Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Reuse It Or Lose It

From the bean of Green Bean.
The three Rs are the creed of every environmentalist. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. Before I "went green" a couple years ago, I had no idea that the three Rs were listed in order of importance. I generally ignored the first one. Reduce, schmoose. Bypassed the second one. And put all my energies into the third - Recycle.

Oh, I was a good little recycler. Every scrap of paper that journeyed through my home ended up in the blue recycle bin. Each piece of plastic that boasted a three arrow logo was placed in a brimming can marked "glass, plastic and cans." I figured out months back that our current system of recycling isn't the answer. Moreover, the economic crises has changed everything. The recycling industry has gone belly up and with it all those piles of thoughtfully separated bottles, cans and paper.

That means that I need to focus my energies on the first and second Rs. I'll write later this month about reducing. But this post, as if the title didn't give it away, is all about the middle, oft-overlooked R. Reuse.

If you are anything like me, you are about to embark on a post-holiday, welcome the New Year, pre-spring cleaning purge. My key to surviving it without a bulging garbage can is to be organized. If you give everything a place, you are more likely to reuse instead of lose it.

Every Christmas, for years and years, I've carefully stored the ribbon and gift wrap from presents we've received. The ribbons are neatly wound and tucked into my ribbon box. I recently read that 38,000 miles of ribbon (enough to tie the world in a bow) is thrown out every year. That's a good reason to start a ribbon box. Tissue paper, gift bags and wrapping paper are folded into Christmas gift box I received as a young adult. I haven't purchased wrapping material in over five years and yet dole out beautifully wrapped presents whenever the occasion calls for it.

Birthday and school parties yield all kinds of plasticrap. Whenever I come across a renegade plastic toy fitting the goodie bag description, I toss it into a ziplock bag that lives atop our armoire. A small plastic tub resides next to that bag and that's where the beads and marbles that roam our home go. Every six months or so, I take a bag full of toys to the dentist to add to their "treasure bin." I separate the beads and donate them to my son's school and put the marbles back with the marble maze.

I keep a reused plastic yogurt container - from before I learned to make my own yogurt - under the sink as a repository for wine corks. These I recycle (there's even a drop off at Whole Foods for them now) though corks can also be reused for craft projects.


In the garage, I keep a wine box and tuck our empty wine bottles in there. Once we've saved a couple dozen, I list them on Freecycle or the free section of Craigslist for art projects and home brewing reuse. Packing boxes and packing material are in a heap in the corner of the garage and we Freecycle them whenever the pile grows unmanageable. A "Goodwill" bag also hides out in the garage for clothes we've outgrown, books we've tired of, and other odds and ends we cannot use. I'll make a Freecycle or charity specific sweep of those items from time to time and, whatever's left, makes its way to the local thrift store.

I store my reusable shopping bags, produce bags as well as empty strawberry baskets and egg cartons in a desk drawer or on my car's passenger seat to ensure I've got them handy when I visit the farmers' market.

A mending pile lurks in the dark depths of my closet and I do, from time to time, venture back there to see what wonder I can work with a needle and thread. It's not much but it usually does the trick and keeps clothes from the rag basket, which is conveniently located above the washer.

One of the last stops before the recycle bin or landfill is the "Project Supplies" box. My kids know this box well for it holds all manner of treasures as well as glue and paint. Random bits of plastic packaging, broken pencil sharpeners, busted toys, googly eyes and pipe cleaners pried off of art projects, broken crayon bits, marker caps, they all end up here. The Bean Boys workshop. A couple times a week, my kids delve into the box, add glue and emerge with something completely unique and reused. Indeed, the Project Supplies come in particularly handy on holidays and have yielded the necessary ingredients for a homemade Halloween costume and a memorable Valentine.

As I pack away the holiday decorations, haul out the recycling, and greet the New Year with a little cleaning binge, I'm getting organized and putting everything in its place. That way, I can focus on reusing it, so that our planet doesn't lose it.

Have a Happy and Organized New Year.

16 comments:

Joyce said...

What a great list, GB! I love the container for corks-though I'm not sure we have a place to recycle them here. You're a bit closer to wine country! The project box is something we had for years, but now that there are no little artisans at my house, I don't quite know what to do with all of that stuff. Still, rounding up all those little things is a good challenge for me. Thanks for the reminder.

Green Bean said...

Joyce: If you click here, it will take you to a business that recycles wine corks (turns them into cork flooring). You just save them and mail them in periodically. No need to be near Napa Valley. :)

Donna said...

Great post. How's the Yogotherm working out? I meant to ask you about it when I was there and forgot. :( I'm still thinking of getting one, but haven't gotten around to it.

Heather @ SGF said...

I think that third "R" is where we all start. But it turns out, I think, the reuse is the most fun "R." You can really get creative with it. And the more we practice the "R"s the more it affects how we purchase products... "Can I Reduce, Reuse, or Recycle this?" I'm a totally different consumer than I was before.

Great post!

Jamie said...

Thank you, both for the info on recycling wine corks (which I'll start doing now), and for the idea to post wine/glass bottles on Craigslist or Freecycle...I'm always at a loss as to what to do with bottles (we don't have glass recycling available here).

Happy New Year's cleaning!

Green Bean said...

Donna: Loving the Yogotherm. I've had almost perfect results since I started using it. It's super simple though I've bought yogurt in the returnable jar a few times during the busy holiday season.

Heather: Oh yeah! The middle R is by far the most fun.

Jamie: My pleasure. A reader turned me on to the reuse of wine bottles about a year ago. I've had good luck since freecycling them or listing them on craigslist.

Anonymous said...

Refuse is the first R.
Refuse to bring stuff into your life and the other r's will go away.

Crunchy Christian Mom said...

Fabulous ideas! Time to re-organize my re-usables!

Green Bean said...

Anonymous: True. Refuse is one form of reduce. I'll be back later this month with reduce which I do think is key.

Crunchy Christian Mom: Thank you! Happy reorganizing. :)

Electronic Goose said...

Thanks, GB, for the wine bottle and project supplies ideas especially. This will be a great way for me to start a new year.

Happy New Year to you and your fam!

minihomesteadinatrailerpark said...

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Shannon

Erin aka Conscious Shopper said...

This is a great list. I've been reading The Tightwad Gazette by Amy Dacyzyn, and she has a bunch of articles in there called "What can you do with?" with ideas sent in by her readers. Some of them are so creative, and while most of them are things I have no need for, it has really made me start looking at things around my house in a different light. I've started asking myself, "How could I reuse this instead of throwing it out?" and "What could I use that I already have instead of buying something new?"

Speaking of wine corks, I saw on TV once where a lady took a bunch and made them into a bulletin board. The end result looked so cool, but I've been wondering how she affixed them to the backboard (hot glue gun, super glue, nails?) so that they didn't come off when you pull a pin out of them. Anyone have any ideas?

Green Bean said...

Goose: Happy New Year to you and the bean as well. :)

Shannon: Thank you so much for the award!

Erin: My mom actually has a corkboard just like that - though she bought it used at a thrift store so I'm not sure what they used to affix the corks. It works great and looks cool. My parents live in wine country so I see quite a bit of re-use for corks. I've seen people string corks together with a wooden ball or bead in between to use as garland. I've also seen people use them to line baseboards (can't find the photo) or wire them together for a mat in front of the kitchen.

NataleeRae said...

I work at a winery, and we have used the old corks to "wallpaper" the entire bathroom. It is amazing!

organicneedle said...

Great ideas. I think the key is to connect with others that can use things...like your returning the cartons to the farmers at the market or listing the wine bottles. Most of us can't house all of the stuff and get frustrated and throw things out when they take over too much space. I'm def. adding that plastic toy donation idea to my list! Our local pottery studio takes plastic tubs of all kinds for slip and glaze containers & my toddler's art class teacher begs for egg cartons for the kids to use as paint trays. By sharing our "crap" it goes to good use and the clutter stays reasonable.

City Girl said...

Love this post! It's something I'm really working on lately...my partner has a little limerick she learned in her family growing up: "Wear it out, Use it up, Make it do, or Do without." I tell myself that and try to believe it! It's a challenge for me, but it's all about progress right?

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