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How to Be Green(er) in 2016: Reuse—let’s reimagine our trash.

Last installment, we talked about the benefits of reducing the amount of trash we generate: taking practical steps to limit our consumption of energy and investing in items that will last instead of single-use disposable ones. This article will focus on the next instruction in our favorite refrain: Reuse. Of the three directives in the mantra Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, this one requires the least amount of effort. We do have to make some changes for the other two, but hardly so with the middle one. We all have trash! We just have to use our imaginations a little to figure out what to do with it. And we are creative, industrious people, right? Sure we are! This will be easy.

Let’s face it: trash happens. It is very hard to avoid creating and accumulating waste as we go through our day-to-day. (Side note: It is not, however, impossible. There are ways to live a zero-waste lifestyle. And while that is a worthy goal to aspire to and be inspired by, this article will be helpful to those of us who do, in fact, create trash.) But while we will almost always create waste, we do not always have to throw it away. We can, and should, find ways to reuse it.

This task harkens back to the original resolution for the new year: putting the environment and green living in the forefront of our minds and considering them in our decisions. To reuse our trash, we must pause before the mindless and repetitive action of throwing something away and consider another option. What else can we use this for? How can repurpose this item (or parts of it) and put it to use again? Sometimes the solution is immediate, while in other instances we might have to be a little more creative. Either way, especially if the trash is clean and safe, we’ll often find that what we had originally considered to be trash actually has much more potential, and we can give it new life. Or at least get a second use out of it before it’s expended. That kind of thinking will reduce the amount of waste we generate, and that’s the whole point.

There are plenty of items we can use again and ways to do so, but here are a few ideas to get you started:

1. Didn’t use a full sheet of paper? Use the empty half for taking notes or making lists. You can print helpful blog posts on the back of an already used sheet or use the blank side as a canvas for your (or your child’s) next artistic masterpiece.
2. Clean out glass jars and repurpose them as casual drinking glasses. Use them as flower vases, for a craft project or homemade gift, or as storage containers.
3. Keep that clean piece of aluminum foil you used to store leftovers in the fridge. Fold it up and use it after your next meal.
4.Save a couple weeks’ worth of newspapers to double as wrapping paper or as protective packaging for items to be shipped.
5.Speaking of giftwrap, hang on to those beautiful gift bags, bows, ribbons, and tissue paper you receive from your gift-giving friends. Fold them down nicely and save for your next occasion to give a gift.
6.Similarly, cut greeting cards you receive in half and use the back of the front image to write postcards. Or use the images to decorate for future holidays.
7.Make use of plastic containers of all sorts: use milk jugs to water plants; empty food tubs for leftovers or to store small objects, like crayons; or use them to house a mini emergency kit for your car or backpack.
8.Some organic food scraps, like coffee grounds, eggshells, and fruit and vegetable peels, can be used for compost.
9.Old clothes and towels make great cleaning cloths for our dirtier chores, such as cleaning floors, garden tools, or the car. They also make great beds and rags for dirty puppies and their paws.
10.BORROW from your friends and neighbors. For those odd jobs or special circumstances, asking to use something someone already has saves you from having to buy it and only use it once.
11.DONATE your old items you don’t use anymore. As long as they are in good condition, giving someone the opportunity to use and appreciate your old stuff is one of the best ways to extend the life of an item.
12.BUY SECOND HAND yourself. Shop Craigslist, yard sales, consignment, second hand or salvage stores. There are treasures to be found and almost always for a really great price.

One of the dilemmas about this directive, to reuse or repurpose our waste into something practical again, is the possibility of collecting a whole bunch of trash and not actually doing anything with it. I should know: I have a whole slew of mason jars that I am, apparently, just saving for a rainy day. For what reason? To catch rain in, I suppose. So I’m not advocating that we stockpile our leftover trash in hopes that a situation will arise where we can use it again. Rather, let’s just be more mindful as we are throwing away the trash we generate. Try to imagine another way to use that plastic container, or that glass jar, or that cardboard box. Can you see yourself actually using it for that purpose? Then hang on to it and use it again. If there’s just nothing you can do with it, or not in a timely manner, it’s okay to pitch it, hopefully in a recycling bin. Taking the time to think about an alternative purpose for our trash and making the effort to do so will keep a great deal of waste out of our trashcans and landfills. So let’s be creative with our trash. Let’s rejuvenate our trash, and reimagine it to become something more and something better.

I’d love to hear any tips or advice you have about reusing and reimagining your trash. If you’d like to pass a comment along, send me an email at with the subject heading “Going Greener”. I’ll make sure to include it in the next installment. Until then, let’s try to use our trashcans less and our resourcefulness and imaginations more. Let’s see what we can do.