Earth Day: Recycling Olde School? Re-Use

04/21/2017 02:56 pm ET Updated Jun 06, 2017

Recycling, upcycling, re-purposing, and so on, are well intended, solidly founded, politically correct big business.

There is a form of recycling that you won’t read so much about, because not only does it not generate income/sales/ads/buzz; it possibly fosters a reduction in income/sales/ads/buzz, due to diminished product consumption. It is the oldest, simplest form of recycling: Re-use.

Re-use, as in finding a way 1) to not throw away an item and 2) to re-use an item in the way it was originally intended or 3) re-using that item in some slightly different way, without doing anything to alter its original state.

Think about the throwaway culture we have created. Then think about the recycled throwaway culture we have created on top of that, which garners added attention for its oh, so slight contribution to environmental pro-activism. It is still single-use trash generation that falls far short of the far more efficient method of washing something - like a cup or a plate - and then using it again and again and again. I know, it’s a little work, to wash something. But we could all stand to move about a little more, for the sake of our health. I see the keeping of one’s home as an organic way to provide required movement for the health of our long-limbed (aka intended for this) selves.

The photo is of a corner shelf in my kitchen. That orange orb - it is a gumball the size of a golf ball my teen brought home once. Gaggable in size, rather typically American in its questionable uber-portion, yes? I save that just for fun, a mom-thing. Do you see the tall jar with the peanut man motif? A little nostalgic, isn’t it? I save glass jars of all sizes and shapes and use them as containers for whatever I need. Jars and lids are washed and re-used over and over. Stuff looks nice in them, I think. And not just in the kitchen. Jars find use in the office, in kids rooms, baths, laundry rooms etc.

I will bet you have seen store shelves full of “decorative” glass jar containers. Have you thrown away perfectly good glass jars but then gone out and purchased new glass jars for household and storage? Doesn’t that strike you, when you think about it, as kind of funny?

And how about boxes? Have you ever thrown away a perfectly good (PG) cardboard box, intact or perhaps first crushing it or dismantling it so that you could toss it to the curb or squash it into your garbage or recycling bin? Have you then ever gone out and purchased a(nother) box to pack, ship or store something? The single-use demise of PG, clean, completely re-usable boxes is especially unfortunate. The natural materials (our living, breathing trees!) and the industrial emissions wasted to produce, destroy and then re-manufacture boxes just might be our most obvious, easily corrected, everyday environmental inconsideration, after our signature American penchant for perpetually scooting about in our massive gas-guzzlers (despite the fact that tech has long existed to grossly diminish gas consumption) and, when in them, our refusing to park and walk the 20 steps across a parking lot in order to get that burger and fries. Our last move was local. I packed and moved all smaller items at zero cost, using boxes gathered over time. Instead of destroying these PG boxes, I stacked them in the garage and made them available via online listing. People moving, like we just had, arranged to stop by and they loaded their vehicles up to the last square inch with my PG boxes. Their gratitude was great for time and money was saved, and a few people told me they too would post their PG boxes for re-use once done with them.

Ditto for those plastic lidded containers so much comes in. Take, for instance, cold cuts packaged in clear plastic containers with plastic lids. Peel off the label and wash the container and lid, and voila, the need to buy clear containers with lids is immediately reduced, as is the need to buy plastic bags and baggies. Use the re-used container and then take it home and use it again; don’t use the single-use little plastic bags unless as a last resort. Try, for instance, to put the dry cereal into one of those containers - the tots will love it, and so will our stratosphere.

Moisture-wicking packaging purports to hold all sorts of stuff fresh, but the seals often give way and packaging tears. It makes for messy storage and dried-out goods. How often do you put a torn package into a bigger plastic bag? And how often is that a single use then of two containers? A quick transfer to a solid, lidded container tidies up shelves and cupboards and keeps items organized and/or fresher, even better when that container is re-used packaging.

And that old fashioned cookie tin concept? How many food/gift tins have you thrown out only to then buy neon colored plastic ware for storage? I actually like the way cookie tins stack on the shelves and how they look. They are easily labeled with a square paper scrap taped into place if needed. And cookies really do stay fresher longer in them.

One could go on...old socks and the great dust cloths they make....rags from T-shirts rather than purchased bundles of rags or miles of paper toweling....real wine glasses at social events rather than tacky plastic, which elevates the vibe and reduces landfills at the same time.... One can wish that grocery and home goods manufactures will one day sell their products in the simplest containers possible, which we in turn put into re-usable, quality containers at home that actually look nice too.... Key is, have fun with the concept and its implementation. Regard it as creative resourcefulness. Or is it resourceful creativity?

Do you remember those “Little House” books by Laura Ingalls Wilder? Think about, for instance, the pantry Almanzo built for his wife. Laura wrote in detail and with pride about the pantry and its ingenious design. Glass jars in neat arrays were no doubt a part of that quintessentially domestic picture. Red solo cups would have looked sooo out of place....

Let us pay homage to Laura and all who paved the paths for our ez-consumerist society by exploring recycling at its most fundamental: Re-Use. We can make our home bases just a little tidier - with extra pennies saved - in this simplest of all nods to the day that honors this beauteous sapphire and emerald orb we all call Home.

This post was published on the now-closed HuffPost Contributor platform. Contributors control their own work and posted freely to our site. If you need to flag this entry as abusive, send us an email.
CONVERSATIONS