50 Clever Ways to Reuse Your Trash and Not Play into the Throw-Away Society

What a wasteful society we have become. We would much rather throw away items than find another use for them. Will today’s wasteful culture cost us our future?

Perhaps, this wastefulness is more of a learned behavior from fast food runs and the overuse of plastics. That said, it isn’t just plastic packaging that is filling our landfills to capacity. A 2004 study by Dr. Timothy Jones of the University of Arizona found that in the U.S., 40-50 percent of all food ready for harvest is wasted. 40-50%! Jones estimated that an average family of four throws out $590 worth of meat, fruit, vegetables and grain products each year.

We’ve Gone From the “Make-Do” Society to the “Throw-Away” Society

Back in the day, we held onto everything, believing it could serve another purpose. How did our culture change so quickly? It’s a whole different mindset these days. Have you ever wondered why products aren’t made to last as long as they used to? Planned obsolescence is why. Instead of making an expensive product that is built to last, businesses produce more affordable, disposable items. As well, the tech fads have led all of us to believe that “newer models are better”. These rapidly occurring technological advances cause us to further play into this throw-away culture.

According to this article:

Manufacturers are compelled to build low quality products in hopes of earning higher profit margins. Throw-away materials guarantee customers will repurchase the same items in newer models, which is cost efficient and pure profit for manufacturers. Planned obsolescence may be manipulative against consumers, but is a smart business strategy for capitalists.

Capitalism, supercapitalism, and waste
Capitalism leads to a throw-away society. If you think about it, products are often outsourced, as they are made in countries with low labor costs. In turn, broken products are then repaired here in America where labor costs are extremely high. The higher profit benefits the American companies, whether the customer needs to repair a product or replace it entirely. Yet, even when products don’t need repairs they are still thrown away

The Throw-Away Society vs. The Rest of the World

Americans generated 251 million tons of trash in 2006, the most recent year for which the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has data. Our per capita trash disposal rate was 4.6 pounds per person, per day. Sixty-five percent came from residences, while 35 percent came from schools and commercial locations such as hospitals and businesses.


The typical person in a developed country produces about 2.6 pounds of garbage a day. That would mean the average American man, weighing 175 pounds, produces his weight in trash every three months.

This means that Americans dispose of twice as much trash as everyone else in the world. This isn’t a good statistic given the environmental issues that go along with this number.

We Have to Make a Sustainable Change

Making a concerted effort to live more mindfully and not playing into this manipulative production tactic can help you break this wasteful cycle. Some of the trash we collect can serve other purposes, and changing your mindset like this is also an essential sustainability skill. Learning the art of using what you have around you to live is the core of being self-reliant – and what many of us are trying to achieve.

Small changes can make big impacts. One way we can all minimize the amount of trash that comes into our homes is simply going paperless. You can use technology as a way to reduce your paper hoard. Investing in a scanner, a paper shredder, flash drives and even investing in online filing system can help you take the necessary steps to reducing your trash load.

You can also look into ways of upcycling and recycling your trash. Anything is possible these days! As well, Pinterest has a lot of great ideas for upcycling trash and items we would otherwise throw away. People have even begun wearing their trash as eye-opening statements or even using trash to make bowls and trash cans. Check out these projects you can make out of trash:

Make a boat out of water bottles

Heat your home with recycled aluminum cans

Repurpose a tube sock as an MP3 player-holding exercise armband

Use an aluminum can as a wi-fi extender

Decorate tin cans and use them as a lantern

You get the idea. The point is, find another use for the items you normally throw away.

50 of the Most Thrown Away Items and Clever Ways to Reuse Them

  1. Water – This is the most important resource and one we seem to waste the most. Adding a grey water system for your home can help reuse this resource for flushing an indoor toilet, cleaning laundry, fire protection, washing your car or use it for outdoor garden irrigation. As well, consider installing shower heads that conserve water.
  2. Paper towels – How many of these do you throw away each day? Paper towels used for drying hands, or wiping up or can be reused for future cleanup jobs. Further, if using natural cleaning products then you can add them to your compost pile. Investing in cloth dish towels will permanently stop this trash item and help you save money at the same time.
  3. Plastic liter soda bottles – This is a very versatile trash item that can be utilized in multiple ways. You can make self-watering pots, grow onions, make a homemade fly trap, and even create a drip irrigation system for your garden. You can also reuse them on the homestead to bottle feed baby livestock.
  4. Papers from school or homework – If you can’t go paperless, consider shredding paper and using it in litter boxes or added to compost pile. Note: Keep your earthworms happy and ensure that the ink is soy-based.
  5. Yogurt cups –  Save your yogurt cups and make seed pots. Simply, pierce holes in the bottom and add seed starting soil mix and some seeds. Or, use them as a spill-free paint container for kids
  6. Plastic berry containers – These make great mini greenhouses. You can also store sewing supplies, use them by your sink to hold sponges, store homegrown fruits and vegetables, or even make shrinky-dinks.
  7. Ziploc bags – We frequently throw these out. By purchasing the heavy duty versions of these plastic bags, they can easily be washed and reused. I used this bottle drying rack to set my bags to dry. They can be also reused for storing food and snacks, small toys, medication, receipts or coupons, or use them to store first aid supplies for a miniature first aid kit. Word of caution: Hand wash and air dry your bags. Ziploc bags have a melting point of 195 degrees F, so never boil them.
  8. Old socks – Those missing socks can serve another purpose rather than laboring over trying to find it’s match. Many of us use them as handy dust cleaners, but they can have other uses. Make a chew toy for your furry friend by tying a knot in the center, or add some catnip to a sock and knot at the top. Use for aromatherapy purposes: Take an old knee-high sock, fill it with white rice and a few drops of your favorite essential oil, and tie the end closed. When you have an aching, sore, or tight muscle, place the sock in the microwave to warm for a few seconds and place it around your neck, on your arm, or wherever relief is needed.
  9. Pantyhose – Snagged pairs of pantyhose can serve more than one purpose, as well. They can be used in the garden to secure low hanging fruit for support. Also, they can be used as makeshift pot scrubbers, can be used to tie rolls of newspapers together for future biomass fire logs, can be put on as a glove to test sanded wood for any snags. You can also make a handy-dandy soap on a rope, or line your flower pots with your old pantyhose to prevent soil from coming out between watering. Some have even used them to store potpourri and placed into drawers.
  10. Egg shells – These are my all-time favorite trash item. Eggshells are so versatile, I could write an entire article on how to use them. Here are a few of my faves: start seedlings in it, add crushed shells to compost or feed them to your chickens for a calcium boost, add to garden for added calcium. Crushed eggshells are also great for scrubbing pots and pans too.
  11. Wood ashes – I want to emphasize these ashes should be made from natural wood, not the chemical logs you buy at the store. Natural wood ash is a great source for mineral-rich dust that has practical uses. It strengthens plants that love calcium, such as tomatoes, vineyards, beans, spinach, peas, avocados, garlic, and even rose bushes. Add 1/4 cup ash before planting, It can also be sprinkled on plants to help winterize them before frosts. Animals hate ash. You can rid your garden of insects and various parasites, such as ants, slugs and snails. You can also use it as desiccant to keep your seeds dry.
  12. Product bags – Those holey bags can also be reused. Rather than going out spending a few extra dollars from your budget for a new pot scrubber, you can make your own with a produce bag. You can also lure earthworms with them. The next time you have kitchen scraps, put them in a product bag and secure it with a twist tie. Add them to your compost pile or garden and, in a few days, the worms will move to where the bag is and eat the kitchen scraps. Use product bags as a carry all too. They are great for reusing as a storage bag when you go to the store. They can also be used as a makeshift loofah for scrubbing the skin.
  13. Cardboard soda case – Build a can rotating rack, or make some fun pencil cases.
  14. Cereal boxes – My husband is a big cereal fan and we typically have 2-3 empty cereal boxes a week for his habit. Using some decorative paper, these boxes can easily be assembled into decorative gift tags, fashioned into filing centers for the desk, made into origami gift boxes. Or, if you cut out the center of one side, you can create a planter. Check out the instructions for these projects here.
  15. Egg cartons – I typically reuse my egg cartons to hold fresh eggs from our chickens. But they can also be used to hold compostable material that can be added to the compost bin. Egg cartons can also be used for crafts, use it sort and organize small beads for jewelry. They make great fire starters, can be used as seed starters, store sewing supplies, or use egg cartons in lieu of styrofoam packing peanuts.
  16. Glass jars – Aside from making great pens holders, they can also be repurposed to store shelf stable foods, used to store ribbons, turned into candle holders or outdoor lanterns. You can also use them to regrow vegetables or get plant cuttings started. Check out these 14 ways to reuse glass jars.
  17. Dryer lint –  Lint from dryer is a  great medium to add to the compost bin, or it can be used as mulch. Did you can also make paper from lint? As well, dryer lint can be used to make great fire starters for camping or survival situations, use it as stuffing for pillows or crafts.
  18. Bones – Bones from last night’s dinner can be made into delicious and healthy bone broth or dried out and pulverized to be used as bone meal for the garden (make sure all the meat is off the bones). Once the bones have dried out, they can be thrown into the compost pile or put directly into garden for a fertilizer. This provides plants with phosphorus and calcium.
  19. Laundry detergent bottle – You can easily re-use containers for your own homemade detergent, or fill the container full of sand and use it as a weight for a tarp or tent. As well, consider using empty laundry detergent bottles as a watering can for indoor plants or as a handy scoop. Just cut your clean detergent bottle diagonally across the middle, and you have a sturdy scoop that can be used for all sorts of things.
  20. Wine corks – Cork is a natural product and can be turned into garden mulch, made into a natural bath mat, or a cup holder, and even carved into homemade stamps. Here are some other great ideas!
  21. Metal coffee cans – These containers are also very versatile items. They can be used to hold kitchen scraps for the compost pile, hold random supplies, and even used to bake bread.
  22. Newspapers – Because newspaper is made to absorb ink, it is great for absorbing all types of moisture. Crumbling newspaper and placing them in wet shoes can help dry them out faster. They are also great at cleaning glass and mirrors, can be used to make biomass, added to the compost, fashioned into paper pots for seedlings or the garden for lasagna gardening methods. As well, save your newspapers for packing material too.
  23. Spice bottles – Reuse spice jars to hold new spices from garden, or fashion the spice jar into an essential oils diffuser. It can also be used as a flower bud vase.
  24. Aluminum cans – Because aluminum cans come in a variety of sizes, get creative! For instance, tuna cans can be used to feed small livestock such as rabbits or guinea pigs. As well, they can be re-purposed and used to hold paints for small children, or with some decorative paper can be fashioned into a jewelry dish.
  25. Deodorant containers – Plastic deodorant containers can easily be replenished with homemade deodorant. Here’s a great recipe.
  26. Candles – Collect your candle stubs and you can easily melt them down into a new candle. In addition, you can use them to waterproof matches and fire starters.
  27. Broken crayons – Don’t throw your broken crayons away! Instead, take the wrapping off of each of them and store them away. You can melt them down and add them to a wax mold to make different shaped crayons, or use the melted wax to make homemade candles.
  28. Cardboard toilet paper and paper towel rolls – These cardboard tubes have a myriad of uses. You can roll them in peanut butter and bird seed for a homemade bird feeder, use in homemade fire starters, added to the compost bin, start seeds in them, use them to store electrical cord, store plastic grocery bags, store string and ribbon, or wrap elastic hair bands around them for an easy storage solution.
  29. Fruit and vegetable scraps – Peels and food scraps can be composted, fed to livestock or, in the case of fruits and vegetables, dehydrate them for a nutritious snack. Here are 5 edible fruit peels you should be eating. Most fruit peels are delicious when dehydrated- even citrus peels! As well, don’t forget that you can make vinegar from apple peels. Here’s the recipe.
  30. Coffee grounds and tea bags– These make a great medium for your soil, or can be fed to earthworm in the compost pile. Coffee grounds add potassium and nitrogen back to the soil, so it’s good to spread it around in the garden. Sprinkle old coffee grounds onto a cleaning cloth and use them to scrub away stuck-on food from counters or dishes. You can also make a natural dye from coffee grounds. In addition, they also make a great body scrub for exfoliating the skin.
  31. Meat scraps – Any left over meat scraps can be fed to our furry friends as homemade pet foods. They love eating the organs and some of the fat.
  32. Garden hose – Broken garden hoses also serve another purpose. If the hose has a leak, purchase spigots made for drip hose, lay your hose through a flower bed or garden, drill holes where you want it to drip and insert more spigots. As well, you can use a broken hose when you to run an electric cord outside. Simply, slit the hose lengthwise, press your cord into the hose and the hose will protect your cord. Just cut it the length of your cord. You can also make a loop, attach to the ceiling in the garage and hang bicycles, tools or whatever without scratching them. Its strength, flexibility and weather resistance makes it a great material for crafting baskets, lawn chairs, and doormats.
  33. Altoid tins – These little tins are very convenient for making miniature versions of larger kits. Have a tackle box? How about a mini tackle box? Do you have a first aid kit? How about a pocket first aid kit you can slip into your purse? Same goes with survival kits, fire starters, and sewing kits. Use them to store your change, or to organize your spare screws and bolts. They’re so versatile that many folks have started to have a lot of fun with them, turning them into candles holders, homemade radios, and pinhole cameras.
  34. Baby food jars – You should hold onto these little jars. There are so many uses, it would be difficult to list all of them. Aside from craft and storage ideas, baby food jars can be rewashed and used to store homemade baby food. Make homemade candles for the outdoors, or use them to store spices, seed planter. They can also be great for painting. If you are into making homemade salves, these can make great containers, as well.
  35. Canning jar lids – How many of you are guilty of throwing these away? They have lots of uses! They can be made into coasters, attached to string and used to scare pests out of the garden, and can even be made into photo frames. Visit FirstPalette.com for instructions on how you and your kids can make adorable magnetic photo frames out of jar lids and self-hardening clay!
  36. Wire hangers – In truth, wire hangers are one of the most under-appreciated tools for do-it-yourselfers.  They can be cut and shaped into just about anything including key rings, clips, stands, guy lines, and hooks for unclogging drains.
  37. Light bulbs – Incandescent light bulbs can also be repurposed. You can make homemade holiday ornaments, make a hanging planter, a funky vase, a terrarium and an assortment of other crafts. Check out this website for ideas.
  38. Bacon grease – Did you know that bacon grease can be used for splinter removal? Simply apply a small amount of grease to the splinter, and place a band-aid over it. Let it sit for a few hours, or even overnight, and you’ll find that your skin has softened up enough to loosen the splinter. There are also several recipes for using bacon fat to make soap, and you can even use it to make a candle. Pour the bacon grease in a cup or can, and place a wick inside. Give the grease a few minutes to soak into the wick, and then place it in the fridge until it solidifies. Viola! You now have the best smelling candle that money didn’t buy.
  39. Cell phones – Cell phones can be taken apart and used for survival uses, such as signal mirrors, a compass and even a knife. Click here for more details. With newer models being regularly marketed every few months, outdated personal devices like cell phones and music players are often stockpiled into storage after being replaced. Consider donating an older phone to a good cause such as Cell Phones for Soldiers or Hopeline (for victims of domestic violence).
  40. Computer ink cartridges – There isn’t too much you can do with these, but I did find they can be made into a lamp. Also, many retailers will offer you a discount if you bring in your old cartridge for recycling, or provide recycling bins for drop off.
  41. Torn or ripped clothing – Start a rag bag and save your clothing scraps for quilting; jeans make nifty quilts (check senior centers in your area if you don’t sew yourself)
  42. Busted motors – Essentially any motor with a copper wire can be converted into an energy producer. You could easily convert your washing machine into windmill to make power. This is an essential skill to have for surviving a long term emergency.
  43. Stationary bikes – Did you ever think that stationary bikes could help to promote your self-sustainability? Attaching your wheat grinder to your stationary bike by a pulley will help you put the pedal to the metal and grind grains more efficiently. Here are few additional ways to produce energy using a bicycle.
  44. Worn toothbrushes – These are great to scrub clothing stains out with or to use as grout cleaners for the floor.
  45. Packing peanuts – Save these little guys and reuse them for future packages. As well, you can use them in your container gardening. Put in the bottom of pots below the dirt for drainage (secure in a tied-off leg of panty hose so you can separate them from the dirt later).
  46. Wine and beer bottles – You can save so much money by saving these up and making your own spirits. All you need to do is purchase corks or bottle tops from Amazon and you’re ready to go!
  47. Peanut butter lids – These can be fashioned into an old fashioned game of checkers! Blue and red are perfect pieces! How fun would this be?
  48. Plastic coffee cans – These all-purpose containers are great for storing miscellaneous items, holding kitchen scraps for the compost pile, or you can store your bulk shelf stable foods in them too. As well, you can store bug out items for the vehicle or use them outside as a rain gage. You can also use them to scatter seeds. Poke holes in the bottom and use it to scatter seeds in the garden.
  49. Popsicle sticks – These make great garden markers or to stake plants with. As well, you can easily wash them and make your own homemade popsicles. They can also be used for bookmarks or kid-friendly food skewers. Popsicle sticks can also serve medicinal purposes too. Simply add a few drops of essential oil (peppermint, eucalyptus, etc.) and put them inside your pillowcase. This way, when you sleep it can help you breathe easier when you have a cold.
  50. Wooden pallets – Wooden pallets can make great compost bins, used for furniture, as fencing – seriously, if you can get your hands on these, hold onto them! You can usually find people on Craigslist giving them away. Here are 1001 uses for wooden pallets.

So… this list should be enough to get your started. Save this list or print it out and put it up on your refrigerator to remind you that you not to throw away perfectly good items. Make a point to save at least five items from your trash can this week and find a way to repurpose them. Maybe you can create a re-purposing corner in your home to save the trash items you want to give another chance to.

Currently, I have multiple vegetables that I am re-growing from scraps that I would have thrown away a few years ago. As well, I am saving up egg shells from my chickens to pulverize into a powder to later be added to my garden, and saved a lot of my cardboard items as fire starting material. We can all do this – we just have to change the way we think about trash. Taking an active step to see what you can reuse is a step closer to sustainability and minimizing your contribution to the throw away-society.

Help the Community!

If you already repurpose items, what trash items do you save and repurpose?

by Tess Pennington

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