Reduce, reuse, recycle! If your community is like most, recycling is now part of your curbside pickup service. Many towns and cities are promoting recycling to residents as a way to reduce disposal costs or stretch the resources of local landfills. As recycling rates improve, however, there is a lost art our grandparents and great-grandparents once practiced that we could stand to learn from: reuse.
In these lean economic times, it only makes sense to make the most of our resources, finding second, and sometimes third, lives for items we would have once simply discarded. As the old adage says, “Waste not, want not.”
Here’s a quick primer on how to turn trash into treasure!
Empty Tin Cans
– Wash them out thoroughly. Cut out both the top and bottom ends and use to protect young seedlings from critters.
– Paint and hang in trees to discourage birds from eating your ripening fruit.
– Punch them with designs and set candles in the middle of each. Use as lanterns to line sidewalks, steps, and gardens. (Do not cut out both ends. To punch, fill with water and freeze. Mark a pattern on the outside of each can, get a nail and a hammer, and hammer out the designs. Let the water thaw, then put tea lights in each for lanterns.)
– Instead of tossing coupons, letters, and envelopes from your mail, use them as scrap paper instead. They’re really great for notes, grocery lists, or drawing paper for kids.
– Newspapers can be used as mulch to keep weeds down. You’ll need to cover them with dirt or rocks or something to keep the papers from blowing away, but they will work well to keep weeds at bay and ultimately will dissolve into the soil.
On trash days, try putting out a box filled with items that have value (but not to you) with a sign that says “FREE.” Sometimes your trash is another person’s treasure.
– Freecycle– check out freecycle.org. This online, nonprofit community is made of local groups that enable you to list and give away (and get) stuff for free in your own area. It’s all about reusing and keeping good stuff out of landfills.
Faded Curtains and Old Shirts
– Unless they’re made from polyester, old shirts and curtains are probably compostable.
– They can be used for dust rags or cut down for something like a tarp or packing material, etc.
Brown Paper Bags
– Use paper bags for wrapping paper. Turn them inside out if there’s writing on them, add colorful ribbons or have children color on them.
– Place hot cookies on brown paper bags. This helps soak up a little of the oil from the cookies.
– Store your small pieces of jewelry in empty egg cartons.
– Take the lid off a carton and place the bottom in a drawer. It can hold and organize buttons, paper clips, small screws, and nails.
– Line the bottom part of an egg carton with small cupcake papers. You can place small homemade cookies or candies in each compartment. Wrap the whole with clear plastic. Top with a ribbon. Give as a gift.
– Use them to start seeds. If they are cardboard, the entire container can be planted when the seeds germinate.
– Use as a paint holder for children. When they are finished painting, the carton can be thrown away. (Styrofoam cartons can be washed out and reused.)
– Coffee cans are really good to have in the shop. They hold all sizes of nails and screws. The sizes of the nails can be printed on the lids with a marker.
– Use old yogurt containers to store leftovers in or to pack lunches.
– Cut the bottom out of a yogurt container and place it around delicate plants to protect them in the spring from chilly weather.
– Make your own herb garden: put a hole in the bottom of a container, add a large rock, soil, and seed.
Empty Thread Spools
– String spools together and separate by knots to use as part of a gentle wind chime strand.
– They really make cute miniature dried flower holders and wonderful take-home souvenirs with children’s names on them when used for seating at a party.
– Clean and disinfect an old shower curtain by soaking it for a couple of hours in a bathtub filled with warm water and vinegar. Use it as a tablecloth for the picnic table.
– Use an old shower curtain as a drop cloth when you are painting, or as a ground sheet under your tent or sleeping bags.
– Make a windshield cover to prevent frost build-up. Cut a shower curtain to fit your windshield and hem magnets in along the edges to hold it on your vehicle.
– Use a shower curtain to make an apron for really messy jobs.
Motivating Reasons to Reduce Garbage
According to data released by the United States Environmental Protection Agency in 2001 about plastic bag, sack, and wrap consumption, somewhere between 500 billion and a trillion plastic bags are consumed worldwide each year. While many bags are reused before being trashed, many find their way into landfills or are polluting areas around shopping centers. Once in the environment, it takes months to hundreds of years for plastic bags to break down. On average, according to 2001 statistics, each person in America generates 4.4 lbs of waste a day. According to the Dump and Run Web site (http://www.dumpandrun. org/garbage.htm)
– Americans’ total yearly waste would fill a convoy of garbage trucks long enough to wrap around the Earth six times or reach halfway to the moon. It is estimated that this year Americans will generate 222 million tons of waste.
– Since 1950, people in the United States have used more resources than any generation that lived before them. Each individual American uses up 20 tons of basic raw materials annually.
– At the consumption level of the average American, at least four additional planets worth of resources would be needed to support the planet’s six billion inhabitants.
– By comparison, the average North American consumes ten times as much as the average person living in China and thirty times as much as the average person living in India.