By: Revanche

Repurposing, the missing R

February 8, 2010

Many of us who grew up with the mantra Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle may be most familiar with it thanks to the annual Earth Day activities in school where you spent a week collecting cans or brought in stacks of paper you thought your parents were done with for recycling.  (Ooops.)

SSB4C made a great point about the misconception that recycling is an adequate cure-all.  It’s not free, and it’s better not to use the item in the first place if you don’t need to.  But our society runs so much on the Disposable Attitude that I’d like to advocate another form of eco-friendliness: repurposing.

When and where you can: consider a different purpose for an item you’re about to discard. 

Containers are the simplest to repurpose. Empty glass jars become coin collectors, storage for leftovers, a temporary home for new plants, a desk organizer for pens and pencils, “hurricane glasses” for tea lights, etc. Creative kids can turn containers in to booby traps, treasure chests, bombs of all sorts.

Does anyone remember the milk jug scoops?  When you finished up a gallon of milk, an adult would cut out a portion of the side, and kids could use it for scooping sand (or water during a massively unfair water fight before it escalates to just using the hose).

Or the last of the shampoo in the bottle was diluted for you to make bubbles with.  Toilet paper rolls become chew toys for the dogs, cats bat around bundles of old shoelaces with a long trailing lace.

A bag full of my t-shirts, scrubs, scrap materials became a quilt.

What about choosing not to buy things if you can repurpose another item?  

I’ve used this former travel pack box of Q-tips as: a wallet sized photo holder (high school) credit card/gift card holder (college), and now a pillbox. 

Use glass or plastic jars to grow some herbs on the window sill, or glasses as cookie cutters instead of buying round cookie cutters?

Opt to just microwave your cup of water for tea instead of buying a new kettle like EM?

Use old or mismatched socks as cleaning and dusting rags instead of buying disposable cleaning wipes? I do this all the time to clean my blinds because they fit right over my hand like those cleaning gloves, and I don’t have to grip or anything.  Just spray and wipe.

Or use the clean mate-missing sock to make a heating sock?  Fill it up with rice and heat in the microwave instead of buying a heating pad.  This works wonderfully as a drape across your shoulders too, for a relaxation technique.  Though I’m more willing to sacrifice beans (ugh) than edible rice, I don’t know if it heats up just as well.

There are hundreds of ways we can choose to save time, money, resources and some space in a landfill by being a little creative.

4 Responses to “Repurposing, the missing R”

  1. I’ve never bought a “rag” in my life. Our old t-shirts have been the cleaning vehicle of choice in our house. I just got a dog, but I instantly realize how valuable the toilet roll is as a chew toy. And he prefers it to the squeaky stuff.

    I always try to see if I can reuse something before I throw it out, even if it is the blank side of a paper. I may not be the most environmentally conscious person, but my laziness spurs my creativity. Why go outside and buy it when it could be sititng right there in your house??

  2. I agree with Investing Newbie. I cut up old t-shirts and use them as rags. They came in handy when there are spills.

    You gave me an idea for using empty glass hars for planting. I may have to try this.

  3. Revanche says:

    @Investing Newbie: The first time I saw a dog handed a roll, I was really confused. But it makes them so happy!

    Your paper mention actually reminded me of something I forgot to list: I always reuse printed on paper to print my coupons. So every sheet of paper gets used twice even if it’s not fit to be used in other ways.

    @SeeJaneGetRich: My favorite part about using glass jars is for some plants, you don’t need soil. I like watching the root system grow.

  4. Sandra says:

    Re-use dryer sheets to dust things! They work great even if they’re completely “dead”.

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