1. Make an easy bouquet. Helene Goldberger, 48, an administrative law judge for the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation, washes and saves spaghetti sauce jars to use as vases when she takes flowers to a friend. “The jar is just the right size for a bouquet,” she says, “and better yet, when flowers are given this way, the recipient doesn’t have to stop what she’s doing, find a vase and make an arrangement.”
2. Wrap it up. Every parent has tons of kids’ original artwork. If you’ve reached overload, take some “older” pieces and use them to wrap gifts for Grandma, Grandpa and other family members. Not only are you saving paper, but you’re making each gift more special.
3. Freeze it. Fill an empty aspirin bottle with water and put it in the freezer. The next time you have an ache or pain that requires cold rather than heat, apply the frozen bottle to the injured area.
4. Stay wrinkle-free. After a shopping spree, don’t trash the tissue paper from your bags. Save it instead, and when packing for your next trip, wrap clothes in the tissue to ward off wrinkles.
5. Dryer sheet do’s. Before you toss your used dryer sheet, use it to remove soap scum from shower doors or to freshen drawers. You can also rub it across clothes to remove static cling.
6. Set up a swap. If you’ve lost or gained weight (and who hasn’t?), you probably have perfectly good clothing that no longer fits. Instead of giving it away, invite a group of friends over for a clothing exchange party. Everyone goes home with something “new,” maybe even something they’ve always coveted.
7. Save squeeze bottles. Monica Resinger, 38, editor and founder of the Homemaker’s Journal (homemakersjournal.com) reuses clean squeezable ketchup bottles by filling them with homemade salad dressing, syrup or cooking oil (anything that comes in a larger container). “It’s much more convenient day to day,” she says.
8. Bag it. Tired of looking at that messy cabinet where you shove all your plastic grocery bags? Fill old tissue boxes with your stash of bags; then pull out the bags one at a time as needed.
9. Save your scraps. At least that’s what Betsy Rosenberg, host of EcoTalk, a San Francisco radio show, believes. “I save most food scraps,” she says, “and put them in my compost bin. That way I generate very little waste and also help my garden.”
10. Make mailing packages easier. Master recyclers, like Susan DeWind of Middlebury, Vermont (she generates less than one shopping bag of garbage a month), reuse everything. DeWind saves every padded envelope and box she receives in the mail and uses them to send her own mail. (“Of course, you have to open them very carefully if you plan to reuse them,” she adds.) As a result, she hasn’t paid for postal supplies other than stamps in years.
11. Get creative with containers. DeWind also saves old film canisters, which she washes out and uses as paint containers for her kids’ art projects.
12. Share, share, share. If you have a lawn mower but no Weedwacker and your neighbor has a Weedwacker but no mower (or substitute any other big equipment), consider setting up a neighborly exchange. “The idea is to think about how you can use something most efficiently,” says David Goldbeck, coauthor of Choose to Reuse (www.ireuse.org)
, “and sharing bigger items is a very good way to use things to their fullest.” If sharing with a neighbor is not your cup of tea, then consider renting certain tools or machines rather than buying them. “You may not think about it as reuse,” says Goldbeck, “but renting something that many people use certainly qualifies as that.”
13. Keep old shower curtains. Never discard an old shower curtain. It makes a great drop cloth when you are painting and a perfect tablecloth when the kids are doing messy crafts projects.
14. Tote toys. If you buy oranges or onions in mesh bags, save them. They’re perfect for carrying around toys, and, even better, with a quick shake you can get rid of any dirt or sand you’ve picked up at the playground.
Lend a Hand
15. Donate phones. If you have an old cell phone lying around, don’t toss it. The Verizon Wireless HopeLine collects old cell phones from customers of any carrier, refurbishes the phones, sells them and uses the proceeds to purchase phones and air time for victims of domestic violence. Phones can be mailed in or dropped off at any Verizon Wireless store. For more information, log on to www.verizonwireless.com/hopeline
16. Pass along paperbacks. Instead of storing old books on a shelf, share them with someone else. BookCrossing encourages readers to register books on its web site (www.bookcrossing.com)
, get ID labels to paste into the books and then leave the books somewhere—a bus stop, restaurant, doctor’s waiting room—so others can pick them up. You can check the web site periodically to see where your books have traveled.
17. Put pets at ease. Pet shelters and humane societies love old bathroom rugs for their cats and dogs to lie on, says Sally Kurtzman, the author of A Second Life for Stuff in Metro Denver. Old rugs are not only softer, but they also don’t shed as much. The only requirement, warns Kurtzman, is that you must wash the rug before you take it over to the shelter.
18. Help the homeless. Sure, you could use old towels for rags, but why not help someone else instead? Many local homeless shelters offer showers to day visitors and always need towels and washcloths for their guests. Unless your towels are in shreds, most shelters are happy to have more on hand, no matter how old or faded.
19. Unload bags. Old luggage can find a new home with foster kids. Consider giving yours to Suitcases for Kids, a nonprofit agency started in 1995 by then-10-year-old Aubyn Burnside. Aubyn was deeply affected when she learned that foster kids move their belongings in trash bags. Today her nonprofit helps foster kids in every state and all over the world. To find where you can donate old luggage, log on to
20. Hand down your magazines. Senior citizen centers aren’t the only places that accept used magazines. Local health clubs, doctors’ offices and motels need reading materials, too.
21. Send off shoes. Gather up all those outgrown sneakers in your house and give them to Nike’s Reuse-A-Shoe. This program collects old athletic shoes (any brand) at various Nike locations and gives them new life as athletic surfaces (playgrounds, running tracks, tennis courts, etc.). To date, the program has kept more than 13 million pairs of shoes out of landfills. For more information, log on to www.nikereuseashoe.com
22. Give toys a new home. Donate videos, toys and puzzles that your kids have outgrown but are still in good shape to your local Ronald McDonald House. These houses welcome donations for the siblings of sick children to help them pass the time while their brother or sister is undergoing long hours of treatment.
23. Restock for humanity. Did you know that Habitat for Humanity has retail stores that accept donations of home-building and remodeling supplies? If you’ve recently remodeled and have paint, cabinets, lumber, shingles and windows—and they are in good condition––consider taking them to a Habitat ReStore where they will be sold at reasonable prices. The money will be used to buy supplies for a Habitat project, and you’ll get a tax receipt. To find a ReStore near you, log on to www.habitat.org/env/restore.html
or call 800-HABITAT.
24. Donate your PC. Experts estimate that by the year 2005 there will be the equivalent of 70 million computers (that’s PCs plus unrecyclable parts) stashed in U.S. landfills. If you’ve recently upgraded and have an old computer sitting in your closet, consider donating it to the National Cristina Foundation, which distributes old but working computers to people with special needs. For more information, log on to www.cristina.org
or call 203-863-9100.
Save the Environment
25. Recycle your oil. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, 200 million gallons of used motor oil are improperly disposed of each year. Next time you (or your husband) change the oil, put the old stuff into a clean plastic container, then call Jiffy Lube and ask about its recycling program. Many Jiffy Lube stores will take the used oil to a recycling center, which turns it into such things as heating oil or asphalt.
26. Hang up hangers. Are wire hangers clogging your closets? Don’t toss them; they aren’t biodegradable. Instead, next time you visit the dry cleaners, take the hangers back for reuse.
27. Conserve water. Save the water you boil veggies in and use it to water plants. “It saves on water usage,” says Martha Cid of New York City, “and it’s more nutritious than plain tap water.”
28. Give away old appliances. Rather than putting your old stove, dishwasher or washing machine out for the trash man, look in your yellow pages under “Used Appliances,” which lists businesses that will haul away old appliances, for a small fee, and recycle the metal or, better yet, will buy your old appliance for parts.