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Waste Not, Want Not — Trash into Treasure

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Environmentally savvy folks already know that recycling, and buying recycled products, are among the easiest, and most effective, strategies average consumers have in the ongoing effort to protect the earth. Not only does recycling slow the consumption of nonrenewable resources, it also helps to address global climate change by reducing the amount of greenhouse gas emissions produced by the manufacture, distribution and use of products, and the management of the resulting waste. For every household that recycles its seven-day newspaper subscription, between 75 and 100 trees are spared from being cut down each year.

But there are two other steps in the oft-repeated mantra of “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” that sometimes get overlooked. Reducing, whether making a choice to consume fewer products, or to seek out items that use less wasteful packaging, has been an increasingly hot topic of late.

Unfortunately, the reuse of items and packaging for purposes other than the one for which they were created seems to be a lost art, relegated for many of us to foggy childhood memories of grandparents whose lingering depression era obsession with wringing the highest possible number of practical uses out of every single resource was a matter of pure necessity. Decades of plenty have made too many of us forget, or even disdain, our forebears’ ingenious conservation tactics.

Over the coming weeks and months the Farmers’ Almanac will share some ways to give many overlooked and underappreciated household items a second chance at life, before they’re relegated to the recycle bin. Here are just a few to get you started:

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– An empty mustard squeeze bottle is great for decorating cakes and cookies. Wash and deodorize it with baking soda before filling it with frosting.

– Used envelopes make great scrap paper. Carefully open up the envelopes and use the inside for notes, lists, etc.

– Used popsicle sticks are handy for windowsill or outdoor gardens. They can be used to mark seed varieties and planting dates planted, or as “stakes” to mark outdoor garden rows.

– Large tuna fish cans are the perfect size and shape for baking small pumpkin breads as gifts.

– Old, well-used oven mitts are great for washing and waxing your car.

– Don’t fret over a lost leather glove; turn the remaining one into a handy little carrier for light tools. Cut off the fingers at the mid length, make two slits in the back to run your belt through.

– Recycle old socks into cost-free doll clothes. Cut away the foot and stitch them into imaginative stretch outfits.

For more handy, earth-friendly tips, check out our Home & Garden page, or pick up a copy of the 2008 Farmers’ Almanac print edition. And be sure to log into our community forum to share your favorite ideas for reusing household items.

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1 comment

1 Sunrun176 { 07.07.10 at 10:04 am }

I disagree with the suggestion that “Old, well-used oven mitts are great for washing and waxing your car.” On the contrary, applying an old oven mitt to your car’s paint is likely to leave scratches and so-called swirl marks if used for washing or waxing.

A better item to reuse for waxing auto paint or applying windshield sealant is an old, plain-white, 100% cotton T-shirt; they’re generally lint-free and have a tight weave that resists leaving swirls. (Just remember to cut off the collar, sleeve cuffs and bottom hem.) For washing — since one is removing surface dirt — there’s really no substitute for a good quality sheepskin or microfiber wash mitt applied gently to a car’s painted surface. They will gently lift the dirt away without grinding it into the paint.

Old, well-used oven mitts, on the other hand, would be fantastic for cleaning one’s gas or charcoal grill, an application where scratching of the surface isn’t as much of a concern (or indeed even possible, depending upon the finish).

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