Waste Not; Want Not – A New Way to Look at Recycling
Updated: Dec 27, 2021
Growing up, I heard the phrase, “Waste not; want not” on a near daily basis. Today, we live in a world where almost everything is disposable, yet recycling has turned into one of the most hip things to do. But wait, you’re composting too? That’s a joke. Composting is just another form of recycling and you’re just separating your compostable items then paying someone to pick them up from your house. Do you really think recycling and composting is something new? Not really. Let’s take a look at what real recycling looks like.
First, try talking to someone that lived through the Great Depression or World War II. If you’re my age and your parents were born in the 1920s or 1930s, you know that their generation truly knew what recycling was all about. It wasn’t about separating things by type and putting them at the street for the garbage men or some other service to pick up. It was about fixing things and reusing things until you could find absolutely no more use for them or they were truly not fixable. Even then, you might know someone else that could use it, so you passed it along to them. My parents did take tin cans and other metal items to be recycled in much the same way we do today, but it was because there was a raw materials shortage at the time, something that is a real possibility at any time.
Next, consider everything you throw away or recycle each week.
Those to-go containers and utensils from the restaurant around the corner – some of them can be run through the dishwasher and re-used for home leftovers or taking lunch to work. If they are the kind of containers with the black base and clear lid, they are great for seed starting. Admittedly, sporks are useless.
The jar that came with pasta sauce in it – maybe you can use it for a pencil cup. Small jars are even great when you take lunch to work. Some jars can be reused for canning (with new lids). I have crafting supplies and jars are great for storing some of those small things that get lost easily – buttons, safety pins, etc. My dad used to save nails, screws, nuts and bolts in jars. He almost always had whatever size he needed. What do you do with all those extra parts you have left when you put your bookcase from Ikea together? You know the minute you throw them away you’re going to need something.
Coffee cans – granted, most coffee doesn’t come in cans anymore, but those cans were also great for small items you need to save. Maybe coffee should come in cans again so we don’t have that stupid half-foil bag thing to throw away. Besides, the cans can be recycled – the bags, not so much.
Oh, you’re seed starting so you can grow some pretty flowers or fresh veggies this summer? What about all that yard waste you put at the street every time you mow your grass (or your lawn guy does)? Did you know that grass clippings and pine straw make great mulch for those veggies? And why exactly do you throw out the pine straw? Didn’t you buy 50 bales this Spring to go around the shrubs in front of your house?
Back to the compost that you’re paying someone to pick up. Why aren’t you doing it yourself? It really doesn’t take that much room or all that much time. You can even bury the stuff directly next to the rose bush that you love so much – no need for a tumbler or to turn what you have in a bin. Speaking of turning compost – I almost never do that.
Oh, that’s right. You don’t want to put bones in your compost. Aren’t you making bone broth? It’s one of those health crazes happening right now. You’re supposed to boil those bones until they crumble. Haven’t you seen bone meal in the garden section? Guess what? It’s made from crushed animal bone and makes a great amendment to your soil.
Back to the yard waste. Do you have a fireplace in your house? Do you have a fire pit in your yard for cool back yard entertaining? Can’t you burn those tree limbs and that debris from trimming the hedges?
Burning things? Throw in all those things you need to shred. It’s a lot cheaper than buying a shredder. I figured that out after the 2nd or 3rd non-repairable shredder.
Now you have ashes. They are also great for your garden.
Newspapers? They make a compostable weed barrier. Flattened cardboard boxes do too. If nothing else, burn them in that fire pit. You know those 15 things (in 15 separate boxes) from Amazon you get each week – that’s a lot of carboard.
Then, take a look at those things that are still good but might need a little repair work or might need to find a new way to be used.
The hem on your favorite pair of pants is coming loose. The hem on that new set of towels is unraveling. A button popped off your sexy blouse. Do you just donate them all to the local shelter or do you fix them? Get with your grandma or find a video online so you can learn to sew. At least figure out how to sew a button back on.
Your bookcase is a few years old, been through a few moves and now it’s wobbly. Do you buy a new one or do you fix it? Now that you know you kept those spare parts, find them and figure out a way to make the bookcase sturdy again. It’s a lot cheaper than a new bookcase.
Your vacuum cleaner broke. Is there a way to fix it? There are tons of videos online that can teach you how to do it. If you don’t want to tackle it yourself, see if there’s a repair shop in the area. The one thing to keep in mind is that you don’t want to spend more on the repair than it would cost to buy a new one. Only do that if it is something you can’t replace or you just love it that much.
Many of those binders my girls used in school are now being used as binders for recipes and other things printed off the internet. Binders and notebooks get thrown away so often, it’s ridiculous. If nothing else, see if someone with a small child wants them for coloring and drawing.
Finally, take a serious look at what you do use and how it might be replaced with something that’s not disposable.
Zipper seal bags – use those take-out containers or one of those glass jars. Plastic works in the freezer. Generally, glass isn’t great for the freezer unless the sides of the jar are straight (no shoulders).
If you drink a lot of water, fill containers and put them in the refrigerator. I have tons of those “free” 32-oz drink bottles that came from school and fill those for the refrigerator. If you do buy bottled water, the plastic bottles can be refilled and reused. Just pour the water into a reusable drinking container, then refill the water bottle and put it back in the fridge. If you don’t like the taste of tap water, buy one of those pitchers with a filter and it will make a world of difference. Besides, tap water is way cheaper than bottled. Also, a whole house water filter does wonders for the flavor and will make your hot water heater last years longer.
Don’t like plastic? Don’t buy things in plastic. Spend your money on those things that come in the packaging you prefer – it may be reusable.
Don’t like the idea of all those straws going in the landfills? Buy some that are re-usable – metal, silicone or hard plastic. I have some awesome metal ones that keep my drinks chilled nicely.
Here’s one that you may not have considered (Thank you Laura Marie) - instead of buying cotton balls or cotton pads for makeup removal (or whatever else you may use them for), use a washcloth or “eraser” cloth instead. You’re not just reducing your waste – you may even save some money. If that's not your thing, save the cotton that comes inside those vitamin or medication bottles and use that.
So, now you that you know what real recycling looks like, think about how much money you can save when you “waste not; want not.”
What are you doing that’s not listed above?
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