In my house there is a sentence guaranteed to make everyone cringe. It’s “Wait! Don’t throw that out, I’m sure I can find a use for it.”
I have learned that it is easy to carry this too far. Newspapers pile up awfully fast. So do card board tubes and assorted plastic what-nots. Glass jars are hard to store conveniently. And your spouse might throw fit and throw away all your carefully hoarded, I mean saved, items. I know it is not actually possible to use every bit of trash and I know that recycling is the last use for trash, not a panacea.
When the G-8 (or G-12 Or G-1826 or what ever it is now) was in town my very dear friend Torey told me she was going to join a protest. I asked what she hoped to accomplish just by standing around and shouting. This is what she told me.”I can reduce, reuse, recycle every scrap of garbage in my life and so can every other person in the U.S.A. It will never come close to a fraction of the garbage and pollution these corporations produce. I want them to see that.” (Torey, if you read this you can correct me if I have mangled your meaning by paraphrasing too roughly.)
Think about that when you are recycling. I didn’t say stop recycling, just think about it. Many of these items will last in the environment for thousands of years. Even if you do not recycle in your neighborhood think about it while you take out your trash. Think about it for a while while you are disposing of the items you had to have yesterday. Think about how long they actually will last both in the form they are now and when the environment tries and fails to break them down. Or tries and succeeds, like in your compost pile if you are lucky enough to have room and time for one.
Then think about your powerlessness to change the world, and give up trying. Wait, no! There are some things you can do. While you are disposing of the detritus of your life, think about your garbage. And carefully select one piece, one beautiful or useful or whimsical piece of trash as an heirloom, something that you can stand to have in your house for as long as it lasts. Glass is forever. Plastic slightly less. The easiest choice is a piece of paper or cardboard.
Your search for your family heirloom might actually begin at the point of purchase. When you are buying an item, ask yourself, is this a piece that will function as an heirloom in my house for as long as it lasts? Look at packaging and consider it. This is also the place where you can vote for change with your dollars. I don’t have many dollars, so I don’t get as many votes but no matter how many dollars you have to spend you can make them count. While you are looking for your heirloom consider purchasing things that have good packaging. Already recycled once, minimal use of packaging product, packaging that functions as a reusable item after use of the original product, biodegradable, compostable packaging. With these votes, you can let manufacturers know what you want by what you are willing to purchase.
An example of a multiple use product and one which I recommend (I don’t get any kick backs…though I certainly wouldn’t mind them! Belgium Chocolate! Raspberry Chocolate! Mango!) Sorry, I was distracted by all the luscious flavors… Ahem. An example of a multiple use product is Talenti gelato. I buy them in pint sizes for $5 or $6. That is an extravagance on my budget, but, like I said, reward the reusable. These pint size plastic jars with convenient screw top lids and no inconvenient paper labels to wash off are useful for so many things. I freeze liquids in them. They don’t shatter like so many other plastics when you put them in the freezer. I freeze tomato sauce and soup and left overs in them. I store my dried cherry tomatoes in them. (These are great to drop in the soup.) I put other dry foods I need to store in small quantities in them, beans, grains and loose candy. My spouse doesn’t get upset with my slowly growing collection, because they are usually filled with food he likes. Oh, and by the way the original product is excellent, too.
Other things I have found uses for: Newspaper. It is useful as bedding for a guinea-pig. Don’t get a guinea pig just to re-use newspaper, unless you have a niece that loves guinea pigs and grooms it when the pig turns out to have long and ever-growing hair, and a place to compost bedding. Mine gets composted in my Earth Machine composter. Also I use it as mulch. (The guinea pig doesn’t get to use those sheets first.) Sometimes I even read it. I often run out of newspaper.
Cardboard tubes. These are useful for making dog treat puzzles. Fill the tube with dog treats, fold or tape the ends. Give it to your nervous dog to shred when you leave. (Come home later and clean up the mess.) They are also useful for disposing of ‘unmentionable hygiene items’. (If you don’t know what they are, don’t ask. I am not going to mention them.) If you are crafty, the tubes can be used making home-made Christmas crackers, though I have not made them yet, opting to buy them instead, so far. I often run out of cardboard tubes.
Giant pickle jars. Niece #1 adores pickles and we use her pickle penchant for posterity. Oops, must have been bitten by a passing alliteration bug. She can eat a gallon of pickles in a week or two, and leave us yelling, “Who ate all the pickles?! I just bought these!” That’s OK. Gallon and half gallon and quart sized pickle jars (well washed, or everything smells like pickles) are useful for storing big quantities of broth or soup, beans or grains or pasta, large quantities of dried produce, coins saved for future vacations or appliances and many other things. Also, the pickle brine can be used at least once to make other pickled vegetables, like pickled green cherry tomatoes. I often run out of pickle jars.
I save smaller types of jars for other uses. I keep ground coffee in the freezer in an interestingly-shaped roasted pepper jar. I found to my dismay that freezing liquids or home made yogurt in glass does not work, but many other left overs and items find there way into my saved jars. I know some people reuse jars to can with but I am afraid to do this, not to say an experienced canner couldn’t take the risk. When the box over flows, I start putting them in the recycle bin instead.
The world is filled with items that can be easy to reuse if it fits within your life style. And if it doesn’t fit or is too time or energy intensive for your lifestyle, don’t worry too much. The billionaires are responsible for using their potion of the world wisely too, and they have so much more of it.
But- do select your heirloom item to keep on the mantle piece or kitchen counter if you do nothing else. Mine is a tiny 200 ml SanPellegrino sparkling blood orange beverage bottle. I like the shape and the texture and the tininess. Sometimes I use it to water a small plant. Sometimes I just look at it.