Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Five Things You Should Never Throw Away & How to Reuse Them

Need some good upcycling ideas? Learn how to repurpose five common household items you might be chucking in the trash. These small eco-friendly changes will help you save money, benefit the environment, and feel better about yourself!

Upcycling Ideas: Five Things You Should Never Throw Away & How to Reuse Them

Today I'm deviating slightly from my normal recipe posts to focus on a natural living topic. I'm pointing out everyday items you might be chucking in the trash and showing you how to re-use, recycle, upcycle, or repurpose these same items. 

In other words, how to save money, prevent food waste, help the environment, and feel better about yourself! :)

Five Things You Should Never Throw Away & How to Reuse Them

1. Food Scraps

By scraps, I mean what's left over after you've used a food product or prepped it for cooking. I'm specifically referencing fresh, vegetarian foods. Not meat. Save meat & bones for homemade broth (see below for tips) or put it down the disposal (sans the bones). 

For the vast majority of these scraps, I recommend an array of composting alternatives (bags, buckets, bins, tumblers, etc.) that can transform the food bits into nutrient-dense plant food, which you can then use in your garden. 

However, I'd like to discuss a few foods that you can use in ways other than composting. 

Lemons, Limes & Oranges

When you're done squeezing the juices out of a lemon and lime or peeling an orange, don't throw the scraps away. 

Instead, toss the peels down the kitchen sink. The next time you run the disposer, the oils and juices from the peels will make your sink/small area around your sink smell wonderful! 

You can also zest the peel first (before using the juice in other recipes) and use it for making a batch of flavored salt

Or, if you're super clever & thrifty, you can save those fruit peels and use them to make an all-purpose citrus cleaner with distilled white vinegar. 

These cleaners are inexpensive, all-natural, and great for DIY holiday gifts! Talk about making the most with what you have! I can't wait to try it. I'm currently saving orange and lemon peels to use in the next month or so.

Onions, Carrots, and Celery 

If you're like me, you go through several onions a week. I'm always adding fresh onion to leafy salad, one-pot pasta, roasted vegetables, tuna cakes, sheet pan dinnersbeef soup, and more! Every time you use an onion, you're slicing off the two ends and likely several layers past the paper peel. 

Don't throw those bits away! 

Cut off the small root ends, dispose of only the paper peel, but keep the rest. Store those onion bits in a freezer bag. Every time you cut an onion, add to the bag. Do the same thing every time you use carrots or celery. 

Eventually, you'll have enough scraps to flavor a meat stock or to make vegetable stock for soup without having to buy fresh ingredients! 

{Update: One of my readers left an excellent suggestion for onion peels in the comments below, so I thought I'd share it with you all: 

"Onion skins make wonderful dye! Don't toss them. Save them for Easter Eggs or a fun tie-dye project..."}

Bones From Roasted Meats

When you roast or slow cook meats like chicken, beef, turkey, or pork, do you throw the bones away after you're done eating? Don't! After you remove all the leftover meat, save and freeze the bones, just like vegetable scraps, for making homemade bone broth (I make mine in the slow cooker & it gels). 

If you've ever eaten fresh, made-from-scratch soup, you know it's loads better than the canned stuff. But did you know it's way less expensive, as well? 

Store-bought broths and stocks cost $2-6 a container and you need a few cartons of them just to make one large batch of soup. Plus, they're loaded with sodium. 

Instead, save roasted bones over time by sticking them in your freezer, and eventually, you'll have enough to make bone broth. 

When you're ready, place the bones, 2 bay leaves, some crushed garlic cloves, and vegetable scraps from onions, celery & carrots in a big pot and cover with purified water. 

Simmer for a minimum of 4 hours (longer if you want), strain, cool, and salt the broth (if desired). You now have many cups of rich, flavorful broth to use in soups, sauces, casseroles, etc. The homemade version is much healthier on your body and wallet.

For specific recipes for chicken broth, beef broth & veggie broth, check out my post with 100+ Kitchen Pantry Staples You Can Make at Home.  

2. Glass Jars

Salsas, jams, peanut butter, etc. all come in glass jars with tightly fitted lids. Don't throw these away when you've finished the food. 

Instead, wash them out thoroughly then run the jars through a hot dishwasher cycle to sanitize. Now, you have sets of sturdy jars that are perfect for dry goods, homemade salad dressings (like balsamic vinaigretteranch dressing, red wine vinaigrette, and blue cheese dressing), drinking glasses, and storage for leftovers

The tight-fitting lids keep things fresh longer, but since the original seal is broken, they're obviously not suitable for canning or preserving foods. 

Alternately, you can upcycle them by positioning all your varying-sized jars together and fill with small, fresh flowers for a wonderful, eclectic arrangement.

Or save the larger ones to make a DIY gratitude jar that you can use yourself or gift to friends in self-care gift baskets.  

3. Plastic Food Containers

Just like glass jars, most plastic food containers come with a snap-lock lid that is perfect for storage. So, skip buying zip-lock or Tupperware, when you can simply wash, sanitize and reuse cottage cheese, sour cream, and butter containers for meal leftovers. 

Or, use these containers to store crafts or office supplies and hold turpentine or water for painting. Paint the outside and use it as a makeshift vase for fresh flowers. Assemble bandages, tweezers, gauze, q-tips, and triple-antibiotic ointment into the container, then label it clearly for a homemade, portable first-aid kit

The possibilities are endless!

4. Wine Corks

First, I should say that real cork is 100% recyclable and sustainable. Cork bark is extracted from a tree during specifics months of the year when it does little damage to the tree. This way, the bark grows back and can be re-harvested. 

So, even if you don't want to repurpose your corks, keep 'em and many liquor stores and whole food markets have recycling bins where you can dispose of them. 

Second, there are LOTS of fun things to do with wine corks (even if they're not the real ones). For starters, try cutting wine corks in half lengthwise and gluing them to cardboard squares to use as coasters or heating pads

Or, glue a magnet to the back of several halved corks for a wine-themed fridge decoration. Keep your growing collection of corks in a large glass container or pitcher for display

5. Plastic Grocery Bags

{Update: I've had several readers point out that they avoid using plastic bags at all costs. I want to point out that I'm not encouraging you to use them, but providing numerous ways to get a second use out of them before you RECYCLE them. As I pointed out below, I'm still trying to reduce my use to zero, though I've significantly lowered what I bring into my home by switching to reusable cloth bags, cardboard boxes at certain stores or carrying my goods to my vehicle in a cart. In my ideal world, plastic shopping bags wouldn't exist. However, I realize that most people do little to no recycling. Lots of people throw away aluminum cans, paper, glass, plastic, etc. every day. This is who this article is aimed at.}

Unless you bring your own bags or request paper at grocery stores, you'll likely go home after every shopping excursion with 4-8+ plastic bags. Grocery stores push the plastic because it's cheaper for them than paper bags. At least, that's what an employee at Central Market told me not too long ago. That said, they build up quickly if you save them, but you should! Don't throw them away. 

First, huge boxes are cropping up in front of grocery stores where you can recycle the bags. Second, you can get at least one more use out of them before you recycle them. 

Try lining your small trash cans (like bathrooms or bedrooms) with these bags. As long as nothing liquidy or gross gets on them, you can reuse them several times and save on trash bags.

You can also repurpose them to line flower or produce baskets. Check out this DIY Upcycled Flower Basket Planters tutorial for step-by-step instructions. 

If you have a cat, use a plastic bag when you clean out the litter box. Scoop, dump, and tie. Voila! I can attest to this one, my sister and I used this method bi-weekly. 

Use the bags to hold wet items like swimsuits, towels, or dirty shoes. 

Save on packing peanuts or bubble wrap and use plastic bags as stuffing for mailing packages

If you're a creative type, make your own bean bag and use plastic grocery sacks as the stuffing. I've read that shredded foam or peanuts are very expensive. 

Or, cut the bags into strips and crochet them into a purse, hat, or toy.

I'd like to hear from YOU!

What's your favorite household item to reuse?

Upcycling Ideas: Five Things You Should Never Throw Away & How to Reuse Them

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  1. better not to accept single use plastic bags in the first place.

    1. True, if you can avoid plastic by bringing your own bags, the grocery store will usually give you a 5 or 10 cent discount per bag (as an incentive). However, for those times when you don't have a reusable bag with you and you're grocery shopping at a store that doesn't provide paper bags, these ideas are good to know! Thanks for the feedback.

  2. My city (Carpinteria, CA) banned single-use plastic bags (also styrofoam). Restaurants and small shops can still use paper bags if they want. The grocery stores have neither, you have to bring in / buy a reusable bag or if you buy a certain amount of items / spend a certain amount they give you some cheap reusable bags for free. I love it, and pretty much everyone gets used to it.

    1. You're so lucky! Hopefully that idea trends and other cities start adopting the same practices. :)

    2. They also recently passed a law to ban them in Austin, TX. I don't live there but hope it also transitions to my neck of the woods.


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