Wednesday, 4 March 2009

Reuse is the new recycle!

There was a time when disposing of my packaging required a simple decision.

If I could recycle it - I'd throw it in one of the recycling bins.
If I couldn't - then I'd bung it in the rubbish bin.

That was then. Simple eh!

Fast forward to today, and every time I wash up a jar or a plastic pot or indeed anything else, I find myself wondering if it can be reused, not just by me but by somebody else.

Jam jars that I used to take to the recycling bank are now returned for reuse at the farm shop, or saved for when I try my hand at making my own preserves this Summer. And even egg boxes aren't safe. Where they were once added to the compost bin, they are now also returned to the farm shop or stored as an alternative to seed trays. As for envelopes, most are now kept for a second time use, as they always come in handy for sending messages or cash to the school.

And it doesn't stop at packaging, a quick flick onto the latest Freecycle digest or any of the other growing number of free exchange websites (you'll find links in the sidebar) will reveal whether anyone can reuse something that I would otherwise chuck or recycle.

But it's so easy to forget about this option when we live in such a disposable culture. Packaging and unused belongings are still considered by some to be rubbish regardless of which bin they end up in because we are so removed from the processing of it all no matter whether it is landfill waste or recycling.

And yes, I was once the person who would bung yoghurt pots in the recycling bin in the morning, treating them as valueless objects and then go off to the garden centre that afternoon to buy a set of proper pots for my seeds.

I could have used yoghurt pots but they wouldn't have been good enough for my green-fingered experiments. In my perfect little world where everything had to be "just right", they would have been nothing but second best.

Second best - I couldn't have that!

No wonder the credit card bill was as long as my arm.

But who really gives a toss what my seedlings are grown in? It's not as if I'm ready to make it to the Chelsea Flower Show quite yet, or indeed ever!

What a fool I've been.

And just think of all that money I could have saved!

If I'd adopted this philosophy a decade ago I might now be the proud owner of a conservatory or a loft extension.

And what fun I've missed out on during my continuous cycle of buying, disposing and buying and disposing.............It might have taken me a while, but I've come to realise that Reuse is most definitely the most enjoyable element of the 3 Rs. Where recycling is at worst a headache and at best a tricky process, reusing encapsulates creativity, ingenuity and an opportunity to create something individual.

And it's a trend that has been popularised way before I woke up to my senses. For instance, take the latest discussions at ooffoo, the community-based offshoot of Natural Collection. You might have seen the news on Mrs Green's site that readers of ooffoo are currently being encouraged to share thoughts and examples of reuse in action.

So with a chance to win a £250 spending spree at Natural Collection's online shop, I mustn't forget to add my entry, but it's a toss-up between my latest project or the little stocking filler fella that I made for Christmas from some odd felt and fabric scraps, laddered hosiery and old buttons. You can see when I started getting the bug, can't you.

Yes folks, for me Reusing is definitely the new Recycling! But I have to be careful though because there are loads of ideas out there and my problem is we don't have any real storage space to keep hold of things for long.

It's a good job I've come across the Purposeful blog by Cara, which is full of the most wonderful ideas for reusing anything from a plastic fruit punnet to repurposing old socks. It's lucky she left a comment over at MyZeroWaste. When I hopped over to her blog the pitfalls of the Reuse monster hit me straight away and I was pleased to absorb her clever advice on how not to let it take over my life. See her blogpost When is green too much of a good thing.

So whether you're a novice reuser or an old veteran who is used to thinking beyond the recycling bin, be sure not to miss out on a few gems that are full of inspiration to get your creative juices flowing even further.

I'd like to introduce you to Fr. Peter's DIY Environmental ideas, a blog written by regular reader Peter Doodes, which has loads of ideas for making useful things for around the home with the help of plastic bottles and bottle tops.

Another site I like is How can I recycle this?, which despite its name is a blog that focuses on reusing all sorts of random items, including gone-off weetabix and even a wedding dress.

And finally do make sure you visit, founded by Peter Martin, who has a passion for inventing new applications for everyday objects, especially the kind of things you put in your shopping basket. also offers an online community for folk to share reuse ideas for all sorts of things with a particular emphasis on packaging or its detailed components. What I love about this site is the fact that it even details the brand or the manufacturer of the product and is indexed in such a way that you can look for a solution and then find out how to make it.

And not to be missed is the patented RE:tie application, which Peter is currently taking to manufacturers to incorporate into their packaging to replace the useless tamper-strips that can be found on billions of plastic bottles and jars which just end up in landfill.

It is a simple yet genius innovation incorporating a small modification which would allow the strip to be reused as a tie and could be applied to garden, DIY as well as a whole range of domestic uses.

So from domestic goodies to manufacturing solutions, as I approach the anniversary of my zero waste week I now see the real relevance of reuse as an important process for reducing waste.

And I've been putting some ideas into practice at home. They're not pretty or indeed genius mind you, just quietly practical.

Take a look at my latest project, the polytunnel which I installed in the garden this weekend.

Would you believe it used to be a growhouse cover, like the one shown in the photo below. When we rescued the growhouse from the garage last week, much of the cover had perished and torn. It's no surprise really, it had been left in there for three years.

But while we were replacing the plastic cover, I couldn't help wonder if it could be reused for something else and the polytunnel seemed to be the obvious solution.

A year ago I would have bunged it in landfill, but this year it's been given a new lease of life and I've saved some cash while I'm at it.

I think there may be a revolution coming and if there is, I'm signing up as a member.

I just wonder what I'll make next.



Anonymous said...

Hi Mrs A,

Reuse is very worthwhile. One big difference from recycling is that it is a personal achievement. With recycling you depend on others to complete the process. This often fails to happen.

Finding new, different uses for waste material is tricky. A very simple example from was to use a sealed sugar pot for instant coffee. This allowed the purchase of coffee jars minus the plastic "waste" lid. I have avoided 10 lids so far.

Anonymous said...

great post Mrs A - you should enter your fabulous polytunnel into the reuse comp as well ;) It's really good!

I love your thoughts on reuse and agree wholeheartedly.

Keep up the great work! I find that you never look at things in the same way again!

Unknown said...

This post is like a box of treasures, it inspires my curiosity with all that links!
Did I say to you that when I studied at the university as designer, I was used to rethink the use common objects? So my collegue and me came to project the reuse of an entire cooker as a pc workstation? So I was ever hooked with reusing objects. If you could see in my house, you'll find that I have lots of boxes in wich I keep almost everything I can't recycle, waiting for a second use. Sometimes I feel like Wall-e! LOL
And as most of these blogs and sites teach (yours included), reuse is even better than recycle. So I must to make my brain work again! ;)

Karin said...

Talking 'bout a revolution, sounds like a whisper . . .

. . . but who knows what you've started, Mrs A,

You've got me thinking, but I have to be quick if I want to reuse anything, as hubby will have put it in the bin or recycling before I can blink.

Maisie said...

Great post Mrs A.

It is surprising when you think about things just how much you actually re-use.

Gill - That British Woman said...

well said, totally agree with you...

Gill in Canada

Rev. Peter Doodes said...

Either you are physic Mrs. A or great minds think alike... may I take the second option?

Katy said...

Once you "get your eye in" you see lots of reuse opportunities - love the polytunnel!

I have been trying to find a (re)use for a collapsed wicker laundry basket, beyond repair. So far the plastic inner bag used when weeding, and some of the basketwork support struts have been used for plant supports, but I still have the basketwork itself (quite grassy/leafy, will probably compost) plus the base and top which are rectangular frames still containing the basket bit (the top is even hinged!). It's lurking in the garage...

Peter said...

Well, spare my blushes!

What can I say?

Many thanks for the nice words... and the championing of reuse and repair. It's nice to see this slightly less well known aspect of the 're' hierarchy getting an outing.

It also serves to remind me to get off the computer and back down the shed thinking up some new reuses.

Fingers crossed, a friend of a friend has given a RE:tie prototype to a senior Waitrose director.

I've learned not to get too hopeful, as there are many departments and politics in such organisations, but all it needs is the right person to see a way to start mitigating their packaging impositions and who knows?

Almost Mrs Average said...

Blimmin' 'eck. Sorry guys. I meant to reply to your fantastic comments yesterday, but got pulled off into the world outside my laptop. Fun things mind. Lots more later but for the moment I'm back.

John - you're right. Where reuse has it's potential, it does mean that you are only influenced by the limits of your own creativity. :-D

LOL Mrs G, I think I'm going to have to enter both now. Double my chances if I'm allowed :-D

Hi Danda - what an amazing project. Do you have any photos. It would be great if you do. It sounds that your place is the perfect spot for a reuse science lab - must put you in touch with Peter...both of them :-D

Oh Karin, I've got a husband like that too. The number of things I'm extracted from both bins, saying we could use that for......I think he's exasperated :-D

Thanks Maisie - you know what, I'm still reusing the disposable hand towels I brought home from the restaurant last year. By now they'd buried under the ground :-D

Cheers Gill - thanks too for your support. It's amazing what opportunities I find when I look :-D

LOL Peter - I hope it's the latter too. If it was the other one, I'd be scared....very scared :-D

Now that sounds like a challenge Katy. I'm just wondering whether it could be used in the garden for something like mint or bamboo, which are known to be beasts for spreading. If they were planted in there perhaps with the plastic inner and then buried in the ground (you'd need a big hole) it would contain the spread and you'd still have the wonderful plants. :-D

Hi Peter - can we have a photo of those blushes :-D
On a more serious note, I wish you good luck with the Waitrose connection. Of course if the don't bite, there's always the co-op. Just keep at it. It's too good of an idea to let it go. Can't wait to see your next invention :-D

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the nice words about my site! I'm glad you've found my tips useful. Keep on repurposing!

-Cara @

Almost Mrs Average said...

Hi Cara - you're welcome. It really is a lovely site and I hope very soon that I will be able to visit more often. See you soon :-D

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