Updated on 03.14.07

Reduce, Reuse, Recycle: 14 Ways To Reuse Your Trash

Trent Hamm

One of the best resources you have for saving money and at the same time saving the environment is in your trash can. That’s right, a lot of the stuff we throw away can easily be reused for something worthwhile. Lately, I’ve been making a conscious effort to examine the things I throw away and see if any of them can be reused. Here are fifteen techniques I’ve found that minimize my waste and also save a bit of money.

I save covers from issues of The New Yorker (I get a gift subscription every year) to use as gift wrapping. They’re gorgeous and they’re free, so why not? Taping multiple covers together can make really beautiful and interesting gift wrapping, and a single cover can wrap small gifts. I also save newspaper pages for just this purpose. This saves big-time on wrapping paper.

I keep used dryer sheets and put them in with clothes in storage. This saves them from smelling musty when I pull them out later, which can save me another laundry load.

I take rubber bands from the Sunday paper and the mesh wrapping from fruit to make kitchen scrubbers. Seriously, I just ball up the mesh wrapping, tie some rubber bands around it, and start scrubbing with it. It works about as well as a Brillo pad or the green side of a sponge.

I take orange and lemon peels and use them for air fresheners. I leave them out on a saucer to make the house smell fresher. Why use Glade?

I take empty Kleenex boxes and use them for under-the-sink storage, especially plastic bags. You can jam a lot of empty plastic grocery bags into a single Kleenex box, plus the “pop up” nature of the box makes it easy to just pull out one bag at a time.

I keep leftover chopped up vegetables in a bowl and mix them all up for ploughman’s stew in a night or two. If I cut up vegetables and find myself with some left over, I save the leftover chopped up veggies in a bowl, then in a night or two, I brown some ground beef (half a pound or a pound), add two cups of water and a can of tomato soup, and dump in the leftover vegetables. Almost all vegetables work in this and it makes a delicious stew.

I save a smaller bottle of many common household things (laundry detergent, dishwashing detergent, shampoo), then buy the liquid inside in bulk and just fill up the small bottle from the big one. This way, I’m only tossing out the occasional large bottle instead of frequent small ones, putting less plastic in landfills and saving money by buying in bulk.

I keep everything wooden for kindling. We go camping regularly, so anything wooden (especially fruit crates and the like) is saved for fire kindling. I just put the wooden stuff near our camping supplies – and if I have a few moments, I go ahead and break it down into small pieces so it’s easier to use when we camp.

I use the water for boiling vegetables and use it to water house plants. This provides the majority of water for our house plants in one swoop.

I cut up old tee shirts and use them as kitchen rags. They do a great job for floor scrubbing, counter scrubbing, and other such simple uses.

I take egg shells, grind them up a bit, and dump them in the garden. Many flowers (especially roses) love the stuff, plus it keeps out a lot of pests. Even if you don’t have a garden of your own, putting egg shells in any area where plants are growing is better than just tossing them out with the garbage.

I use junk mail envelopes as grocery lists (and other quick list and note papers). I take an envelope and attach it to the refrigerator with a magnet. Throughout the week, I jot down what I need on the back, thus giving the envelope a second use. This is a great way to deal with junk mail envelopes and get more use out of them.

I use sturdy containers (like oatmeal cans) for storage. These hold pens, note cards, and lots of other stuff; just label ’em with a big marker and put them on a shelf where you would keep them.

I use old socks for dusting and window cleaning. I just pull them over my hand and then just wipe down everything I need to; most of the time, I don’t even need to use Pledge or anything with this technique.

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  1. Anne says:

    I do a lot of this stuff too and think it’s great when anyone tries to save some trash from cluttering the landfill. Watering your plants with cooking water is an extra perk because often the water is nutrient-filled from veggies or whatnot that were boiled in it. I also really like buying HUGE bottles and refilling normal-sized bottles with their contents.

  2. Josh says:

    You use dryer sheets? That’s not very frugal.

    Old socks is a good one. My parents were still using my old diapers as cleaning rags when I left for college.

  3. Chris says:

    A similar thing that I do (at least in environmental and mental cleanliness) is using freecycle to get rid of larger items. I’ve kept a queen bed, a george foreman grill, and a few other items from hitting the landfill while at the same time saving room in my apartment for stuff I actually want. Sure, you can sell stuff if you’re persistent, but it’s nice having a person pick up what you advertised later that evening and be done with it.

  4. Dryer sheets are also great for wrapping a hairbrush in. This helps cut down on static electricity when you brush your hair – especially great for winter. Not necessarily a money saving tip – unless of course people try to take care of static-y hair with expensive hair products.

  5. L says:

    This is a pretty small suggestion, but studies have shown that microwaving sponges for 2 minutes kills 99.9% of germs on them…meaning you can use them until they fall apart. It also kills that sponge smell. =o)

  6. I love those ideas! I also use an empty kleenex box to collect trash in my car. Then I just toss the whole thing.

  7. Jacob says:

    I take issue with some items on this list, including:

    “I take orange and lemon peels and use them for air fresheners. I leave them out on a saucer to make the house smell fresher. Why use Glade?”

    Because Glade doesn’t attract swarms of fruit flies and doesn’t quickly decay and smell up the house with that icky sweet and rotten smell. Glade also doesn’t look as tacky.

  8. Trent Hamm Trent says:

    Jacob: leave them out for half an hour or so, not for days – that’s nasty. If you want to stretch it more, boil them in some water.

  9. Margaret says:

    You don’t need dryer sheets at all if you are drying cotton. An allergist told me to stop using them when my son had an exzema problem, and there is no difference, unless you are drying a load of fuzzy polyester blankets! When I did use dryer sheets, I only used a quarter of a sheet at a time (either cut a stack of them at a time or just ripped them if they already had cuts in them).

  10. RANDOM PERSON! says:

    Did you know newspapers work really good for cleaning windows and you can just recycle them afterwards instead of usuing a bunch of paper towels or dirty socks :D

  11. James Peat says:

    How humid is it there? I leave orange peels out at night and they are almost dry the next day and totally dry the the day after. The trick is not to put them in a little pile but to spread them out a little or hang them. The great smell is just a bonus for me. I use them as kindling in my wood stove. They burn very energetically, especially the clemintine / mandarin peels. No more busting up all that wood, although in truth I do that too. A Btu is Btu.

  12. Anika says:

    hey guess what! I LOVE COWS!!

  13. priyanka says:

    The lemon and orange peels could also be dried in sun and then could be stored seperately. You can take either of some and mix it with milk and use it to scrub your skin, esp, knees and elbows.

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