Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Ideas for reusing paper and plastic items

There is an awful number of paper and plastic items that make its way in and out of my life. For example, I love milk so I go through 4-5 gallons a month. This means I have 4-5 empty plastic gallon jugs to recycle. There are also plastic bags, mail, paper bags and other items that can be recycled but do have some life in them. Here are a few ways I reuse items before they are consigned to the recycling or garbage bin.

Plastic bags: The easy choice for reusing these is as trash can liners. Even a few of the grocery stores have printed on their bags "Today, carrying groceries; tomorrow lining a trash can" or something similar. I use them to carry cat waste from the basement for flushing. They are reused to wrap items I would like to keep dry or for storing items that might spill or make a mess. Plastic bags can also be balled up and used as packing material. I know of people who cut them into strips and knit them into more sturdy reusable bags. My skill with a knitting needle is nonexistant, but I think making a bag out of bags is a great idea.

Paper bags: The paper grocery bags without handles are used on top of the plastic bag in my kitchen trash can. While I throw away less food than I used to, there are times when sloppy stuff is thrown away. The paper bag soaks up the liquid and helps reinforce the plastic bag and prevents breakage. I also use them to hold the items I will donate to charitable stores. The handled paper bags are great to reuse. I carry around Christmas gifts in them or use the smaller bags for gift bags or to carry my lunch (if I cannot find my reusable bag). A handled paper bag holds the plastic, glass and metal recycled items in the house and is used repeatedly until it is too tattered and dirty to function. Paper bags also hold paper to be recycled and can be placed on the curb without empyting the bag.

Empty plastic gallon containers: While I really only recycle the milk jugs, collecting the caps for the school my mom works for, I do keep and reuse the distilled water containers purchased for my cats. I have water left from my rainbarrel in a few of these plastic gallon jugs to water my plants. Since it is winter where I life, the rainbarrel is detached, but I saved some of the water for the wintertime plant watering. I also use these containers to mix up beverages, especially powdered milk. I use powdered milk in recipes that call for milk, saving me some money by not using my 1% drinking milk for cooking. I have also stored some tap water in the basement for emergency use. Milk jugs are not recommended for water storage so the distilled water containers are ideal.

Mail: An oldie but goodie: write on the back of envelopes. This really is worthwhile. I find envelopes a great size for making lists, to do or grocery. I have them scattered all over the house so I have no excuse not to write something down. Finding a pen might be more of an adventure. I also save some of the letter-size paper if blank on one side for printing. I am attracted to the colored paper but use white as well. I have taken to reusing the colored paper to print my monthly grocery list on and that makes it easy to find in my purse. Usually what I print I am not saving long term so reusing the paper and then recycling it works well.

Cardboard boxes: I like the ones at work that copier paper comes in. They have a nice lid and are great for stashing the endless amount of paper that filters into my life. I should file it but instead, it ends up in one of these boxes and stored. I also use brown cardboard in the garden as a weed-suppressing mulch. Really sturdy boxes I keep and use for moving more delicate items. I also keep paper packing material (and bubble wrap) for future reuse as well. However, I limit myself to just one box of each type of packing material or I would have a full basement. I also give excess to people who sell on eBay since they are always looking for free packing material.

These are strategies I use regularly to get at least one more use out of an item before it is consigned to a recycling bin. Some still end up in a landfill, but all are used again to minimize waste.

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