Don’t Throw That Away!

Posted on: January 27, 2012

As the saying goes, “One man’s junk is another man’s treasure.” Much of what ends up in landfills today are things that could easily be repurposed. The basic idea is to take an item that might no longer serve its original purpose and use it in a different way to accomplish a goal. Repurposing is something of a mindset you need to learn, rather than a set of skills that can be taught.

To help illustrate this mindset, here are some examples of ways you can repurpose things you probably would otherwise just toss in the trash.

Egg cartons: Simple, effective firestarters, and just about free in cost for the materials. Take a cardboard egg carton and fill each section with dryer lint and sawdust. Melt paraffin and pour over the lint, sealing each section. When cool, cut apart and store in a plastic bag until needed. Some people report an offensive smell from the burning lint but we’ve been using it for years in our wood stove and never smelled a thing.

Egg cartons are also great for paint trays for small projects. Simply pour your different colored paints into each of the sections.

35mm film canisters: Yes, even in this day and age of digital everything, there are still people out there using old fashioned film cameras. Head over to your local film developer and ask if they have any canisters you can have. They make great little waterproof containers for small items like matches, meds, fishing implements for the bug out bag, or just to store sets of screws for various projects.

Newspaper: Even if you don’t receive a daily or weekly paper, you can probably get more than you’ll ever need from family and friends. Turn the paper into logs for your stove or fireplace. Soak the sheets in water with a little detergent mixed in, then layer it around a wood dowel. When the log is as thick as you’d like, slide it off the dowel and prop it up to dry. Only use actual newsprint though, not the glossy ad papers.

You can also use newspaper to make biodegradable pots for starting seeds. Cut strips about five inches wide and ten to twelve inches long or so. Wrap them around the thick end of a wiffle ball bat, leaving about two inches width off the end. Fold those couple inches in and press tightly into your hand or onto the floor to crease it together. Place the pots in a tray, fill them with soil, and plant the seeds. When you transfer the seedlings outside, just drop the newspaper pot right into the hole in your garden. There are available handy little wooden presses to make these pots which makes the process even easier.

Bicycle inner tubes: Cut them up and use as elastic bands. A little ingenuity can also turn them into the power for catapult if you want to have a little fun launching pumpkins.

Juice bags (Credit given to Vicdotcom at for this idea): For quite some time now, there have been available juice for kids in single serve mylar bags. CapriSun is probably the most recognizable brand name for this product. Odds are if you have kids, you’ve purchased these every now and again. Don’t toss the bags away when the kids are done with them. Cut off the tops, going just below the hole for the straw. There is a small piece of plastic on the inside of the bag that you’ll need to peel away. Then, wash and rinse out the bag. Once the inside is completely dry, fill it to within a couple inches of the top with rice, pasta noodles, spices, basically any kind of “just add water” food. Fold the top closed, gently squeezing out air as you do so. Use an iron to press down the fold and seal the bag. Use a marker to label the outside of the packets so you know what is in them and how much water you’ll need to prepare.

Soup cans: These work great when melting wax for making candles or firestarters. Fill your pot about 1/3 with water, place the wax chunks into the can, then set the can into the water. Use a hot pad or tongs when removing the can from the pot as it does get hot.

Cardboard boxes: We often use these for organizing and storage. Cut up some of them to use as dividers to keep things separated.

Tuna cans: You can easily make handy little burners with these. Take corrugated cardboard and cut strips just a hair narrower than the can is tall. Cut so that the corrugation in the cardboard is visible, meaning you’ll see all these little “holes” on the side of the strip. Roll the cardboard into the can from the outer edge in, working your way around and around to fill the entire can. Looking down into the can, you should see all the holes from the corrugated cardboard. Melt wax and pour into the can, letting the cardboard soak up the wax. You can add a wick or two if you want but it isn’t required. Once the wax is cool and firm, you’re good to go.

Jelly jars: We go through a lot of store-bought jelly and jam at home. Thus we end up with a fair number of empty jars. They aren’t suitable for canning or preserving. But, they can be pen holders in the shop or store nails or screws. If a guy was a little adventurous, he could even make little Molotov cocktails with them, I suppose.

Coffee cans: Many a hobo has warmed his dinner using these. Once the can is empty, washed, and dry, turn it upside down. Using tin snips, make two cuts from the bottom, a couple inches high and about three inches apart. Use pliers to lift the flap you just created, bending it to the outside of the can. Drill a series of 1/4″ holes around the can about halfway up. You can use the tuna can burner just described as a heat source or just build a small fire and place the can over it. The flap is your heat control, open it wider for more heat, close it down a bit to cool it off. Put your pot on top and away you go.

We also use empty coffee cans to store kitchen scraps before they go out to the compost bin.

Broken crayons: These can be easily melted down and made into candles or used for making the egg carton firestarters or tuna can burners.

Plastic soda bottles: The obvious is to use them for water storage, which is a great idea. However, if you take one of them and cut off the bottom, you have a handy funnel. Put the cap back on and the funnel is now a scoop.

Windows: If you have any leftover from a remodeling project or can snag them from a friend or neighbor, they are excellent for fashioning a homemade mini-greenhouse or cold frame.

Doors: Prop them up on sawhorses for a makeshift table or workbench.

A word of caution–this can be somewhat addicting. You may find yourself loathe to throw away anything, for fear you might have a use for it…someday. Left unchecked, this might lead you to a starring role on Hoarders. Saving things from going to the landfill is a laudable goal, as long as your home doesn’t end up looking like a landfill itself. Fortunately, many of us have spouses or other family members who will help keep things from getting out of hand.

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