example, collect supplies and donate them to underfunded schools throughout the United States.

  • SCARCE – Kay McKeen started SCARCE as a way to cut down on waste and give back to those in need. Collect any notebooks, pens, or pencils that you don’t hand out at a trade show, and donate them to this hardworking organization.

  • Develop Africa – Africa is currently home to millions of primary students, but unfortunately many do not have access to basic education. Develop Africa has made it their mission to make learning easier by sending supplies to the schools who need it most.

  • Local Schools, Community Centers, & Art Programs – When in doubt, you can always reach out to an organization, nonprofit, or program in the local community to see if they can use your extra supplies. There is likely someone in your community who would appreciate the donation.

Where to Donate Drinkware

where to donate coffee mugs, water bottles, and glasses

Did you order any of the following custom drinkware for a trade show?

Donate the leftover swag to any of the following:

  • Pickup Please – Donating your old dishware has never been so easy! Pickup Please accepts gently used plates, bowls, and glassware. Look into their services if you have extra mugs or cups from a trade show.

  • Buy Nothing Project – The idea behind the Buy Now Project is to cut down on extraneous purchases. You can donate leftover drinkware to their platform, and other people can interact with your brand, even after the trade show.

  • Operation Homefront – Help out veterans and military families by sending your leftovers to Operation Homefront. Find a volunteer center near you to bring in your extra mugs, cups, or glasses.

  • Habitat for Humanity – You can help make a house a home by donating drinkware to Habitat for Humanity. Every purchase made at their stores goes back to building homes and disaster relief for areas around the world.

  • Homeless Shelters – With over 11,000 homeless shelters around the U.S., you can easily find one near your business. Call ahead of time to see if they can use your extra trade show giveaways.

Where to Donate Tech Accessories

where to donate tech accessories

Did you order any of the following custom tech accessories for a trade show?

Donate the leftover swag to any of the following:

  • Human-I-T – We all use our phones and laptops every day, but not everyone is lucky enough to have access to technology. Human-I-T collects gently used electronics and donates them all over the world.

  • National Coalition Against Domestic Violence Cut down on e-waste by reaching out to the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence. This nonprofit collects old phones for victims of domestic abuse, but they may also be willing to take headphones, phone cases, and other mobile accessories.

  • Good360 – Tech accessories are amazing trade show swag, but what if you order too many? Bring your extras to Good360, a organization that donates electronics to charities or recycling centers.

  • National Cristina Foundation The National Cristina Foundation is a great resource if you need to donate old computers. However, they may also be willing to take extra flash drives, mouse pads, and other accessories. Contact them today to find out how you can help!

  • Local Library or School – Students are always in need of technology. If you have extra giveaways, why not bring them to a local school or library? They may just be able to use them!

Where to Donate Medical Supplies

where to donate medical supplies

Did you order any of the following custom medical supplies for a trade show?

Donate the leftover swag to any of the following:

  • MedShare – It would be silly for your unused PPE products to end up in landfills. Donate them to MedShare instead! All you need to do is head to their website and fill out their form to see if they can use your extra supplies.

  • Samaritan’s Purse – You can donate surplus medical supplies to Samaritan’s Purse through their World Medical Mission. They will be helpful for those on the frontlines working with patients around the world.

  • American Medical Resources Foundation – Countries all over the world are in desperate need of medical supplies. If you have extras from a trade show, consider sending them to the American Medical Resources Foundation.

  • Project C.U.R.E. The COVID-19 pandemic increased demand for face masks. Project C.U.R.E. is just one of many organizations that are looking for extra donations.

  • Local Nursing Homes, Schools, or Daycare Centers – A business in your local community would definitely appreciate a donation of medical supplies. Reach out to nursing homes, schools, daycare centers, and anyone else who you think could use more hand sanitizer, masks, or bandages.

Where to Donate Toys

where to donate extra toys

Did you order any of the following custom toys for a trade show?

Donate the leftover swag to any of the following:

  • Toys for Tots – Is your trade show taking place around the holidays? Donate any leftovers to Toys for Tots. Military families can’t always afford to send their children Christmas gifts, so your donation might help make someone’s holiday a little more merry!

  • SAFE – Help children make a new best friend by donating extra teddy bears to SAFE (Stuffed Animals for Emergencies). This nonprofit helps provide comfort to children in traumatic situations through donations of plush toys, blankets, books, and clothes.

  • Cradles to Crayons – Bring joy to kids living in poverty around the United States. All you have to do is bundle up your extra trade show toys and make a donation to Cradles to Crayons.

  • Toy Drives – Millions of toy drives take place every year, so you can easily find one with a quick Google search. You can also reach out to summer camps, daycares, libraries, doctor’s offices, shelters, places of worship, and community centers to see if they have any use for your extra toys.

When in doubt, you can also donate these leftover promotional products to Goodwill or Salvation Army. There are hundreds of locations across the United States, so you can easily make the trip after business hours.

4. Upcycle or Recycle Your Swag

Go green by recycling, or even better, upcycling your promotional swag. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reports that there are more than 292 million tons of waste in landfills. Every little thing you do makes a big difference!

How to Upcycle Swag

Upcycling is even better for the planet than recycling! Be creative and turn your extra swag into something new. Here are some ideas.

how to upcycle pens

Office Supplies – Do you have leftover pens? Use them to make flowers for everyone on your team, or a pretty chandelier to hang above your desk.

upcycle a mug to create a desk plant

Drinkware – Empty mugs are great as planters, while plastic cups and pint glasses can be used to hold pens at your desk. Hang onto these spare giveaways so you can use them in your office.

upcycle tech accessories

Tech Accessories – Chargers can be made into bracelets, mouse pads can be cut into DIY coasters, and phone cases are excellent luggage tags! Brainstorm and think about what you can do with your leftover tech.

sanitizer a doorknob

Medical Supplies – Few people realize you can use hand sanitizer on other surfaces like doorknobs and keyboards. Unused face masks, on the other hand, can be upcycled into hair ties or as pet poop bags. Think of the possibilities before you just toss extra swag in the trash.

upcycle toys into magnets

Toys – Let’s say you ordered puzzles as swag for a trade show. Turn the extra pieces into refrigerator magnets. Small toys can be made into keychains, Frisbees are good plates for a cookout, and crayons can be melted down to create art, candles, or stained glass.

How to Recycle Swag

If you can’t find a new use for your extra trade show swag, the next best option is to recycle it rather than throw it in the garbage. Here’s how!

recycle office supplies

Office Supplies Pens can be recycled as can sticky notes, folders, binders, and notebooks. Check out Earth911 to find a recycler near you.

how to recycle water bottles, coffee mugs, and tumblers

Drinkware – Unfortunately, reusable drinkware is a bit tricky to recycle. The type of plastic, ink, lid, and any extra features make a difference, so call your local recycler to find out if they will or won’t accept your cups, bottles, mugs, and drink glasses.

donate tech accessories and gadgets

Tech Accessories – Electronics can negatively impact the environment, but alarming, only 12% of e-waste is currently being recycled! Bring your leftover tech accessories to be recycled at nearby electronics stores like Best Buy or Apple. You can also check Call2Recycle for a list of nearby e-waste drop off sites.

medical supplies have to be thrown away

Medical Supplies – You can’t recycle used medical supplies or hand sanitizer since they clog the machines at recycling centers. For that reason, it’s much better to find a place to donate the leftovers.

can you recycle teddy bears

Toys – Teddy bears cannot be recycled since they are usually filled with non-recyclable materials. Bubbles and light-up toys (battery-operated) also can’t be recycled. With that in mind, it’s better to try repurposing, trading, upcycling, or donating these toys instead.

As you can see, recycling extra promotional items isn’t always easy. The good news is you have a myriad of other green solutions that you can choose from instead!

What to Do With Leftover Event T-Shirts

Let’s take a moment to pay special attention to custom t-shirts, which are one of the best trade show giveaways you can order. When you have too many left over, you can repurpose them using the ideas featured above.

You can also try any of the following: 

  • Bring to Thrift Shops – Offer unused t-shirts, hats, sunglasses, and other clothing to a nearby thrift shop. Someone might come across your swag and be thrilled to have it in their wardrobe!

  • Donate to Charity – Local shelters, churches, and organizations like Planet Aid or Vietnam Veterans of America are always looking for clothing donations. Do your research and find a cause that’s close to your heart.

  • Wear as Uniforms – Are you the owner of a casual pizzeria or bagel shop? Save any extra event shirts so you can use them as employee uniforms.

  • Give as Gifts – Cool shirts are great if you need corporate gifts for the holidays. You can also give one to your top clients and even your friends and family.

  • Reuse for Crafts – Be creative! You can turn extra tees into wall art, scarves, blankets, headbands, wreaths, bracelets, or tote bags. Do you need a teambuilding activity? Put the extra shirts on a table, and your team can make whatever they want!

Final Thoughts

Do some good by finding creative ways to use your leftover trade show swag. And remember to think ahead and order the right amount of giveaways so you don’t run into this problem as often. A bit of proactive thinking goes a long way!


Agarwal, A. 27 Mind Blowing Statistics on Giveaways and Contests in 2021. Retrieved from,

Monllos, K. (2016, March 17). Hershey’s Take 5 Let SXSW Festivalgoers Exchange Swag for Things They Actually Wanted. Retrieved from,

Ibis World. (2021, August 30). Community Housing & Homeless Shelters in the US. Retrieved from,

Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). National Overview: Facts and Figures on Materials, Wastes, and Recycling. Retrieved from,

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