I love this increased conscientiousness surrounding the environment and the toll our modern lifestyle has on it. But there is so much more to be done that, unfortunately, I think a lot of people, myself included, fail to see. Using cloth grocery bags is great, but what about all the plastic Ziplocs we use to store food at home, the flimsy plastic bags we take from the supermarket to gather produce, and the amount of unnecessary packaging we dispose after eating a simple box of cereal or granola bars?
While I'm not a complete radical when it comes to going green and such, I have come to take an increasingly strong minimalist approach to life over the years, for environmental reasons among others. I am learning to be a more conscious consumer whenever I do buy something, but I'm also becoming less of a consumer over time as I find efficient and waste-free ways to replace or reuse store-bought products. I just wanted to suggest a few tips that I've gathered recently to help reduce unnecessary waste, increase reuse of "trash," and the like!
Though I enjoy making my own crackers and granolas, that doesn't mean I don't also pick up the occasional box of Wheat Thins or cereal from the grocery store. But once I've enjoyed the snack, rather than throwing out the box and bag, I find ways to reuse all the packaging that I can. The bags inside of cereal boxes are super sturdy and useful for all sorts of household storage. I use them again and again to keep homemade granolas and crackers fresh, as a freezer bag for poultry and fish, to marinate dinner - pretty much anything for which I would use a standard store-bought plastic bag. It's incredible to think of how many boxes of plastic Ziploc bags we buy, especially when compared to the number of other products we purchase that already come with plastic bags for easy reuse! Bread, cereal, cracker and roll bags never go straight to the trash in my house and I always make great use of the resealable packaging for dried fruit - they make for perfect sandwich bags and trail mix holders! Since most of these bags are made of a thicker plastic to ensure freshness, I've found that they're even easier to clean out and last much longer than your standard Ziploc.
I'm also an avid reuser of those thin plastic bags that are available in the supermarket produce department and are even used at plenty of farmer's markets these days. I try to opt out of the plastic bag whenever I'm purchasing a single item, like one eggplant or a single pepper. When I do need to use a bag to keep multiple items together, however, I just reuse old plastic produce bags. Though they're flimsy, they don't get too worn down after a few uses since their function is so short lived. When I get home, I just toss the salvageable plastic produce bags into the reusable cloth grocery bag that I carry with me when I go to the market anyway. It's an easy way to reduce your plastic consumption and reduce a high volume of unnecessary waste!
Cardboard boxes have a seemingly infinite number of potential reuses! From decorative magazine holders to Christmas tree ornaments, from craft work surfaces to homemade stencils, from compost fuel to business cards, these boxes have the potential for a wide array of second lives. A simple Google search of "cereal box reuse" or "cereal box project" yields more projects than I could possibly list. While it is great to recycle these boxes if you don't have any use for them, I highly suggest saving them so you can store up for potential future projects!
And what about all that paper that goes through your house day in and day out? Junk mail, papers printed on accident, newspaper, opened envelopes, flyers? How about putting that paper to good use, rather than heading straight to the recycle bin? I've found plenty of books and websites with an excess of paper projects, from bowls and boxes to artistic home decor. It isn't hard to find a way to make something beautiful and/or functional out of excess paper. On the more purely functional side, shredded paper is great for compost, as well as packing material and even to use in lieu of tissue paper for gift wrapping. Rather than heading straight to the recycle bin, keep a large box around for collecting old paper scraps. This keeps your options open so if a tempting project idea comes along, you'll have plenty of materials at the ready!
None of these ideas are too radical or revolutionary, or even that innovative I would argue. But sometimes it can be too easy to lose sight of how much we're wasting and how much more mileage we could get out of our "trash." I simply hope this post has encouraged a few readers to reuse some of the items that would normally be tossed without a second thought. Maybe those plastic bags will get more than one use or all that junk mail will find itself transformed into an artful bowl. If nothing else, I hope this post has given you pause to think about how much we waste as a society and how we could avoid purchasing wasteful products in the first place, like those that have excess packaging or those that we don't really need as other items in the home could easily fulfill that purpose.
For further tips, ideas, and reference, here are a few helpful sites to stop by!
- How Can I Recycle This has plenty of tips for recycling everything, from the most commonly trashed packaging to excess household items. Innovative and highly resourceful, this site is a great go-to before throwing anything out!
- Repurposeful is a blog all about reusing everyday items. Though blogger Cara doesn't post much anymore, she has a vast archive of handy projects that is useful to browse through!
- I've already posted a few of Patricia Zapata's awesome paper crafts on the blog (click here and here to see). But her book Home, Paper, Scissors offers a wealth of paper projects that can be created by the average crafter to bring some unique decor into the home. Though all of her tutorials don't necessarily utilize recycled paper, nearly all of these gorgeous projects could be made from recycled paper goods.
- Making your own paper is a great way to get crafty, put old newspapers to good reuse, and create one-of-a-kind paper gifts and products!
- Found on DesignSponge, this post about DIY Cleaning Products has plenty of easy to concoct, natural alternatives to store-bought cleaners. Using these homemade cleaners not only is healthier for you and the people and animals you live with, it also is better for the environment and cuts down on the amount of plastic containers (particularly those for store-bought, commercial cleaning products) coming into and out of your home.
- This Reusing Household Items post I found on Squidoo contains a wealth of projects, including how to make yarn from plastic bags.
What are your favorite ways to reuse items in the home?