There used to be a time when I was ashamed when it came time to bring my pile of recyclables to the recycling depot. When you live in a situation where recycling isn’t picked up from your home every week, you really have the opportunity to see how much material you’re actually tossing away.
And it was a lot! Not only did I need 2 hands to count the number of pizza boxes (no comments please), I didn’t even have big enough bins to contain all of that waste. Seeing this pile-up, I realized that a lot of this material could have the potential to live a second life! I was determined to change my wasteful ways.
In a world where consuming is so easy, and disposing of waste and not having to think about it is even easier, it takes a significant amount more effort to try and not waste. Through the years I have made small steps towards being a more mindful consumer, from doing my own food preservation to starting vermicompost to growing my own herbs and putting a real concerted effort into zero waste practices.
One of the biggest elements of zero waste practices and permaculture practices is “waste not, want not”. Recycling isn’t actually a super effective method of being a mindful consumer, as it takes a heap of energy to actually break that material down and use it for something else. The alternative to recycling? Repurposing, or up-cycling.
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What is “Up-cycling”?
No, it is not when you’re biking so fast that you start flying through the air, “up-cycling” to the heavens. Up-cycling is taking items, single-use or otherwise, and finding ways to utilize them in a different way than they were originally intended. Repurposing is another term for this crafty activity.
Not only does this force a fun kind of creativity in yourself, but it also relieves the amount of energy required to transport heaps of recyclables, and the energy used to actually recycle those products. After reading this article, you’ll be shocked at the things people have repurposed, and you’ll never be able to look at an empty toilet paper roll in the same way again!
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Repurposing Kitchen Items
1. Egg Cartons
You’ve probably already considered repurposing egg cartons before. They make awesome carriers if you ever have to bring mini-cupcakes to a birthday party, and they also make great storage for delicate Christmas ornaments.
Egg cartons can be used as insulation just in case your teenage kid ever considers taking up playing the drum kit. Don’t ever be afraid to drop by an egg farm and donate your old egg containers! They’ll be grateful.
Lastly, egg cartons are the absolute perfect containers to start seedlings. The cardboard is breathable, it drains out excess water, and it’s the absolute perfect shape. If you don’t feel like doing any of these things, then just rip up your egg carton and toss it in the compost! That’s another version of up-cycling, isn’t it?
2. Mesh Veggie Bags
Oftentimes oranges and onions will come in those brightly colored mesh bags. I’ve never really known what to do with them! Turns out that if you wad it up, it actually makes a pretty effective pan scrubber.
Not only that, it makes the perfect storage for holding balls of yarn. The mesh bag keeps the yarn all tidy and rolled, and the holes of the mesh allow for easy pulling through of the yarn string.
Or, just continue using it as a bag to hold your veggies! Load up on some garlic or onions, and hang them up in a dry, well-ventilated area.
3. Tin Foil
Oh gosh! It just pains me to roll out a giant sheet of tin foil and only have the opportunity to use it one time. But never fear! There are ways to re-use tin foil. The first being keeps a big wad of it in your bag of brown sugar. We’ve all experienced the pain of going to make some chocolate chip cookies, only to find that the brown sugar is completely solid.
Another clever usage of tin foil is to shine your silverware! Simply take a square and rub away. Another cool trick is to use tin foil to shine your jewelry. All you have to do is fold up a square of tin foil, and bring it to a boil with a dash of baking soda. Once it’s boiling, drop in your silver jewelry and leave it in for a couple of minutes. You’ll be amazed at how your jewelry will look new.
4. Cereal Bags
This is one that I would never consider using again, but lo and behold, it has a purpose! To all you bakers out there, cereal bags actually work great for piping! I used this method the other day when I had the inspiration to make chocolate eclairs. Simply wash it out, dry it, cut a hole in the corner, and pipe to your heart’s content.
You can also you cereal bags as a replacement for freezer bags, as the plastic is really quite thick. Just roll up the open end and clip it with a chip clip. It’s also an excellent alternative to using wax paper to separate beef patties and other items you want to keep separated in the freezer.
5. Butter Wrappers
This repurposing idea literally blew my mind. Instead of tossing away a butter wrapper once the butter is all used up, fold it up and keep it in the fridge. It’s genuinely the perfect tool for greasing baking dishes or buttering toast when the butter is too cold to spread
This type of material also functions in the same way that wax paper would. You can wash it and use it as a wrap for cheese or half a lemon to keep in the fridge.
6. Glass Jars
There is genuinely no reason to ever toss away a glass jar. If you’re not picky about having matching dish wares, just use it as a glass! I’ve always used old pasta sauce jars or pickle jars as leftover containers, or I use mason jars to do my fermenting and canning.
Get them out of the kitchen too! Use old glass jars (the labels are regularly easy to peel off) as a flower vase, a plant pot, a hanging planter for succulents or hanging plants, storage for your bathroom, or for craft supplies. The possibilities are truly endless.
7. Tissue Boxes
Don’t deny it, there is one drawer in your house that is an absolute trash pile. Filled with old pennies and safety clips and elastics, it’s best to just leave it closed and forget about that highlighter you needed.
To try and mend this horrendous mess, take an old tissue box and cut off the top. Get creative and paint the outside, and use them as organizers for the disaster drawer!
Or if you’d prefer, keep the plastic part in the tissue box, and open the bottom and fill it with plastic grocery bags. You can even tape it outside the front door so that you never forget a plastic bag for grocery shopping or when you take your dog on a walk.
Repurposing Common Household Items
8. Dryer Lint
There is truly nothing more flammable than the fuzzies that come out of the machine that makes things dry. Even though dryer lint is compostable, give it a second life! Remember that old glass jar filled with lint and say to yourself “hey, I’m going to stuff that in an old toilet paper roll and it’ll make an excellent fire starter for when I take the kids camping this weekend”.
9. Mint & Candy Containers
This is a doozy. If you’ve got a sweet tooth like me, or well, like everybody, consider reusing those tiny plastic containers. Old mint containers seem like they were made for holding bobby pins. They make great storage for tiny beads or other messy crafts like sequins or glitter.
Then there’s always the option of just turning those small containers into toys for your kids. Fill them with old beans so that they rattle (to your own detriment), paint them, cover them with glitter. Just think of that old skittles tube as one of the toys left in the toy box in Toy Story II. You’ll never be able to throw it away.
10. Raggedy Clothes
Donating clothes to the local women’s shelter or Salvation Army is always an awesome option. But if they’re too tattered for another person to wear, rip up your old clothes and use them as rags for cleaning the car or other messy jobs.
I like to use old socks for dusting. It allows you to really get into the nooks and crannies, and it’s a better alternative to using a duster that only spreads dust or a paper towel that just goes to waste.
11. Toilet Paper & Paper Towel Rolls
I mentioned earlier using toilet paper rolls as the casing for a little fire starter, but there are many other possibilities! These can be composted, used in arts and crafts projects, or use them as organizers for the craft area.
Paper towel rolls surprisingly make excellent extensions for your vacuum. They get into those hard to reach nooks and crannies, and since they’re flexible, they can bend a bit to get into narrow areas. Genius!
12. Old Silverware
Silverware is one that you can get especially creative with. These could make a real funky cabinet handle, the knob for a drawer, or even get artsy with it and make a windchime! Silverware is already quite pretty, so there are endless ways to bring some kitschy flair to your home.
Repurposing Old Furniture & Larger Items
13. Wooden Drawers
It’s always painful to see a perfectly good cabinet abandoned on the side of the road. Even if the structure isn’t totally sound, I’m sure that the drawers are still in good shape!
Re-finish these however you please, put them on wheels, and use them for under-your-bed storage! If that doesn’t fit your fancy, they make really awesome planters for your budding veggies and herbs. They can also be quite lovely if they’re redecorated and used as a vintage style shelving unit!
14. Old Door Knobs
I know you’ve seen those pictures of a collection of doorknobs being used as little coat and key hangers. Just give it a try! Another really adorable option is to place them a little bit closer together and hanging them up in the kitchen. Kitchen utensils can be hung in between them, or pots can hang from them too. This little decorative trick will bring uniqueness to any room that needs things hung.
15. Leaky Hoses
This is fun the whole neighborhood would enjoy. If you have a hose that’s leaking because your dog chewed a bunch of holes into it, just make it leak more! Let the dog at it or take the liberty of puncturing a bunch of holes, and turn it into the neighborhood sprinkler.
No sense in letting a semi-good sprinkler go to waste. Save some money this summer on those hot day activities and get creative.
16. Old Tires
Tire swing. That’s all I have to say.
17. Old Window Frames
Take a sander and fix these puppies up and turn them into an art piece. They can stay outside and act as a fun decoration for your garden, or fancy it up and use it as a picture frame in the house. Maybe even make a collage of old family photos and use an old window frame as a border.
Pallets are endlessly versatile. I had a friend fashion some pallets into a bed frame. I’ve seen them used as little shelves for an outdoor herb garden (a great way to keep pests away) or as a kind of cage to protect growing seeds.
Personally, I used a few pallets to create a makeshift deck. I covered it with an old outdoor rug and it turned into a lovely area to eat breakfast in the summer or do yoga.
How to repurpose old canvas?
Even if an old canvas has paint on it, you can rip it apart and make it into a new tote bag, maybe a groovy kitchen mat, or even something smaller like a wallet! Having a sewing machine would be handy for this particular material.
Why do we repurpose?
Because it’s the best alternative to having something recycled or throwing it away. We want to avoid unnecessarily throwing things away because it takes so much energy to recycle, and because want doesn’t want any more plastic sitting in landfills or polluting the ocean.
Also, getting creative with common household items and turning them into DIY projects is good for your brain, and it’ll help you become more of a mindful consumer! Suddenly you’ll start avoiding purchasing items with too much packaging.
What is repurposing in waste management?
Waste management practices are always going to involve responsible ways to manage waste. Recycling is more responsible than landfill waste, but repurposing and up-cycling is far more responsible than recycling. Repurposing is a way to completely avoid using energy to transport or convert old materials and instead of finding a way to give them a second life.
Can I repurpose a tin can?
Oh yeah! It’s a great vessel for growing plants, and don’t forget the timeless toy of making a tin can telephone line.