Below are tips to go beyond curbside recycling to step up your conservation efforts. Recycling by breaking down the product to make another product is about the best you can do for many disposable items. But here is a list of items that can be reused as they were initially built, saving the energy to recycle and rebuild these everyday household products.
1. With the gift-giving holidays behind us (or just over 360 days away), see if you can’t collapse gift boxes and store them, ready for use for your next gift.
2. Collect and take your egg cartons to a local food pantry or an organic farm for their reuse in distributing eggs.
3. Take shipping boxes you might normally recycle, as well as any Styrofoam or plastic packing materials, to the pack-and-ship mailing location nearest your home.
4. Take your excess paper grocery bags (not the ones you’re reusing for your own groceries) to your local cobbler. They often pack shoes they’ve repaired in paper bags. Your food pantry will likely reuse bags of all sorts. Use reusable bags rather than a new paper or plastic bags from the store. Use your plastic grocery bags as waste can liners.
5. Some jars can be sterilized and reused. For example, the jars of products from local farms are often a brand-name canning jar with a standard-size opening. These can be returned to the farm and reused by them. Or by you. For my siblings this year, I made hot fudge sauce packed in small canning jars with fresh lids.
6. Return hangers to the dry cleaners. Reuse dry cleaner bags as garment protectors and to pack hanging garments when traveling to minimize wrinkling.
7. Some deli departments package their products in sturdy plastic containers with snug-fitting lids. Reuse these for packaging leftovers for your fridge or soups for your freezer instead of buying new containers. Reuse the plastic bags you get with your produce.
8. Upcycle household supplies and furniture you might normally throw away. Options include donating unwanted items to a charity, using a service such as Freecycle to give away products, selling them on a local Facebook marketplace group, or seeking out a specific charity that needs household supplies, like halfway homes. Maybe someone else will love Aunt Vera's vase, or that TV set you just replaced. When you need a piece of furniture, look for resale first. Many stores will recycle your old electronics when you purchase new, so ask.
9. There’s an endless parade of new must-haves from bread-making machines to ice cream makers to espresso machines. Try to borrow before buying. Often, the owner tires of devoting space to the item. If you have a family member or friend who has such a machine, you might ask about their utilization and borrow it from them. Your urge to own might be confirmed or suppressed by this trial and you can return the original to the lender.
10. Use washable plates and cups for picnics and camping. Learn to wash dishes using less water (just ask any Californian for water-saving tips).
11. Are you a from-seed gardener? Consider reusing yogurt cups this spring to start your seedlings. Buy ready-to-plant flowers? Return the plastic tubs to the garden store.
Phone first to make sure the place where you plan to recycle your items accepts these donations, and be thoughtful. Make sure the product you want to donate is clean and reusable. For example, soiled bags should be recycled curbside, as should jars that don’t have standard-sized canning lid openings, or torn or damaged egg cartons. If your product is able to be readily reused, the recipient will undoubtedly welcome your thoughtful gesture.
Have a reuse or recycling practice you employ that isn't listed? Please feel free to share it with us!