By Gregory Karp Chicago Tribune
Plastic pop bottles, old carpet, out-of-date phone books and lint from the clothes dryer are typical items you might find in any American’s trash or recycling bin.
For some, however, the line between trash and treasure is fine. They are on America’s bandwagon for repurposing, or “upcycling.”
In the environmentalist mantra, “reduce, reuse, recycle,” the second commandment often gets short shrift, said Jeff Yeager, author of the new e-book, “Don’t Throw That Away!”
“If anything, we’re living in an ever-increasingly disposable society,” Yeager said.
Much of our throwaway culture is just force of habit, and we’d be better off financially and environmentally if we reused some of the stuff that passes through our homes, Yeager said.
Make no mistake: Repurposing alone won’t make you rich. That’s not the point.
“Something as simple as remembering that you can use a piece of tin foil more than once will perhaps instill in you an ethic of thrift, which could have big ramifications,” Yeager said.
It’s less the act and more the attitude. As Yeager says, “When you pinch the pennies, the dollars usually pinch themselves.”
Erin Huffstetler, guide of the Frugal Living site on About.com, said, “Repurposing is good for the environment and your wallet,” she said.
The first step is what Yeager calls a “trash can autopsy.” Roll up your sleeves and literally go through a week’s worth of trash and recycling.
First, when you’re mindful of what you throw away, perhaps you’ll buy less in the first place. A recycling bin full of water bottles might give you pause when you realize you can drink tap water for nearly free.
Second, many things can be used for the same purpose more than once.
Third is creative repurposing. Can you take something you would normally throw away and convert it into something useful?
Here are ideas to reuse. The point isn’t to necessarily use these ideas, but to stop and think before throwing away something:
Plarn: Make plarn (plastic yarn) out of plastic grocery bags and use it to knit or crochet items, even a sturdy, reusable sack. Instructions are easily found on the Internet and YouTube has instructional videos (www.youtube.com/watch?v=hdTm2V4ssvY).
Dryer sheets: Use them as wipes for the kitchen and bath. “Some of the chemicals in them are the same as used in various kitchen and bath cleaners,” Yeager said.
Try them on the business end of a Swiffer mop. They also can be used instead of mothballs in closets or put them between books on shelves to keep them from becoming musty.
Weeds: Many people know you can use vinegar instead of pricey liquid weedkillers. But if you’re boiling water for pasta, take the hot water out to the driveway or sidewalk and pour it on weeds growing in cracks. It will kill them.
Food containers: “The jar that pickles came in is obviously safe to put food in,” Yeager says. Pickle juice can also be used for weed control, and coffee cans are a classic favorite for storage.
Cellphones: Give your old cellphone to an elderly relative as an emergency phone. As long as it’s charged, the handset should dial 911 without a service plan.
Jugs: Fill a plastic milk jug or soft drink bottle with water and place it in your toilet tank to displace water and cut water use. Yeager figures a family of four could save about $90 a year on the water bill.
Freeze a plastic bottle of water. A full freezer is more energy efficient and will stay colder longer if you lose power. You can use the frozen bottles when you pack your ice chest.
Peels: Use lemon, lime and orange rinds to shine copper and brass.
Heat citrus peels in the microwave to create a room deodorizer. Shine shoes with a banana peel.
“You can even dye your hair with potato peels,” Yeager said.
Foil: Unless the foil came in contact with raw meat, reuse by flattening it out. Wad foil into a ball for cleaning the outdoor grill and stuck-on food from pots, pans and racks.
You can place used foil in your clothes dryer, instead of dryer sheets, to reduce static cling.
Mesh bags: Plastic mesh bags, the kind onions and oranges come in, make great pot scrubbers. Ball up several by wrapping one inside another.
Baking soda: When you replace the baking soda in your fridge, use the old box to make household cleaners. Recipes are easy to find online, including at www.tinyurl.com/about-bakingsoda.
In rapid form, here are other ideas: bubble wrap as window insulation; dryer lint as fireplace starters; water-filled laundry detergent containers as hand weights.
Old CDs and DVDs as drink coasters; egg cartons for Christmas tree ornament storage; pop can tab as picture-hanging hook; dirty aquarium water as plant fertilizer.
Beer cozy as a wrap on shaving cream cans to prevent rust rings in the shower; eggshells as fertilizer; plastic newspaper sleeves as disposable work gloves or dog poop bags.
Contact lens case as carrier for small amounts of lotion; and expired sunscreen as shaving lotion.
Jeff Yeager’s e-book “Don’t Throw That Away!”