Monday, August 17, 2009

Re-using and Re-purposing my trash for one week!

Day 1, Monday, August 17.

Someone came to my son's preschool this year and taught the kids that rather than just recycling, which takes energy, ideally we need to learn first to reduce, then reuse, and only then recycle.

He came home all fired up with ideas to reuse the trash, but we didn't follow through at the time.

But the idea has simmered in the back of my mind since then and here and there I've tried to reuse items. Now I'm committing one week to really forcing myself to reuse all the trash/recyclables our family produces for one week.

Already I'm astounded at the sheer amount of trash/recyclables we've produced. Yesterday alone, we produced 27 items. I'm going to call it all trash now for purposes of ease, but much of it is recyclable and would have gone into our recycle bin.

Yesterday was Sunday and a bit unusual since we stayed home all day as our trip to Lake Geneva was cancelled due to weather. As a result, we snacked a lot and used up bits of this and that including half drunk bottles of pop the kids had gotten for a treat the week earlier.

In addition, I made three casserole/crockpot meals of lasagna, german potato salad, and grilled veggies, so more food containers were used than will be the rest of the week.

All the produce scraps went right into my lasagna garden bed.

Here's what Day One Produced.

5 20 ounce pop bottles.
1 Wall Street Journal (that had been sitting in the mailbox from Friday).
1 Pizza Box (polished off the rest of Friday pizza)
2 cereal boxes
1 plastic potato bag
1 plastic cheese bag
1 plastic green peas bag
1 plastic tostitos box
1 wax cereal box liner
2 plastic strawberry cartons
1 plastic yogert container
1 plastic cottage cheese container
1 waxy bag of pita chips
2 cardboard boxes of spaghetti (both 1/2 empty when I used them up)
1 glass bottle of olive oil
1 glass bottle of spaghetti sauce
1 cardboard box of SOS
1 plastic mustard bottle
1 plastic water bottle (very rare as we filter our water and carry reusable drink containers- this was from a trip)
1 Panera Bread plastic iced tea cup - from Saturday.

27 items in essentially one day! Yikes. And being forced to reuse them already has me thinking going to a store with refill bins might be a great idea. Also maybe buying larger containers of things like cottage cheese might be an option, though often these end up spoiling before they are used.

And I found myself a bit testy when I realized my husband had used up yet another box of Uncle Sam's cereal, and that along with a tea bag are going to be added to my list today;-).

So here's what I've come up with so far. I've re-purposed a bit more than 1/2 the items and stretched my creativity a bit.

All the plastic bags (cheese, potato, peas, etc.) went right to the car to use to clean up dog messes when I take Brandi with me. I keep these in my car door so I'm never caught without a bag. In the past, I used old plastic bags from the grocery store, but since I've switched to cloth bags, I no longer have the stash I did.

The newspaper and all cardboard when right into a new flower bed I'm creating on a far corner of our lot.

I used the wax cereal liner to store the last SOS pad after using it. I find if you put it in a bag and stick it in the freezer, you don't get that nasty, rusty mess under your sink.

Kirk came up with the creative idea to put Brandi's Iams food into one of the pop bottles and she pushed it around with her nose as kibble fell out. She has a similar food toy we bought at a petstore for about $10. This wouldn't work if your dog is a chewer, but Brandi had only a handful of teeth left (she was a rescue dog with some major health/dental issues) and doesn't chew.

The plastic containers are all storing seeds - one for hollyhocks, one for gas plant,
one for mallow, and one for poppies. I will use some of these myself and some I will trade for other seeds on (An aside, this is a WONDERFUL garden website!!! I haven't yet figured out how to post links, but you can do a google search.)

The Frito Lay bag is up on my son's changing table as I often double bag the smelliest of the diapers.

I made a pot of iced tea and refilled the Panera cup and will use that as my drink when I do some errands today.

I used the two glass items as vases and will put one vase of surprise lilies in Kirk's room and one vase of white phlox in Kai's.

The remainder of the plastic bottles have cuttings from houseplants in them. I would love some advice on this as I'm always able to root them, but often kill them when transplanting to dirt.

I've reached the end of my creativity for the day! Would love it if some of you would like to join the challenge or share ideas to use up the rest of it.

DAY 2 -

Closing in on the end of day two.

I find myself giving longing glances to the recycles bins in the garage. I am careful to recycle everything I can. We usually have two full recycle bins each week. And in my efforts to reuse everything this week, I fully acknowledge you can only keep so many reused items around before it becomes clutter and you can't open a kitchen cabinet without thinking a small pile of Coolwhip bowls may topple on your head;-)

But I keep coming back to my son's insistence that recycling isn't as "pure" as it might seem - there is pollution created with each recycled item. As I abhor clutter, this being forced to keep all these items around, even for a week, is mostly a consciousness raising exercise to myself to ask if I can reduce the amount of stuff that will eventually go into the recycle system.

I'm definitely rethinking the soda habit. I almost passed on my afternoon Diet Coke as I still have two 20 ounce empty bottles waiting reuse on the table and there are only so many creative things I can come up with for them. But the 4 p.m. sleepies and power of habit had me twisting off that red bottle cap (what to do with THAT?) and checking my email.

I did reuse my plastic straw from my earlier iced tea at Panera bread since I had no idea how I was going to find a new use for a straw once it entered my pile;-). I may just end up using it all week.

So today, entering my need to reuse pile are two cardboard boxes - Cereal and raisins, one 20 ounce plastic Diet Coke bottle, one paper tea bag and the wax paper bag out of the raisin box. Farmers market with a cloth bag is looking better and better;-).

One unexpected financial benefit is that I'm using less of everything from dish soap to shampoo to peanut butter because I just don't want to find yet another use for those containers!!


I find myself becoming frightened of the UNENDING amount of trash and recyclables I'm creating each day.

Today, I found myself weighing the benefits of mouthwash. If I use much more, that's one more empty bottle I've got to find a use for, but if I skip it, will my husband inform me when he kisses me hello coming in the door tonight?

I'm telling the kids that one squirt of soap is plenty as they wash their hands - what am I supposed to do with a bottle with a film of soap? And don't get me started about when my husband pulled out a bottle of cleaning spray for a spill - reusing something with likely toxic chemicals - now that'll stretch my imagination.

Then there is the bottle of hair gel that is thankfully half full, but the shampoo bottle felt a bit light in my hand today. The conditioner bottle seems okay, but the razor blade felt rough on my legs - what DOES one do with an old shaving blade? Maybe I can count that one off my list as I reuse the ones my husband uses to shave his face, so they did get re purposed at least once.

It is now only 11:00 and I think it's time to head out the door away from all these boxes, bottles, jars, wrappers, and containers leering at me from every angle;-).

Today we sign up Kirk for kindergarten. Hope his new teacher could use a whole lot of empty peanut butter jars for some art project....;-).

Edited to add one plastic milk jug, one plastic popcorn container, one more 20 ounce Dr. Pepper bottle, one candy wrapper, one Nestle milk shake container (the last three were a weak moment - after kindergarten registration Kirk and I went to a living museum called Little Norway and on the ride back were famished). Should have packed snacks.

Used two of the new cardboard boxes for Brandi's "thinking exercise" putting the kibble in the smaller one then putting that in the bigger one. She showed little interest until I tucked a small piece of deli turkey in (my husband is not a vegetarian). Then she went at it with great gusto and joy;-). Milk jug will be used to water houseplants. Will likely divide Brandi's next meal into three different containers left around different spots in the kitchen for her to practice her hunting skills;-).

And now, post kids' bath time, I am THRILLED to report we used no fewer than 7 plastic containers as "ships" that my two and five year old played with. They truly had a blast and I am so glad to have seven fewer items on my kitchen table awaiting "re-use".

I also reused the one paper towel we had out (this is one we rarely use as we almost always use rags) and put it under my toes while I painted them red.

Day 4

Challenge is getting long and still things pile up on the table. I watched with envy as my neighbors' put out their trash and recyclables and that magical green garbage truck just came along and took it all away....Leaving them with tidy kitchen tables and no quandaries about what to do with all this stuff.

But I digress.

Today we added a big diaper box - this will be used to round up odds and ends for donations. Yet another 20 pop bottle - yes I know I probably need help with this issue from some sort of popaholics are us... A tissue box was added to the pile along with the cardboard box that came with the English muffins and the plastic bag that it went in. Did indeed divide Brandi's meal into three containers. She saw herself as a mighty wolf of the North finding and demolishing some caribou carcases and I saw three fewer items in the pile. Will be glad for day seven.

Day 5 - Chocolate soy milk jug (waxed paper with film all around inside) went into the trash (with maybe a wee bit of vengeance?) Plastic egg carton filled with some of Brandi's kibble for her dinner hunting exercise. This is about the tenth container I've had her "break into" for food, and if she weren't a short, rather stout Pug, with few teeth left, I would be worried I've trained her to become quite the stealth food thief.


  1. You are a better woman than I.

    What a challenge!!!

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