Recycling things is important to cut down the waste, but it’s only one of the three Rs of living sustainably. The other two are Reducing and Reusing. Reusing can often take a bit of creativity and lateral thinking. But if you don’t have a Depression/WWII era granny to get ideas for reusing things from, then try these to start you off:
* Pizza boxes (for large pizzas) are the perfect size for fitting A4 papers and they stack together easily. Blot the grease out and use them as a filing system. They’re easy to label, too. Cover them with newspaper or old wrapping paper if you don’t want the number of your local pizza joint staring you in the face. They stack much better than arch lever files.
* Ice cream containers are ideal for freezing soups and casseroles for later use, and also for freezing a surplus of stewed fruit. They also are something of a staple at many schools for holding crayons and other large groups of bits (counters, rubber bands, milk tokens, drawing pins). One-litre yoghurt pottles have the same uses.
* Thick cardboard of any type can be used to protect CD(-ROMs) in the post instead of bubble wrap. Keep a small supply on hand, but don’t hoard it – it can build up to excess if you’re not careful.
* Large clear plastic bottles. If you don’t want to re-use these as drink bottles (if you’re going out for a long time, then they take a lot more water than the little sip-top bottles), then try (a) cutting the top off just below the neck (at the “shoulders”) and using this top as a funnel for changing the oil or for children to play with in a sandpit or the bath; (b) cutting the top off at the shoulders and using the bottom as a mini-cloche for giving young plants a head start in early spring.
* Bottles with handles: cut them on the diagonal and use them as scoops for sugar, flour, etc.
* Old sheets and towels. Rip or cut them up and use them for dishcloths or anywhere you’d use a tissue (apart from as a handkerchief in public, of course – but for removing makeup, they’re great).
* Screw-top jars (glass or plastic). Wash them out and keep them for your own home-made jams and pickles. Or for storing things like cornflour and cocoa. Or for storing home-made cleaners and bath salts.
* Zip-lock bags. Does anyone throw these useful things away? Use them for smaller batches of frozen food, and for school lunches.
* Rubber gloves. Once they’ve got holes in the fingers, cut the wrist parts up for extra thick, strong rubber bands.
The big thing to remember when you are keeping things to reuse is not to be a hoarder. Only keep as much as you will actually need. If you have already got scoops for your sugar, your salt, your flour and the cat kibble, then don’t make another scoop. If your freezer is full up with frozen goods, don’t hoard any more containers for freezing. Just recycle the items instead!