Recycle and Reuse is Part of Our History

While considered modern, reusing and recycling was a way of life for the majority of our past. Native Americans provide the best example. Not one part of an animal they hunted was wasted. In addition to the meat and hides, fat would be used for cooking and candles and bones were carved into tools. Another great example is children’s clothing up until approximately the 1950s. Prior to that, baby and toddler clothing was white. This was practical because both boys and girls could wear them (plus they were easier to clean since they could be bleached). This was part of why in the Victorian era both young boys and girls wore dresses!

"American Bison, aka Buffalo" by A. Poulos (Iya) from Flickr Creative Commons.  Native Americans let no part of the Bison go to waste.

Native Americans let no part of the Bison go to waste. “American Bison, aka Buffalo” by A. Poulos (Iya) from Flickr Creative Commons.

In today’s world, recycling and reusing are seen as being environmentally conscience. While that is true, all the hype is because traditional ways became replaced in the modern throw-away society. In the era of cheap manufacturing, we became used to tossing used items.  Many have forgotten our collective past. Thus, here is a list of ways to reuse and recycle items.

  • Plastic grocery bags can can become trash bags for smaller trash cans; be donated to farmers to use for customers at farmer’s markets or to greenhouses to place plants in the avoid dirtying a car; and be woven into useful objects (I’ve seen rugs and tote bags). If you can’t find a way to reuse the bags, most stores offer recycle bins for them.
  • Some stores leave purchased clothing on plastic hangers. While not the prettiest or strongest, they are still great to use. Consider using them in your closet until they break. If you chose not to do that, donate them. Goodwill, clothing resale shops, and charity closets need hangers and gladly welcome any they can find.
  • Have an old crock pot? Don’t toss it! Take the metal to a recycle shop and use the stoneware crock as a flower pot.
  • Have old soda cans, copper wire, tin cans, or other scrap metal? Don’t toss them in the trash or curbside recycling. Look in your phone book for a metal recycler and take them in. You’ll get some money for their scrap value.
  • Need an other option for tin coffee cans? Paint and use them as flower pots. The pain will prevent rusting, but be sure to drill drainage holes in the bottom first. The same process, less drilling, can be used with regular-sized tin cans to create pencil/pen/paintbrush holders.
  • Have  hobby that involves keeping track of small objects?  Old pill bottles and baby food jars are perfect for these!  I use them to store beads, alongside the plastic containers the M’n’M Minis come in.
  • Speaking of the M’n’M Minis containers, they are also the right size for storing coin collections.  The tubes are just the right diameter to hold quarters.  Quarters, nickles, and pennies will stack within the tubes, but the smaller dimes will only store in a unstacked state.
  • Ever buy the lunch meat that comes in plastic containers?  Wash up the containers after use.  They are the perfect size to freeze leftovers because the containers fit perfectly within the door’s shelves and also stack well.  Other containers that are useful for this include old butter spread ones.
  • Have an old manual toothbrush?  Consider bleaching it then using it as a cleaning tool.  They work great to clean grout, air intake vents, and other small or narrow items.
  • Have old, holey socks, shirts, or other clothing?  Consider using them as a cleaning rags.  They collect dust well, could be used in the garage as grease rags, or could be used to polish or stain furniture.
  • Work somewhere where you can acquire old copy paper boxes?  When you need to box items for storage consider grabbing a few of these.  They are cheaper than buying plastic containers at the store and stack much better (too frequently the plastic ones have odd shapes causing loss of valuable storage space).  The only downside is that if items are stored where water damage could potentially occur, you may not want to use these.

Here are a few other things about recycling and reuse to keep in mind:

  • Old electronics need to be taken to specialized recyclers.  They know how to disassemble the pieces in a way that ensures most everything could be melted and reused.
  • Consider composting old plant-food and biodegradable items.  If you garden, this could later be used as mulch.
  • Old batteries also need to be taken to recyclers.  If tossed in the trash, they will either leach acid into a landfill or explode if incineration is used instead.
  • Recycle old newspapers, phone books, used wrapping paper, and cardboard boxes.  Many schools offer bins to collect these.  Not only are the items shredded for reuse, but the schools also get a bit of money for what they turn in.
  • Old tires can be reused at home as tire swings for children or sent to shredders and made into a ground covering for playgrounds.  It’s softer than gravel, helping to prevent some types of injuries.
"Trash Recycling with Disposal Containers"

Separate bins help make recycling easier. “Trash Recycling with Disposal Containers” by from Flickr Creative Commons.

All of these ideas are things my family and I have done before.  Growing up in farm country, everything is reused first.  If it cannot be reused, recycling is the next step.  When reused items are completely spent, only then are they tossed into the garbage or sent for recycling.  Following reuse and recycle principles, one could reduce the amount of trash sent to a landfill.  For example, we typically only set out one trash can each week.  Many of our neighbors set out two or three.  They don’t recycle.  You have to power to reduce the waste too; please don’t waste it.  Every time something is recycled and reused, everyone benefits because it keeps production costs low; reduces pollution; keeps land pristine instead of becoming a landfill; and reduces the amount of trees cut down thus preserving nature and increasing the oxygen supply.

Here are a few websites where you can learn more about reuse and recycling:

  • The Environmental Protection Agency’s “Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle” website offers a plethora of tips and ideas.  Educators will also find relevant lesson plans.
  • Missouri’s Department of Natural Resources “The Three R’s: Reduce, Reuse and Recycle” page provides recycling tips and ways to think about buying environmental-friendly products.
  • The Natural Resources Defense Council’s “The 3R’s Still Rule” page offers recycling tips, with a focus on the different types of plastics.  This is helpful because some recyclers only take certain kinds.
  • offers many tips on reuse  and recycling, including sub-pages for different items.

Any questions or additional reuse and recycling ideas to share?


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