I have realized over the last seven months that eliminating one’s trash has a lot to do with being able to creatively reuse materials. Of course, even in our American “throw-away” culture, certain consumer packaging items are commonly offered alternative lives before being tossed in the trash.  Everyone knows that plastic yogurt and hummus containers make great tupperware; and with a little effort, old wine corks can be assembled into a stylish bulletin board or drink coasters.

Here are a few more would-be trash items that I have found uses for.  I would love to hear ideas of how others are reusing or “upcycling” materials.

Dog food bags:
I have not been able to find bulk dog food on my island, and dog food bags cannot be recycled or composted because there is a layer of plastic lining on the inside of each bag.  I looked into making my own dog food, but it sounds like a pretty big time commitment.  So, I continue to purchase dry dog food from the store.  It happens that dog food bags make excellent containers for dry or brown compost materials.

Reusing dog food bags

Old dog food bags make great containers for dry/brown compost material

When I start harvesting my finished compost, I will be able to store it in these bags as well.

Dryer lint:
You can put dryer lint into your compost, but only if it is composed of natural fibers. Rather than worry about the composition of my clothing, I have tried a couple suggestions from folks online for reusing dryer lint.
Suggestion 1: Dryer lint = kindling.  The last time I went camping with my boyfriend, we brought some lint to use for starting the campfire.  Dryer lint happens to be very flammable and was a very successful fire starter – even with the flint and steel.

Lint flint and steel

Dryer lint is a great fire starter, even using flint and steel

Suggestion 2: Dryer lint = Great bird nest material.  Something I have yet to be successful with, however, is encouraging our local bird population to use my dryer lint for their nests.  I have tried placing our box of lint in a few places, including in a tree that I see birds frequent everyday, but there have been no takers.

lint in a tree

"Bird nest material - free for the taking!"

I even tried to make it a bit more natural and placed some directly on the tree.

Plumeria lint tree

Plumeria lint tree

That technique did not work either.  If anyone has tried this and has been successful – I would love some tips.

Ziplock bags:
I don’t need to explain the many ways to use and reuse Ziplock bags.  Currently my stash of Ziplock bags have become essential to helping sooth a former shoulder injury during this summer’s swimming season.  Since my gel pack ripped last year, I have been using Ziplock bags with crushed ice – ultimately wasting a lot of ice and water.  A roommate clued me into the fact that you can make your own reusable gel-like ice packs using Ziplock bags, water and alcohol (thanks Cori!).  I found a recipe online, tried it out, and it worked!  After about four hours in the freezer, I had homemade ice packs that were flexible like the gel packs you buy at the store.  This is one of several recipes that I found on the Tipnut website:

Reusable gel type ice packs:
2 cups water
1/3 cup vodka (80 proof)
Food coloring (any color you like)
Ziploc Freezer Bag

Pour liquids into ziploc freezer bag, add food coloring (you’ll know at a glance that it’s your ice pack and not something to consume) and freeze. Makes a nice gel type icepack.

When taking ice packs from freezer to use, wrap in towel first before applying to body. If ice packs freeze too hard and aren’t slushy, simply allow the ice to melt in bag then add more alcohol.

ice packs

Mix vodka and water and put into a ziplock bag

home-made ice pack

Freeze for four hours and your ice pack is ready to use

Other “reuse to reduce” ideas:

Zero waste conference:  Large gatherings, such as conferences, are notorious for generating lots of waste.  Besides the disposable coffee cups and eating ware, participants are many times given things that they rarely use after the conference, like bags and name tags.  A colleague in my office is working on a zero-waste plan for an upcoming conference which includes gathering name tag lanyards to reuse and give out to participants.

Lanyard recycling

Reusing lanyards to reduce conference waste

Tea leaf strainers:  I have finally bought a tea ball and a tea strainer at a kitchen store that I can reuse again and again with loose leaf tea.  The bulk loose leaf tea was more difficult to find, but they sell some nice varieties at “Down To Earth” in Kailua in the bulk spice section.  I even found a couple chai spiced varieties.

tea ball

Reusing a tea ball means no more packaging

Re-use building materials:  It seems a shame that the materials of a house or other building just go to waste after it is demolished.  Not only is a lot of trash produced, but a lot of resources wasted as well.  Since 2007, however, Re-use Hawaii has been offering a green alternative to demolition: deconstruction. According to their website, Re-use Hawaii has performed over 100 deconstruction projects and has kept over 1000 tons of material from entering the landfill on Oahu.  They stock a wide variety of items and even suggestions for how to reuse some of the items.  Check out what they have in stock at their warehouse.

Reuse Hawaii

Re-use Hawaii salvages and sells building material

Anyone have experiences reusing materials that most people dump in the trash? I would love to hear about them!