Recycling Around The House

By Ginny Frizzi

March 30, 2012 5 min read

Like charity, going green can start at home. But where to begin?

"Overall, I'd say there is almost nothing that can't be repurposed," says Lynn Colwell, green lifestyle leader and, with daughter Corey Colwell-Lipson, co-author of "Celebrate Green!: Creating eco-savvy holidays, celebrations & traditions for the whole family." "The first step is to stop when you're about to toss an item and ask yourself, 'What could this be used for?' If you don't consider yourself creative, do a search on the Internet for 'what to do with (name of item)' or 'how to recycle (name of item)' or 'how to craft with (name of item).' You'll be shocked at how many ideas there are and how easy it is to reuse instead of tossing."

According to Colwell, lids often are thrown away -- even by those who recycle -- because most recyclers won't take them. "Depending on the size and material -- plastic or metal, with a little paint or even plain -- they can be turned into counting and/or building toys, coasters, wind chimes, yard ornaments and jewelry."

Colwell's other suggestions include using glass jars instead of plastic to store leftovers; donating old hats, purses and other clothing to a children's organization for dress-up; swapping books with friends and neighbors; and laying down newspapers, which eventually will decompose, in the yard to control weeds.

Cristin Frank, founder of The Eve of Reduction, a resource for employing creativity, shares some of her favorite home recycling projects.

"I turned an old wire flower box into a ribbon dispenser and a dismantled dresser into shelving for a coat closet," says Frank, who uses a wooden breadbox as a shelf for cookbooks in her kitchen.

Frank's husband laid old doors on the rafter beams in their garage. They use them to store seasonal items. They also nailed milk crates on the garage walls as storage for balls, mitts, Frisbees and other small sporting goods.

However, most households reach a point where they really have no more use for recycling egg cartons or making watering cans from plastic milk jugs. Can recycling at home be taken too far?

Yes, according to active recycler Martin Blanco.

"Not only can it be taken too far, but it can be taken too far to no particular purpose. I've been a stay-at-home father -- in all respects the homemaker -- for 12 1/2 years, so I have a good sense of managing the household, including garbage management," he says. "Repurposing is a nice idea, but it does not solve any problems of managing waste and resources, and it creates some new ones."

Blanco gives the example of an acquaintance who advocates creating with recyclable goods, such as sculptures made from cans and milk cartons and puppets made out of boxes, cans and bottles.

"Look, this is great fun and very creative, but it does nothing to solve the fundamental problem of what we should do with the excessive amounts of packaging we create and how we can reuse the primary resource. One can't make puppets and sculptures in perpetuity," Blanco says.

For example, he asks, "Once you make them, where do you store them? Are you going to convert your house into a modern art museum? A prominent musician in my area makes wonderful percussion instruments from cans and cartons and other trash. They are terrific, but then he advocates building these as a form of recycling. He does programs at schools and tells the children, 'Don't throw this stuff away; recycle it into instruments.' Great, but once you're outfitted with a new percussion set and your new repertory theater of milk jug puppets, what do you do with the containers that you continue to bring into your life?"

Blanco does recycle, including using the larger plastic trays from takeout as a drip pan under flowers and empty yogurt containers for starting seeds.

"Actually some of the things we do are similar to what our grandparents did. They didn't waste and reused things whenever they could," says Blanco, who also uses canvas bags instead of plastic ones when he goes grocery shopping.

Colwell agrees that holding on to too much can create clutter and become overwhelming. She offers several suggestions for avoiding this, including putting "clean out" dates on your calendar.

"Devote a half-day a couple of times a year to getting rid of the stuff you're not using. Again, think 'give it' or 'donate' before pitching into the trash," she advises.

Colwell also recommends avoiding what she calls "mindlessly collecting."

"Instead, before hanging on to something, think to yourself, 'What can I use this for, and will I do it?' But also ask whether it's an item that someone else might use," she says.

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