There are many items I used to throw away or put in the recycling bin without a second thought. I am not one who loves clutter and I certainly don’t love holding onto things I don’t need. As I have worked to waste less I have noticed there are plenty of alternative uses for items you wouldn’t typically keep. I have also learned a bit more about recycling and waste disposal.
The more I learn, the more I realize the “use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” motto is best. Items we throw away, even biodegradable/compostable items, won’t degrade in the landfill. If you want to learn more, check out our post “Is it Really Biodegradable? A “Break Down”. Recycling is somewhat of a solution for items that are indefinitely recyclable such as glass and tin. It is much more complex for plastics. Depending on their type, plastics may not be recyclable at all or only recyclable once. National Geographic does a great job of explaining the business of recycling and how it isn’t always possible. If you are curious about what you CAN recycle check out our post “Recycling? Should I do it? Am I doing it right?“.
The most sustainable items are the ones we already own. Extending their life as long as possible can make a big difference. Here are a few items that I regularly save since starting my “less waste” journey and what I use them for!
Pickle jars, pasta sauces and jam/jelly jars make great reusable containers once you have used up their contents. I save all of my glass jars and turn them into bulk food storage containers for things like rice, raisins and pasta noodles. For more tips on bulk buying, check out Bulk Buys: A Quest for a Package Free Pantry.
I also use them to pickle my own vegetables at the end of the harvest season. Another great use and way to reduce food waste is to freeze different soups and sauces in them when you make too much. Glass jars are perfect for this as long as you leave a little room for expansion at the top. When you’re ready to use it just let it thaw for a day in the fridge. The best part is they can be washed and reused over and over again!
I have a cupboard (and freezer) full of tins. Tins are the absolute best for storing and freezing food! They don’t break or shatter and are easy to open and pull small amounts out of. Tins work best for non-liquids like fruits, vegetables, and baked goods. I have one dedicated to brown bananas which I am constantly adding to and pulling from. I also have one specifically for veggie scraps which I then turn into veggie broth. Our friend Patricia from @at.my.table shared her recipe with us here. When I have vegetables that I can’t quite use up before they will spoil, I freeze them in tins and bring them out for stir fry’s. Tins also work perfectly for freezing muffins or other baking. You can pull out a few at a time to thaw as needed.
Most places will take aluminum cans for recycling but tin foil is not often accepted. Save any tinfoil you do use and scrunch it up into a ball. It makes a great pot scratcher for cleaning stubborn pots and pans. I have a little ball in my cleaning cupboard that I add to on the odd occasion I use tinfoil.
If you have any old plastic toothbrushes DO NOT throw them away. They are the best little scrubbing devices for hard to reach areas and stubborn little stains. They work great around the bathtub and sink drain. I just wash and reuse them until I’ve gotten the last life out of the bristles.
If you receive newspaper or flyers chances are they quickly make it to the recycling bin. I find I can’t keep all of it. However, I have a small stack that I save for window and glass cleaning. Vinegar solution when wiped with old newspaper works amazing and is streak free. The vinegar cuts grease really well and the newspaper doesn’t leave little fibers like paper towel does. I use it on mirrors, windows, even the TV! Check out our post on non-toxic cleaners and how to make your own infused vinegar.
Old Clothing, Linens & Socks
Any clothing that is stained, stretched or tattered I cut up into cleaning rags. They have completely replaced paper towel in my house and work wonders for any and all spills. Once used, I put them straight into my laundry pile to be washed and used again. I have a basket of cut up rags especially for bathroom cleaning as well.
Containers & Packaging
This is my daughters recycled arts & crafts bin. The bin itself was completely broken but I taped it up and it now has a home in her closet. It is our designated space for any and all single use items that would have been thrown away or recycled otherwise. I love having a specific bin to put odds and ends in. She loves to have a bin full of different items to make crafts from. Though we try hard to avoid single use, we aren’t always 100% successful. When items do make their way into our home, I make an effort to clean them and throw them in the craft bin.
Examples of things we keep: chop sticks, plastic spoons, dip containers, boxes, toilet paper rolls, styrofoam from packaging, sushi trays, cardboard, paper bags, sponges and take out containers.
Envelopes, Cards, Ribbon & Tissue Paper
This is not an accurate picture of my craft room. However, it is a small sample of what I do keep in it. My craft room is full (overflowing truthfully) with items to repurpose. The items I keep without fail are greeting cards, the envelopes they come in, tissue paper from gifts and ribbons. Any and all ribbons. They work great to tie around mason jars or decorate any gift. They also make adorable sewing accents. Envelopes and greeting cards come in such pretty colours. When cut up in different ways they can make cute new cards or tags. Lastly, I keep tissue paper for my daughter to make endless crafts with. I also just reuse what isn’t too crinkled.
Old Clothing & Linens
I have an entire closet dedicated to old clothing, curtains, table cloths, sheets, etc. I use these recycled textiles as my sewing fabric. My grandmother gave me the bag pictured above. It’s full of her old square dancing skirts. I continue to learn about the large scale problems of our fashion industry from both human rights and environmental stand points. There is so much waste, starting with production all the way to their eventual destination (the landfill).
Each step is detrimental to the planet. To learn more check out our blog explaining the impact of “Just One Shirt“. Donating clothes can be beneficial but there are plenty of drawbacks as well. The biggest being that only 25% of donated items even sell in stores (CBC). If you are a sewer, or you know a sewer, so much can be made from up-cycled textiles. For a few ideas of things I have made, check here. Other items I frequently make from my upcycled clothes are napkins, scrunchies, and reusable bags.
If you are looking for more ways to upcycle every day items that you would normally throw away, check out Erika’s post: 5 Non Pinterest Worthy Ways to Upcycle.
What are items that you choose to keep and find new uses for? Let us know we love up-cycling and repurposing!