Ralph Waldo Emerson once described a weed as, “a plant whose virtues have not yet been discovered.” Might we not consider garbage in the same way? One man’s trash is another man’s treasure, after all. To the non-recycler, an empty bottle is garbage. To the reuse enthusiast, that empty bottle could be a chandelier, a vase, a drinking glass, a candelabra … you get the picture.
In a world being consumed by waste, it’s time to think of our trash in a different light (and save some money while we're at it). The following 50 tips are just a few of the endless ways in which to discover the virtues of garbage.
1. Use a gallon milk jug to water the roots of garden plants without standing there with a hose: Poke small holes in the bottom of the jug and bury it; fill with water for slow and steady irrigation.
2. Place old silica gel packets with personal papers and important documents to protect them from moisture and mildew.
3. Humidity and light are deleterious to printed photos; tackle the moisture part by storing photos with silica get packets.
4. Use old wine corks to create a floating key ring; never worry about your keys sinking while at the beach or lake again.
5. Become a recycling old master, like artist Scott Gundersen, and transform old wine corks into masterpieces.
6. Make a bird feeder out of a 2-liter plastic bottle.
7. Pour used bacon grease into a tuna or cat food can, chill until firm, and wire the can to a tree to give your feathered visitors some food. Bacon grease may be gross to some of us, but it attracts bluebirds, crows, jays, ravens, starlings, woodpeckers and Carolina wrens.
8. Spread out old newspaper beneath a tablecloth to provide further protection against spills.
9. Don’t forget the old trick of using newspaper instead of paper towels to clean windows.
10. Once it's time to retire an old game, use the game board to make coasters.
11. Use old game pieces – Monopoly movers, dice, Scrabble tiles – to make jewelry or to decorate wrapped packages.
12. Place an open jar or bowl of dried, used coffee grounds in your refrigerator or freezer to neutralize odors.
13. Keep a jar of dried, used coffee grounds under the sink and use with dish soap as a scouring agent for cleaning caked-on stubborn food.
14. Mound used coffee grounds in a ring around garden plants to keep ants and slugs away.
15. Keep used tea bags in the refrigerator; in the morning, dampen if needed and put one on each eye to relieve puffiness and refresh sleepy peepers.
16. Dampen cool, used tea bags and place them on insect bites and minor burns; it’s said that the tannins help soothe and reduce inflammation.
17. Pack old newspaper sleeve bags in your purse of backpack for use as emergency galoshes.
18. If you hate the feeling of rubber gloves against your skin, use newspaper sleeve bags to protect your hands while washing dishes.
19. Did your bike inner tube spring a leak? Lucky you! Now you can save the tube and cut it into strips for a bonanza of rubber bands in custom widths.
20. You can also use a bike inner tube to fashion an industrial chic door draft stopper: Cut a length of tube a little longer that the door’s width, fill with sand and seal both ends; block drafts and stay cozy.
21. We are a people of rampant toilet paper use and thus, we are all left with a lot of toilet paper tubes. You can turn those tubes into playthings and nesting materials for your small furry pets.
22. Torn and crumbled toilet paper tubes also make fine packing material.
23. If paper towels are one of your “eco sins” (we all have our indulgences), you can use the cardboard tubes for any number of crafts.
24. Old disposable lighters can be turned into jewelry, toys, and tricky secret compartments in which to store your secret things.
25. Empty pill bottles need not head to the landfill when they can be taming the mess of your junk drawer, tool box, sewing kit, and so forth; they love to contain little things.
26. And speaking of sewing kits and pill bottles, you can put together a teeny one with thread, needles and safety pins, and house it in a pill container.
27. Pill containers can also hold a stash of Band-Aids in your purse for when blisters and paper cuts strike.
28. For little bits of soap that have given up their lather, collect them and put them in a stocking leg to keep by an outdoor faucet, ensuring that you’ll have soap on hand for outside cleanup.
29. Another way to use soap slivers is to wrap a group of them in a washcloth and tie it into a bundle; presto, you have a self-sudsing scrubber.
30. Put old, stained T-shirts to use fighting stains; cut them up and use them for messy spills around the house and in the garage.
31. Cut T-shirts into strips and knit with them; yes, knit.
32. Snagged pantyhose or tights may look unsightly on the legs, but nobody will care when they are being used in the home. For starters, they make great sleeves for posters, wallpaper rolls, wrapping paper and anything else that needs to stay rolled up.
33. Stockings that have passed their prime make great rags for cleaning and dusting.
34. And since over-the-hill pantyhose and tights seem to come in endless supply, they can also be cut and used for ersatz bungee cords, hair bows, sashes and arm warmers.
35. For the super crafty, use your old jeans for any of these cool old jean things.
36. Old sailors know this one: use banana peels to shine your shoes. Rub the inside of the peel on shoes, then buff with a soft cloth.
37. Don’t toss the ends of bread loaves; they deserve love too. Let them dry out and then turn them into breadcrumbs.
38. Use the peels of juiced lemons to make zest and twists, which can be dried or frozen for later use.
39. Use juiced citrus halves sprinkled with salt to clean stainless steel and other metal fixtures.
40. Add a hunk of orange peel to brown sugar to ensure it stays soft; no more trying to fit brown-sugar boulders in a measuring cup.
41. Parmesan cheese rinds may lack nice texture, but they have plenty of taste left and add richness to sauces; put them in soup stocks, minestrone, risotto and pasta sizes while cooking, then remove what’s left at the end.
42. Don’t throw old books away; upcycle them into beautiful handmade journals.
43. Have an ugly sweater that is just too ugly and is calling for the trash? Mittenize it! (That would mean turn it into mittens; see the how-to here.)
44. Another wonderful way to reincarnate a sweater is to unravel the yarn and knit it again; and if you’re not up for the reknitting part, there’s a mom at Reknit who will do the knitting for you.
45. During windy rainstorms the trash cans on city corners overflow with sad, broken umbrellas; all those materials just waiting for the landfill, while there are so many ways to use them. For starters, salvage the cloth and use it for purses, skirts, or best of all, a doggie rain coat.
46. Styrofoam to-go containers can be cleaned, torn up and used as packing peanuts.
47. Use paper egg cartons to start seedlings; since the paper will biodegrade, each cup with its seedling can be dropped right into the soil. Toilet paper tubes can be used in the same way.
48. Little jars can be cleaned and employed in a desk drawer to organize office supplies, a junk drawer for odds and ends, or a dresser drawer for jewelry.
49. Just because you may have gone paperless doesn’t mean you should throw your binder clips away. On the contrary: read 16 clever uses for binder clips.
50. Yes, this may seem random, but here goes: don’t throw away your old garden rake! Remove the head and hang it on the wall for use as a necklace tree, a rustic tie holder, a scarf organizer, a belt holder … the possibilities are many.
Related stories on how to reuse your garbage:
- 20 things you didn't know you could recycle
- 20 ways to reuse coffee grounds and tea leaves
- 20 uses for leftover fruit and vegetable peels