Did you know there’s something even better than recycling?
Before we send items to be recycled, we can give them a second life by finding ways that they can be used again. Reusing is even better than recycling. How so? Because although recycling is very much necessary for our environment, it still requires energy to break down products into raw materials for manufacturing new products. This process contributes to some waste and pollution. We can all make efforts to minimize this by reusing things before discarding them because doing so “reduces air, water, and land pollution [and] limits the need for new natural resources.”
As we continue to learn more about global warming and environmental crises, it is just as important for us to make changes on an individual level as it is to hold industries accountable for their (lack of) environmental practices and awareness (or blatant disregard). There are so many creative, useful, and often fashionable ways – think “upcycling” – to make use of things that we might deem “trash” at first glance.
Below, I’ve shared 10 simple ways that we can reuse common items for our homes, house plants, and gardens. Some of these tactics may already be familiar to you and if you are already using them, keep up the good work! And we could definitely talk about how people who grew up in poverty/low-income households – people of color especially – have always reused things due to scarcity. People who are forced to maintain their livelihood with limited resources are the most creative and sustainable among us and we can’t leave them out of the conversation. I could say more but the point is that this is nothing new. But whether it is new to you or not, I hope that this post encourages you to rethink about how things can be used again and about your overall personal impact on this planet that we call home.
1. Spray Bottles – Spritzing/Misting House Plants
Spray bottles can be used to mist your plants with water (and even DIY liquid fertilizers). All they need is a thorough wash and rinse using warm water and mild soap. The bottle pictured above used to contain glass cleaner solution. I now use it to spritz the leaves of my plants with water because it helps with increasing the humidity (which many plants love), gently removing dust from the leaves, and preventing pest infestation. Also it’s just fun to walk around misting your plants! Something about it feels so magical. Like you’re spraying a golden elixir or something. It’s the perfect time in between regular waterings where you can check in and see how your plants are doing.
I also use empty spray bottles to store my own home made natural cleaning products so if you’re into that or interested, this is the perfect place to start!
2. Egg Cartons – Seed Starter Kits
Cardboard egg cartons are perfect seed starter kits because they already have individual cells for you to sow and organize your seeds! If you wanted, you could plant the sprouted seedlings directly into the ground with the cardboard when it’s time to transplant because cardboard is bio-degradable and the roots will grow right through the material! Cardboard is just one of many items that can be used to make compost so rest assured that this will not hurt your plant. However, if you prefer to not do that, it’s super easy to remove the seedlings at the time of transplant.
3. Fruit/Veggie Containers – Seed Starter Kits
In the last couple of years I’ve incorporated things like mushrooms in my cuisine as I continue to seek versatility into my vegetarian diet. I never really used to like mushrooms growing up but now they are a staple on my grocery list. I also love them because, like many produce, they come in these neat containers that are great for reusing. I’ve used these containers as supplemental seed starter kits and have grown everything along the lines of sunflower, lavendar, basil, squash and tomato seeds in them. This is perfect especially for those of you who have a large amount of seeds that you want to sow and maybe don’t have enough traditional seed kits. Also, it’s cost efficient.
These particular containers did not come with any holes in them (many do) so I just used a fork (which I lightly heated on the stove burner) and poked holes at the bottom until I was satisfied. This allows the water to drain well from the container. Then I added my soil and voila! There are many produce containers that also come with holes already set and they can also be used to start your seeds. Once the sprouts are ready, they can be transplanted with ease.
4. Produce Container – Sponge Holder
Super simple, I needed a sponge holder so I reused this mushroom container to do that! I love the bright color and the container is very easy to clean. No need to go out and buy one when this container was right on hand.
5. Fruit Containers – Frozen Fruit Storage
I love making smoothies so I like to freeze a lot of the fresh fruit that I buy to do so. I find that freezing my own fruit allows me to have more to work with than buying pre-frozen packs. So I reuse these containers and they are very easy to store and access from my freezer.
6. Jars – Drinks, Storage, Flowers, Propagation
I think jars are some of the most popular items to save and reuse because they are so versatile and can meet a variety of needs. If you’re not reusing jars then you need to get with the program! Whether you want to use them for drinks, flowers, propagating plants, or storing seeds(or anything else really) jars are there for you. I always peel off the labels and use hot water, soap, and a knife to remove any of the adhesive that’s left behind. Do this and you’ll have many cute jars for your day to day needs.
7. Veggie Trays – Plant Saucers/Coasters
I often like to separate the offshoots from my older house plants. Offshoots are the parts of the plant that may grow at the bottom or sides of a branch. Through propagation, they can be used to grow a baby plant from the parent plant. This process is great because it allows me to multiply my plants but it often leaves me with a lot of container pots around and sometimes not enough saucers. This tray pictured above was previously used to package 4 pieces of corn on the cob. Now, I use it as a tray to contain my aloe babies and it perfectly captures water and soil from the pots, leaving my plant space tidy and mud free.
8. Cardboard/paper Bags – Compost/Raised Bed Liner
As I said earlier, cardboard materials and paper bags are biodegradable. If you have extra cardboard/paper bags lying around from grocery shopping or receiving a package delivery, consider shredding them into pieces for your garden’s compost pile (as pictured above). The material will eventually breakdown and can be a perfect addition to your garden.
You can also use cardboard and paper bags to line your raised beds (as pictured below), which serves to separate the soil in your raised bed from the soil in the ground. You can do this if you are unsure about whether your yard’s soil contains toxins that you want to keep out of your plants. Also, it helps to minimize weeds in your bed at the start of your season (although this wont last forever since the material is biodegradable).
9. Seasoning Bottles – Storage
I love reusing seasoning bottles! I feel like people don’t really give these little bottles a second thought but they are so handy! I use them for things like storing seeds from my home grown plants, flower petals, herbs from my garden, and for making my own seasoning (i.e. chimchurri pictured above).
10. Take-Out Containers – Storage
This one may be obvious and I don’t know many people who don’t do it but hey – those plastic containers from your takeout food are perfect for storing your own home-cooked meals! There’s literally no down side to it. Nuff said.
Reusing Is Necessary!
Our society has a major problem. We have too much. We use too much. And we waste even more. Although corporations and industries are the major culprits of global warming and environmental disasters, we also play a role as consumers of these entities. We have been conditioned to be wasteful. To constantly buy, to throw away, to replace what may not even need replacing, and to get the latest shiny thing. Capitalism depends on us being this way. It thrives on our excess. And the earth suffers for it.
It would be unrealistic and hypocritical of me to tell you that you shouldn’t buy things. Because we all like and need things, especially when they are nice and new – myself included. However, I am an advocate of being mindful of how we engage with what we consume. I believe that each one of us has a responsibility to make changes in the way that we consume so that we can improve the health of our environment.
Sometimes the planet and being eco-friendly may be the very last things on people’s minds when so many larger and blatantly harmful issues – such as poverty and systemic oppression – are at play. But we can’t ignore the fact that how we treat the earth today not only influences the kind of future that we will have, but also the kind of future that generations to come will have. And we also have to realize that issues such as poverty and systemic oppression are also connected with the environment.
Waste is inevitable. So it may seem like the small changes that we do on an individual level might not have a big impact but if we each made a conscious decision to be mindful of what we waste and how we waste it, our world could look very differently. What are some ways that we as individuals can cut down on our waste and reduce the impact that we have on our environment?