Plastic soda bottles, old carpet, out-of-date phone books and lint from the clothes dryer are typical items you might find in any American's trash or recycling bin.
For some, however, the line between trash and treasure is fine. They are on America's bandwagon for repurposing or "upcycling."
In the environmentalist mantra "reduce, reuse, recycle," the second commandment often gets short shrift and probably is least explored by average consumers, said Jeff Yeager, author of the new e-book Don't Throw That Away!
The first step to repurposing is what Yeager calls a "trash can autopsy." Roll up your sleeves and literally go through a week's worth of trash and recycling. Here are ideas to reuse what you find in trash and recycling bins. The point isn't to necessarily use these ideas but to stop and think before throwing away something.Plarn
Ideally, you would bring reusable bags to the supermarket or return plastic bags to be recycled. Creative repurposers use plastic bags to make plarn — or plastic yarn — and then knit or crochet some good-looking items. Some use plarn to make a sturdy, reusable grocery sack. YouTube has more than 200 instructional videos.
Not only can you use dryer sheets more than once, you can then use them as wipes for the kitchen and bath.
"Some of the chemicals in them are the same as used in various kitchen and bath cleaners," Yeager said. Try them on the business end of a Swiffer mop.
They also can be used instead of mothballs in closets or in boxes of clothes. You can even use dryer sheets between books on shelves to keep them from becoming musty.
Many people know you can use vinegar instead of pricey liquid weedkillers. But if you're boiling water for pasta, take the hot water out to the driveway or sidewalk and pour it on weeds growing in cracks. It will kill them. If you have weeds in gravel pathways, apply swept-up rock salt from the previous winter.
"It seems we are packaging- and container-crazy," Yeager said. "The jar that pickles came in is obviously safe to put food in." (Pickle juice can also be used for weed control.) Coffee cans are a classic favorite for storage.
Fill a plastic milk jug or soft drink bottle with water and place it in your toilet tank to displace water and cut water use. Most toilets flush fine with less water. Yeager figures a family of four could save about $90 a year on the water bill.
Or you can freeze a plastic bottle of water. A full freezer is more energy efficient and will stay colder longer if you lose power. You can use the frozen bottles as dripless ice cubes when you pack your ice chest for an outing.
Use lemon, lime and orange rinds to shine copper and brass. Or heat citrus peels in the microwave to create a room deodorizer. Shine shoes with a banana peel.
Reuse aluminum foil — unless the foil came in contact with raw meat — by flattening it out. Wad foil into a ball for cleaning the outdoor grill and stuck-on food from pots, pans and racks.
Phone books, etc.
Duct-tape them together as a dinner table child booster seat or step aerobics platform. Or tape one shut and use it as a garden kneeling pad.
For more ideas, see Yeager's book, or search such sites as RealSimple.com, Thedollarstretcher.com and Frugalliving.about.com.
In rapid form, here are other ideas: bubble wrap as window insulation, dryer lint as fireplace starter, old CDs and DVDs as drink coasters, egg cartons for Christmas tree ornament storage, soda can tab as picture-hanging hook, dirty aquarium water as plant fertilizer, muffin tin as large ice cube tray, eggshells as fertilizer, plastic newspaper sleeves as disposable work gloves or dog poop bags, contact lens case as carrier for small amounts of lotion and expired sunscreen as shaving lotion.