We’re all recycling as much as possible. We’re also generating trash every day. Per the EPA, Americans compost and recycle over 1.5 pounds of materials each day and trash almost 4.5 pounds of materials per day.
People have made great changes that reduce the stream of waste going into landfills. People are composting food scraps. They’re recycling electronics correctly. They’re reducing the amount of paper they use by getting books, magazines, and newspapers in digital formats. It’s all great news, but there are still issues.
Even with the increasing attention to recycling, some items end up in landfills because there isn’t room to store all of the items awaiting processing. Since China stopped accepting mixed papers and plastics recycling in 2018, much of it is going into the landfill. Some towns burn the items, which creates a new problem as burning plastics releases toxins into the air.
Attention turns to reusing as many items as possible instead. If you can get a few years more use out of an item by making simple changes, why not take that step? Here are five household items that are easy to reuse.
Instead of throwing away your ripped, torn, or stained clothing, towels, and bedding, turn it into something new. Even if you don’t sew, there are ways to reuse your fabric scraps.
Purchase non-slip backing for rugs. If you don’t have a crochet hook or large sewing needle, buy that too. That’s all you need to make an affordable decorative rug or bath mat.
Braided Coasters – Use old dress shirts and bedsheets to make braided coasters. Cut the fabric into 3-foot long strips and braid three strips together. Coil the braid and sew the edges as you coil it. Make sure you’re keeping it tight. When it’s fully coiled, finish by sewing the end to the side.
Decorative Rug – Choose clothing items that are soft and flexible. T-shirts, flannel shirts, and flannel sheets are ideal. Cut those items into strips that are about two inches long and an inch wide. Start at one of the top corners on the non-slip mat. Use the needle or crochet hook to pull a fabric strip through one of the holes. Tie it into a knot to secure it to the non-slip mat. Move to the next hole. Keep going row by row until you’ve covered the entire non-slip mat.
Handmade Quilt – Cut up old clothing, towels, and bedding into fabric squares. These squares will be turned into a quilt. You can hand sew the quilt squares or use a sewing machine. When you have the quilt to the size you want it. Combine the front and back with batting in between the layers. Sew the edges with a final hem on each side. Use bias tape for the final hemmed edge if you want to add contrast on the edges.
Clean out food containers like pickle jars, spice containers, plastic takeout containers, and yogurt containers. You can reuse these for storage or to buy grains, spices, and other food items in bulk without paying for new packaging. Bring your clean containers to a natural foods store and find what you want in the bulk bins. Ask an employee to weigh the container and note it on a sticker so that you’re not paying for the added weight of the container, too. This is a cost-effective way to buy spices, whole oats, rice, and nuts.
You can store loose nails, screws, nuts, and bolts in small plastic containers. One handy tip is to screw baby food jar lids to the bottom of a shelf in your garage. Fill the baby food jar with matching screws, nails, etc. and screw the jar onto the lid. You have everything organized without taking up shelf space. This is also a good way to store spices and dried herbs without taking up cabinet or shelf space.
Use larger plastic containers to store your charging cables and adapters. Plastic containers are also good for storing items that pantry pests like to get into. Use them to store different types of flours, sugars, and grains.
The plastic containers you get from restaurants can be reused. Instead of buying new plastic containers, reuse restaurant containers for the salads you take to work or school. Store leftovers in them. Bring cookies to a friend’s house and don’t worry if you forget to grab the container before you leave. Toss them into the dishwasher or hand wash them to use them over and over.
Take old or broken furniture and turn them into something you or someone else needs. You can fix it and repaint it if desired, but you could also turn two items into something new. Repurposing old furniture is a great way to keep items from the landfill while giving them a new life. An old desk could be cut down into smaller boards and rebuilt into an end table with a storage drawer with a hidden USB charging area.
If you’re looking for an easy project to get started, take an old steamer trunk. Repaint it and change the hardware to give it a fresh new look. Cover the top with vinyl flooring tiles. You have a new coffee table with a waterproof, easy-to-clean top that’s perfect for holding drinks.
Compost your shredded white paper, brown paper bags, and newspaper. Avoid glossy or colored paper. The best composting mix involves laying cardboard and paper, grass clippings and leaves, and vegetable and fruit scraps. Keep those moist and aerate it from time to time using a pitchfork or shovel. It will break down into nutrient-rich soil for your vegetable and herb gardens. If you’re new to composting and need help getting started, Recycle Nation has a handy composting guide.
Another idea is to take brown paper bags or newspaper and cut it into circles to fit a muffin tin. Soak the paper and press it into each tin. Allow them to dry. Once dried, fill them with potting soil and use them to start seeds. Rather than removing the seedling before you plant it, plant the seedling in its paper holder. It will break down in the soil.
You can also shred paper that isn’t glossy or wax-coated and soak it in water for a day or two. When it’s soaked, move the paper and water in batches to a blender. Puree it until it’s broken down. If it is too thick, add a little water. You’ll need to purchase a paper frame and tub that it fits into. You’ll dip the mold at an angle into this tub until the frame is fully against the bottom of the tub. Pull up the frame, shake it to remove any air bubbles, and let the sheet of paper dry on the frame.
Most people change their toothbrush every three or four months. That’s three or four toothbrushes that you’re throwing out every year. Think about this. It can take plastic toothbrushes 400 years to decompose in a landfill. Those four toothbrushes you use this year will still be in landfills centuries later for future generations. Bamboo and other eco-friendly toothbrushes help, but most people keep buying plastic or getting free plastic toothbrushes from their dentist.
Instead of throwing out your used toothbrush, thoroughly cleanse them in rubbing alcohol. Allow them to dry and then store in your cleaning supply cabinet. Use the used toothbrushes to clean in small areas like behind a kitchen or bathroom faucet. Scrub the holes in a shower head with them. Clean between keyboard keys with a soft-bristled brush. Clean out narrow vents in an air conditioner or forced hot air vents.
Are you trying to recycle something that’s not allowed in your curbside bin? Trust in Recycle Nation’s “Find A Recycling Location” tool to find exactly where to bring your recyclables. Enter your location and choose the item you want to recycle from the drop-down menu. You’ll have the answers you need in a matter of seconds and keep items from the landfill in the process.