Editor’s Note: This article was first published in 2017. Given the fact that the rising inflation is affecting all of us, everyone should consider repurposing old items before throwing them away. I believe this information will be helpful to people who didn’t get a chance to read the article when it was initially posted.
My grandparents never threw away a thing that could have been used later on. They were the old time preppers: stockpiling and re-purposing almost everything.
Today we live in a throwaway society, where even our water comes in a disposable, single use bottle. Electronics and other consumer goods are expected to last until the next, better model comes out. Our landfills are filling up and this throwaway mentality benefits only the producer who can sell more.
Americans throw away up to one third of our edible food and half of all produce. Simply using all of the food that we purchase frees up money for other supplies and reduces waste of food and water.
Resetting our attitudes to use items completely, then recycling whenever possible, saves money and landfill space.
1. Start by using the parts you normally toss.
Toss peelings and other vegetable trimmings into a bag in the freezer. Add these to the pot when making broth.
Related: How To Can Bone Broth At Home With 2 Years Shelf Life
2. Replant root ends of celery, green onions and similar vegetables along with the seeds of fruits and vegetables.
3. No garden space? Toss your seeds in an empty, untended lot. Some will grow without any attention.
4. Adopt a use strategy for all leftovers. Use them at following meals, freeze them for an easy lunch, or dehydrate suitable items for shelf stable storage.
5. You can even pressure can leftover meats, vegetables, fruits, soups and stews to add to your food storage.
Here you can find a step by step guide on how to can hamburger meat. This way, it will last for up to 5 years without deteriorating in quality, and can be edible even longer.
6. Bones are a good source of phosphorus and calcium. Save them to make bone broth, then dry them and grind them to make bone meal for the garden.
7. Coffee grounds and used tea bags are valuable to your compost pile or earthworm bed. You can also add them directly to the garden for acid loving plants.
8. Reuse fruit peels and cores by making juice, wine, beer or vinegar from them. Here is a recipe for making raw apple cider vinegar at home.
9. Eggshells are a valuable source of calcium. Add them your compost or dig them into the garden.
Feed them to the chickens. The calcium helps them lay larger eggs and form strong eggshells. You can also clean them and grind them to make a calcium supplement for the family.
10. Meat fats are valuable for cooking and seasoning foods. Most everyone is familiar with using bacon fat to season vegetables and meat, but you can also reuse other fats.
11. Duck fat or ham drippings are excellent for roasting potatoes, chicken fat is flavorful used in moderation.
12. Save the fat trimmings from pork in the freezer to render into lard.
13. Fats can also be burned in candles or soaked into paper or cardboard for use as a firestarter.
Related: DIY Tallow Candles
Be aware that in an SHTF situation, the smell of bacon might draw unwanted attention.
14. Plastic soda bottles and other drink bottles are useful containers for long term storage. The first and most important thing to store in empty drink bottles is water.
Simply wash the container thoroughly and fill it with water. Cap it, date it and put it away. Empty and refill it yearly, checking for leaks as you go.
15. Cut off the base and use bottle tops as a mini greenhouse to start seeds outside in the spring, or to make self-watering pots for growing herbs and other container plants.
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16. Cut a bottle top on the diagonal to make scoops for your buckets of rice, etc. Cut the bottom straight across and use it to start seeds.
17. You can reuse plastic bottles for storing dry goods. Be sure your bottles are clean and completely dry.
Fill with rice, corn, grits, beans, small pasta, etc. Add an oxygen absorber for long term storage and seal tightly. Store in a cool, dark place. You can also used them to store ammo.
18. Do you prefer your soda or juice from a can? Hopefully, you already recycle the cans, but those cartons can be useful, too. They are the perfect size for holding cans of vegetables, soups, etc.
If you cut a can size opening in the top back, fill from the back and remove cans from the front, they will automatically rotate your supply. Fill each carton with one type of food and stack them for a compact storage solution.
19. Fill boxes with soil for a short-term container garden or fill with straw for growing potatoes.
Coffee Cans, Yogurt Cups, Jars And Tubs
20. Many of us have a cupboard overflowing with these reusable containers, but we never use them. Use the yogurt cups and tubs to start seeds or store leftovers and dry goods.
21. Coffee cans can be used as a growing container for small plants, or for crafts and storage.
22. Jars with sealable lids are good for storing dry goods like cornstarch, baking soda, powdered sugar, and other baking supplies purchased in smaller quantities.
Jars offer more protection from humidity and pests than the original boxes they come in from the supermarket.
23. You can save on plastic bags by bringing groceries home in a box, but the box presents a new recycling challenge. If you have young children, you already know that cardboard boxes make many imaginative play toys. Here are a just a few more ideas: open the ends and tape them together to make tunnels, forts and playhouses.
24. Decorate them to make cars, fire trucks, spaceships and other vehicles.
25. Make doll furniture and temporary furniture for small children and pets.
26. Use them as a canvas for drawing and painting. Let imaginations run wild.
27. Cardboard burns well, so it is useful as a fire starter or kindling. Tear it into strips and soak it in paraffin wax for excellent charcoal starters and fire starters. This is a good use for cereal boxes, toilet rolls and extra cardboard of all types. Without the wax coating it will burn faster, but is still a useful fire starter.
Plastic Grocery Bags
28. Plastic bags are reusable in many ways. Tie them into knots to make an improvised dish scrubber. Or loop them into a longer loofa.
29. Iron plastic grocery bags together on the lowest setting (and use a press cloth) to make a stronger plastic material for making reusable shopping bags or plastic sheeting for any use. Overlap the bags when ironing to make large sheets of any size and thickness. Plastic sheeting made this way can be seen to make many useful items.
30. Cut plastic bags into strips and braid into ropes of any size or thickness. Overlap strips to continue braiding until the desired length is reached. Braid thinner ropes together to make thicker, stronger ropes.
Most disposable items can be used multiple times, and these are just some of the ways to do that. When it comes to repurposing old items, there is an unlimited number of ingenious and creative ideas. By using these tips, you can dramatically cut down on costs, especially during these hard times.
This is a very good article. Let’s see how long it takes for the
shit birds to start the daily ridicule.
a few years ago, we had a family room carpeted in recycled plastic carpet! was the longest wearing (daily use), easiest carpet EVER to clean!!! when you spilled something you blotted up with bleach or carbonated soda water……didnt matter whether it was ketchup (thanks to mother in law for dropping), animal whatever, dirt, anything….it was sooo easy…..havent seen any of that since then…..loved that carpet!!!
I bought a fairly large rug made out of braided plastic bags, at a yard sale this summer. I put it at the edge of our above ground pool and anchored it with the ladder. It’s colorful, extremely durable, impervious to water, and best of all…….it really helped keep the dirt and grass on wet feet from getting into the pool when the grandkids got in an out. It was the best 75 Cents I spent all summer and I think the idea of a larger carpet made in the same manner for outside our RV is my next project!
Or rain bonnet
Hey farmer you gotta admit it was at least funny
Thank you for reprinting this. I would add that plastic containers are very good for storing next years garden seeds in as well. I use repurposed jars to store dried fruits and veggies in also.
Great idea. Do you know how to remove the vinegar/garlic smell from the metal lids of pickle jars? I have tried soaking, baking soda, detergent and still have the smell in the lid. I freeze dry much of our food storage and large pickle jars would be great for storage, but the thought of putting a non pickle food in the jars is not appealing. Thanks for any help!
Let it air dry for about 2 weeks or longer. The smell will permanently go away after a while.
diluted javex bleach takes the odor out of almost everything.
I am currently using my old pickle jar to ferment cherry tomatoes. I figured if the flavor goes into the cherries along with the italian herbs I put in the jar, that would be fine, but now I don’t even smell the pickles anymore, even on the lid. So maybe make a batch of sourkraut or some other ferment on the jars and let the lactic acid in it neutralize the pickle smell?
Hi Nancy T, i recently aquired 6 large pickel jars @ an Amish Store. I dont use bleach often, but soaked for 24 hrs , both the jars & lids in water / bleach / dish detergent. I rinsed well by soaking in fresh water then air dried for several days. No pickel smell. Hope this helps!:
I sprayed mine with 1×10 diluted bleach cleaner I made for kitchen, and it worked. No pickle smell in glass jars or lids.
Just put a piece of plastic over the open jar, then screw the lid on. If you do not trust a single layer, you could double it, but that some times is too thick to work.
One thing you didn’t mention, from plastic WM bags, is they can be used to line a bucket, for poop control, if there are no utilities/water for flushing.
My guess is this may be a reality for many when the SHTF.
And the pine pellets[horse bedding] I use for cat litter, can also be used for dry composting of human poop.
I also re-use all my pet food bags as trash can liners.
I save the 5 gal size cat litter buckets[from the rescue I volunteer at] To store dry food in trash bags with DE sprinkled in to stop critters from invading. Hope these ideas help!
Thanks for additional info . Excuse my ignorance but is DE = diatomaceous earth?
I use the 5-gal kitty litter buckets to grow pineapples. I drill four 5/8 or 1/2″ hole about 4″ from the bottom, fill over the holes with rocks, bricks, Etc., cover with screen wire and add soil.
Another thing plastic bags are great for us to crochet it into a mattress, they protect the body from the ground and help keep body warmth in.
A woman at a local Cowboy Church does that and passes the Mattress’s out to homeless people. She has all of the congregation bring her bags.
DE is Diatomaceous earth the only problem with throwing egg shells back into the chicken pen, is the chickens will eat the eggs it’s better to let old egg shells dry crushed lightly. Then place them in the feed tray.
Very true…and the other thing about unwashed eggshells is that it can attract rats which is the last thing you need around your chicken coop…I’ve had rats carry away whole eggs into their nests.
I use 2 liter soda bottles to help fill vaccuum bags for food storage. Cut the bottom off, then cut above the shoulder to make a slight taper. The tapered end inserted into the vac bag will hold it wide open for filling.
I like and agree with the items in this article. What makes me sad is that this is what was called “Common Knowledge” as I was growing up, and it seems that common knowledge isn’t so common anymore. I see many articles in different places that fit under what I call common knowledge and many of them simply amaze me that fewer and fewer people know these things.
Thank you for refreshing our knowledge and bringing new ideas to those that never had the benefit of learning this as they were growing up.
Necessity is a mother of inventions! If need arises, people will return to this common knowledge. I never read this or other articles on this site before today, but found out that I practice same things, even have acquired all 50 items of survival without anybody telling me to do it. May be people lack wisdom, work ethic and too complacent. Grandparents need to pass more stores on from depression.
If you wear overshoes, plastic bags over your shoes help them slide in better.
During wet weather we used to put plastic bread bag over socks then a second pair of socks. Kept feet dry and warm. Now the grandkids are for snow play days
Waste Not. Want Not.
Also if you give a whole looking egg you will only teach chickens to eat eggs, crush them up.
I use empty bleach bottles to store the water produced by our dehumidifier (1-2 gallons a day here in the tropics). The water is often used directly to water plants, or stored for flushing toilets, doing laundry/dishes, etc during hurricane season. If needed, the water could go through our Berkey filter system for drinking/cooking and not into the bleach bottles for storing.
Excellent article on reuse of many common throwaway items. One thing i would mention about storing water, even for temporary storage is that things grow in it fast. bacteria, i assume. During Y2K i stored several gallons of water in thoroughly rinsed out plastic juice bottles in a dark closet area for about two months. When i pulled them out all of them were slightly cloudy and if you shook them a little you could see swirls of something in the water. Not drinkable. Obviously, some contamination was happening at some point. Since not all of the bottles were from the same original product, i ruled out traces of whatever was originally in them being the issue since all of the dozen or so containers had it. At that time we were on county water and maybe it had some higher than normal level of bacteria. Anyway, if you store water in reused containers you probably oughta put a few drops of bleach in each one or you’ll be growing a new and not so tasty drink.
I keep 4 liter vinegar bottles to store our drinking water and bleach bottles as they are both anti bacterial and stronger. Milk and juice jugs I use for dishes, garden and cleaning.
Was that just algae bloom? Happens with stored water… boiling it should resolve it, and it might have a bit of a ‘pond’ smell/taste?
It happens a lot with our Jerry cans of rain water we bring into the city from the farm. Good clean water, nothing wrong with it, but the Jerry containers get a slight green tinge. We’ve never ever had an issue with the water. (I wash Jerry containers out with a handful of sand, a few cups of water, and a good hard shake, let the coarse yellow sand scrape the sides a little, and rinse a lot. Let air dry thoroughly before reuse.)
Your sand idea to be used as an abrasive is a great idea. The city water here grows algae rather quickly. I keep water in the dog dish outside and have pretty well given up on trying to keep the bucket white. My guess is that the city isn’t using as many chemicals in our our water as some municipalities. It might be a good idea for each person to test and see how the water in their area reacts to just sitting.
Why don’t you and the rest of the children go play somewhere else? It is really distracting and annoying to see all your juvenile comments every day.
I remember growing up in the ’60s watching my Mother remove buttons and zippers before throwing the most wornout clothing items in the rag drawer to be used as cleaning rags.
Mother did the same. She had a bucket of buttons from us 5 kids. Good cloth went into braided rugs…all homemade of course.
Depending upon what material it is, it could easily be repurposed for a whole host of things from little doll outfits, to patch quilts, to jewelry pouches, to rag rugs. Best to save the t shirts though for polishing cloths.
During the 1940’s, magazines often had reduced size patterns for making clothing out of larger articles of clothing. They often had men’s shirts as a base that could be cut down for a woman’s outfit. They even had patterns for making silk underwear out of parachute cloth.
I still salvage buttons off of clothing that is about to be tossed or repurposed. I also keep a rag collection. It saves on paper towels. I have baby receiving blankets from the thrift store, old t-shirts cut into squares, towels with holes in them, etc.
I have saved the plastic trays that dinners come in from eating out. The square ones hold a good size sandwich and the others work for fruit etc. Also will hold kids stuff to snack on in the car or grapes and stuff for them to snack on.
We store water in 1 gallon Walmart juice jugs, well rinsed. We do several at a time pouring bleach in the screw on cap and pouring the bleach from one cap to another never rinsing out the bleach after transferring out of each cap. We change out the water every 18 months or so. I’ve got jugs that we have been using sense 2018 and when dumping and refilling there is a ever so slight bleach smell that if you leave the jug cap-less for 30 minutes, you smell nothing. All stored in the dark and never over 80 degrees but normally around 65 degrees.
We do this with milk jugs for potable water. Recently there was an issue with the well pump because of an undiscovered leak, pump ran continuously, drained that section of the aquifer to the point where water levels in the cistern dropped below the top section of the pump which just cavitated and we ran out of water. Resolved in a couple of days by finding and fixing the leak but in those two days we had no water. Half-dozen (carefully cleaned) milk jugs kept us in water for food prep and drinking, and a collection tub outside kept the toilets flowing. The jugs were refilled and stashed back inside the pantry.
I have mentioned this before, but for those new here, I have been saving the string that comes with animal feed bags. I don’t know what they are made of but if you try to break the string by wrapping a few turns around each hand and making a quick pull will result in sliced hands. The strings don’t JUST break.
On a similar note, if you wish to use only one string from the feed bags, the bags will be useful as sandbags if ever needed.
Point number 29 advises ironing layers of plastic bags together for strength. Good idea. It might be useful to go to the thrift store and purchase an iron just for that type of project and other possible messy jobs. It would be an iron that would never be used for clothing.
You could use a paper bag on top of the plastic to keep it from melting on the iron.
The instructions I have say to use parchment paper. It’s made to be used in heat so the plastic doesn’t melt through to the iron.
When I moved to another state, I rented an older house while searching for a place I really wanted to buy. It was cheap rent, but man, that place heated like a corn crib. I used to stretch out a plastic bag and then take a butter knife and tuck dozens of bags around doors and windows where the weather stripping was bad or completely gone. It REALLY cut down on the drafts.
I try to recycle things as a matter of course…and being on a farm I have plenty of sheds (and when I run out I build more) which are packed with potentially useful stuff. Offcuts of wood more than a couple of inches long get stacked away and invariably used for something, even if it’s just as a wheel chock or to place under something I’m working on so I don’t damage my workbench. Seedling pots are always reused each year, I have several garden beds made from tractor tyres that have the rim cut off, any pieces of wood, steel, corrugated iron etc etc that I can find or procure cheaply get added to my ‘to use one day’ piles…and they do get used…I’ve got a pig pen I knocked up about 10 years ago using some extra black water pipe hooped over steel stakes and covered with leftover corrugated iron, and it’s still going strong. Cost a couple of tens of dollars as opposed to over a grand for a bought one. I even use old hydraulic fluid as the lubricating oil for my chainsaw…but don’t use old motor oil, that stuff is nasty, hydraulic fluid is clean and doesn’t contain combustion byproducts. A little while back the ‘singlet’ type shopping bags were banned…but these are the one bag that I use most of, so useful. So I went to a plastic manufacturer and purchased a 20-year supply of these bags. I use them mostly as garbage bags for the small under-bench bin, and they are much thinner and cheaper than the alternative I’d buy so I use half as much plastic at a fraction of the price, and they also get used to put dirty shoes or gumboots in when in the car, to cover my hands as makeshift gloves when doing something nastily oily or grubby, they’re great for transporting plants in pots…just pop the plant in the bag and tie the handles around the stem or over the plant and you won’t get any spills or water leakage. Jars get recycled for homemade preserves or storage, or down in my workshop for soaking paintbrushes, mixing chemicals or storing odds-and-ends. Basically, recycling is an opportunity you can take for damn near anything you use.
The mesh bags that onions come in at the grocery store a great to recycle…I cut them into strips to use in tying up plants and to stuff with homemade suet or old cake & bread for the birds. No…I have never seen a bird’s feet get stuck in them! I also use them to wrap presents, with some colored tissue paper …they look like tootsie rolls! AND bundled up into a ball they make great scrubbies!
Not so much reuse as repurposed new items for me are the Auto Microfiber Cloths to use as kitchen towels. For what they are and what they do they are reasonably priced and long lasting.
They clean up pretty good unless they get really greasy and then they start to attract more bad stuff in the fibers. At that point they will go to my garage where neatness and cleanliness are not necessarily the most critical aspects of the cloths. So they do get reused.
I would imagine if they do hit the dumpster that the garbage crew or landfill crew will also pick these out for repurposing or reusing too.
If I am going to mail a box to a friend or family members I use those plastic shopping bags as packing material. Everything always arrives safely!
As I was reading your list, I wanted to say that there are two more things you can do with some of this that you throw away. Meat fat can be made into gravy using a roux with flour or mixing hot water with fat drippings and cold water with corn starch and cold water poured into the hot water and fat drippings.. One of these two ways will make any kind of gravy you want! Great poured over biscuits, rice, or potatoes.
The other was to use cardboard and paper as mulch in the garden. Cover with a less unsightly mulch to keep weeds at bay. Though it does extend your need for more mulch, it breaks down faster than you think.
Very large type dry cat food bags make excellent sand bags, for weighting something down and to avert flood water. The are made with reinforced plastic, much like Tyvec. Turn them inside out for aesthetics (white, no markings). Fill with your desired amount of sand, then roll the top. Duct tape wrapped around the entire bag near both ends holds it all together and can even be used to make carry handles. Keep a few smaller ones in your trunk or truck bed for winter driving. If you cut one open you have sand for temporary grit to get out of a slick spot.
We braid chain from plastic grocery bags, then crochet into mats about 48 x 78-80 in. It takes about a mile of chain per mat.
We send them to various Missions around the world where they are used in hospitals as bedding and surgeries as a sterile field (easy to clean and sanitize by soaking in bleach water.)