Saturday, August 21, 2010

Reuse it or Lose it

Today's post is all about finding new ways to reuse items that some might be ready to send to the landfill or recycling center. Here are a few that we commonly implement here at home to lessen our environmental impact.

1. Reuse the old shower curtain liner. We've used them for drop cloths when we're painting, as a tarp in a pinch, and you can use them to help protect plants during early spring when late frosts threaten new growth. I've even seen friends cut them into smaller portions and use them under high chairs to keep the mess from getting out of control. (Though that would be totally unnecessary here with the fuzzy Hoover picking up every crumb in sight.)

2. Find new uses for containers that once held products in the fridge. We use milk jugs for watering containers and berry picking. They also make excellent scoops if you cut part of the top off (try them for bailing water out of the boat after a rainstorm or for scooping up compost to add to the garden in small portions). For containers with tight fitting lids, like whipped topping, we commonly use them for taking things to church potlucks, taking food to a family who just had a baby, and gatherings with friends. That way, it's no biggie if we forget it. You can easily reuse the yogurt and sour cream containers for starting plants from seed or delivering small transplants to friends.

3. Reuse aluminum foil and ziploc bags. If the foil is clean or easy to wash after covering soup or a casserole, we'll reuse it to cover something else. We reuse our gallon size ziploc bags several times if they're going to hold the same thing, like our weekly batch of homemade bread.

4. Reuse jam and jelly jars. If you're going to make refrigerator jam or a standard batch of jam that you plan to use right away and keep in the fridge, then you can reuse these jars. You can't process these in the boiling water bath, as you would with standard canning jars, but as long as they're sterile (we wash ours in the dishwasher), then you can reuse them if they're going straight to the fridge. You can also use them for salsas, pickles, etc. in the same way.

5. Reuse cardboard and newspaper. I've written quite a bit about using these in the garden to block weeds, but we've also used large sections of cardboard to mount posters on for display (great in a pinch for school projects). For example, we mounted a county map on a piece for our neighborhood small groups at church. Once this is finished and we're done with the map, then I plan to trim the cardboard a bit and make a memo board out of it by covering it with some batting, scrap fabric, and criss crossed ribbon. This will be a great organizational tool at school and will cost far less than purchasing one new, since I have all the materials on hand.

6. Reuse the unexpected. You can always get creative with old china, metal containers, large metal cans, baskets, etc. if you plan to use them in the garden. I discovered a cool old metal gas can when we were cleaning out my mom's shed, which I (really Benny) plan to drill some holes into the bottom and plant some cascading plants into the small hole. I think it'll add a nice eclectic touch to the garden in the spring, and the green patina of the container will blend in nicely with the other plants in the garden. Old potato bins can make unique trash cans or recycling centers, especially if you have some vision with stain or paint. The same is true of baskets of all shapes and sizes; think blanket storage, a place to stash kid or dog toys, hide your collection of magazines neatly, etc. Smaller containers can hold jewelry, mail, collect pens on a desk, and a variety of other uses.

So, with yard sale season in full swing and treasures always to be found at thrift stores, I hope this gives you a few ideas. I know when I passed a few yard sales on my way home from the farmer's market this morning, I was sorely tempted to swing in and see what I could find!

Here's to creative reuse, saving a bit of cash along the way, and keeping things out of the waste stream for at least a little longer--one of the easiest ways to live a little greener. I'd love to hear your reuse ideas!

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