Twice a week the local garbage truck rumbles down the street, collecting bags and boxes filled with trash.
Twice a week I continue to marvel at the sheer amount of stuff that people discard. Perhaps it's too easy just to dismiss our garbage, assuming the mindset that what is out of sight is also not our problem anymore. But I wonder if, instead, people just don't realize all the creative ways they can reuse their refuse.
Though my husband and I recycle a large percentage of all waste we create, every time something in our house seems to reach its end-scraps of paper, plastic bottles, ribbon and bows-I think long and hard before discarding it, and that's because I see so much potential in what many other people would dismiss. As a result, I've managed to create fun and interesting items and gifts while saving money and helping the environment over the years. Here are a few of my favorite creations:
Holiday cards and tags are incredibly easy to make. I save cancelled stamps, ribbons, tags and old holiday cards from the year before, and then incorporate those pieces into new and unique cards and tags. Cut-out snowmen from someone else's card last year can be taped onto a package and used as a tag or decoration. I collected several cancelled snowflake stamps and used them to adorn simple green cut-out trees on handmade holiday cards. During the holiday season, all the commercial items begin to blend together, but reusing materials to make my own creations helps them stand out from others and saves me money.
If you have an overabundance of tin cans and plastic containers, wash them out thoroughly and use them to hold paper clips, pens, spare change and other small items. I have a colorful collection of Sharpies, which I use to decorate some of these containers, but you can also tape or glue fun pieces of scrap paper to them for a bit of whimsy. If you're considering disposing of a cracked mug, you may be able to use that as a "stuff" holder as well; just make sure there aren't any sharp edges!
Every time we buy a bottle of wine or a case of beer, we always purchase bottles and we always buy a new brand. Once we're only left with the empty bottles, we thoroughly rinse them out and use them to decorate our kitchen. Because I spend a lot of time traveling, I use that opportunity to pick up bottles of the local beverage, which make for a particularly interesting-and global-collection. You can create a similar collection with aluminum cans.
Keep the critters outside happy when you turn old milk cartons into bird feeders. This is a classic and easy project you can make with a half-gallon paper milk or juice carton. After rinsing out the carton, cut a large hole in the side (with enough space to hold seed in the bottom). Poke a couple skewers through the carton to create perches on both the right and left sides of the hole. Finally, punch a hole in the refolded top of the milk carton, and hang it from a tree so that you can watch backyard feeders such as finches, sparrows and chickadees enjoy it.
Occasionally my creations aren't necessarily fun, but they are useful and help expand the life of otherwise useless items. In our house, when t-shirts rip or other cotton items have worn out, they become cleaning rags. I remove button and zippers, cut off collars, trim pieces into useable squares and suddenly we have a new collection of rags with which to wipe up spills and dust off shelves.
Piles of paper, heaps of wire, discarded plastic container ... I see a second life in them all. When the garbage man drives through my neighborhood, he doesn't have to stop at my house. I hope there comes a day when he can bypass my street altogether.