21 Disposable Products You Can Reuse
It’s said that we live in a disposable society. But the word disposable is a misnomer. Disposable is considered throwaway, something you use once and dump, regardless of the life that may be left in it. As a frugal shopper with a concern for the state of our environment, that just won’t do.
I often reuse many so-called “one-time-use” items, and I asked friends, family, and colleagues to tell me which disposable items they squeeze more life from. Here’s my list, including some of the surprising ideas I was given. (See also: 25 Things to Throw Out Today)
1. Butter Wrappers
If you’re like most people, you unwrap your butter, pop the stick into your handy holder, and throw the wrapper away. But wait a second — instead of trashing the wrappers, keep them in a sandwich bag. The next time you need to grease a baking tray or dish, you’ve got something all ready to go.
2. One-Day Contact Lenses
There have been great advances made in contact lenses. The ones I am wearing right now, for astigmatism, are relatively new. And there are lenses that can last months or just one day. But those one-day lenses have a lot of people thinking about extended use. Can you wear them again? Even just one more day would double their life span and halve your costs every year.
Well, it seems that the answer is yes, if you clean them correctly and store them well. Use a bubbling hydrogen peroxide solution, which is designed to remove germs and bacterial matter, and you should be fine using one-day contacts for an additional day or two. The contact lens industry says you are at risk for eye infection if you reuse one-day contacts, but I’ve been doing it for two years, and my eyes are just fine. However, if you want further advice on the subject, you'll find several articles on the Internet that have been written on this subject, including the UK's The Daily Mail.
However, I think the most telling evidence comes in the legal wording you'll find hidden in the fine print on every box of one-day contact lenses. It's also printed in dozens of articles at the FDA's site, including here, here, and here (PDFs). It reads thus, and relates to lenses prescribed specifically for daily wear:
Eye Care Practitioners may prescribe the lenses either for single-use disposable wear or frequent/planned replacement wear with cleaning, disinfection and scheduled replacement (see "Wearing Schedule"). When prescribed for frequent/planned replacement wear, the lenses may be disinfected using a chemical disinfection system.
3. Disposable Film Cameras
35mm film is making a comeback. It was bound to happen. What was once out of style becomes vogue again, and vice-versa. When you buy a cheap disposable film camera, don’t hand the whole thing in to the photo department at the store. Strip it, remove the film, and replace it. You can find complete instructions for dismantling and reassembling on Kevin's Kamera blog.
4. Disposable Digital Cameras
These cameras are a whole different ball game. They are specifically designed to be one-time-use products, so the camera companies can make big money by charging you to download the photos and then reselling the camera to someone else. Well, you can get around that. It’s not super easy, but if you have a soldering iron and some patience, you can make that disposable digital camera into a camera you can use again and again, downloading the pictures free at home whenever you want. Complete instructions are available from eHow.
5. Disposable Camcorders
Disposable camcorders are also built to be reused…just not by the general public. The idea is that you hand them in, your videos are downloaded, and you get them back. But if you want to practice a little hacking at home, you can turn a one-time-use camcorder into a very reusable and handy device. Of course, since the price for the item is higher, the level of difficulty goes up. There are full instructions at I-Hacked.
6. Plastic “Silverware”
I’ve seen plastic knives, forks, and spoons in the dish dryer before. I was a little confused at first — isn’t the whole point to save on doing dishes? But it’s possible to get a good week of use from one set of plastic cutlery before recycling it. National Geographic has more on the subject. They do say that after about a week, the cutlery should not be used for sanitary reasons, but even then you can always use it for other tasks, including handy markers for plants. Just write whatever you planted in Sharpie on the handle and plunge it into the soil.
7. Dryer Sheets
They make our clothes smell great, and how do we reward them? With a one-way trip to the dump. Well, dryer sheets should not go straight into the trash. They have many uses. You can put them inside shoes and clothes drawers to keep everything smelling fresh. You can use them to clean the bottom of a dirty iron. And you can run them along baseboards, ceiling fans, and bookcases, just like one of those Swiffer dusters.
8. Plastic Yogurt Containers
Don’t just bin the yogurt pot when you’ve finished with the delicious contents. If you’re someone with green fingers, you’ll find that yogurt pots are the perfect size for seedling starter pots. You can, of course, buy small seedling pots from a hardware store, but for the same price (or less, actually), you can use yogurt pots and get a healthy snack thrown into the bargain. If you buy the bigger, quart-sized yogurt pots, clean them out and use them to store leftover food, chicken stock, soup, and other perishables.
9. Plastic Bags From Newspapers
The newspaper comes to you in a thin plastic bag to keep it protected from the elements (and it’s also another space for advertisers to shout at you). When you bring in the newspaper, the bag goes into the trash. But wait — if you live in a city that’s prone to rain, hold onto those bags. They’re small enough to fit in a purse or bag without taking up any room, but make a perfect umbrella bag. When you have to take your wet umbrella indoors, either for work or visiting friends, simply pop it in the bag.
10. Swim Diapers
My first reaction was “seriously?!” But after talking to a few parents who’ve done this, it makes good sense. Unlike regular diapers, swim diapers are made to take much more punishment. They’re designed to withhold the water, obviously, so you can put them in the wash two or three times (at least) before they start coming loose at the sides. Of course, don’t wash a poopy diaper; that’s taking it too far. But if it’s just wet, throw it in the washing machine. When it’s washed, let it AIR DRY. Otherwise, it will become a hard and crunchy mess. With the average pack of swim diapers costing around $12, you’ll rack up the savings in summer.
11. Plastic Takeout Containers
When you order Chinese, Japanese, Indian, Moroccan, or any other takeout cuisine, it will often come in small plastic containers. Give them a good wash and reuse them. They are obviously good for holding leftover food, but they’re also great containers for your craft room or workshop. I use them for screws, nuts, bolts, and pencils. Not only are they the perfect size and stackable, but you sometimes also get a whiff of delicious food just before you start your project!
12. Wine Corks
Other than putting it back into the half-full bottle of wine, what use are these corks? You just throw them out, right? Well, not so fast. Wine corks have many other uses. If you chop them up and add them to soil, they make good moisture-retaining mulch. You can scrub high-carbon kitchen knives with them, or protect the blades. You can even soak them in rubbing alcohol and make cheap and effective fire lighters.
13. Tissue Boxes
Here’s a way to kill two birds with one stone. We all collect plastic grocery bags to use again as trashcan liners and for other shopping trips. Put them inside an empty tissue box — it keeps them all in one place and makes it easy to retrieve one at a time. Keep one in the car, one at home, one in the basement, and so on.
14. DVD/CD Spindles
With the price of blank DVDs and CDs being so affordable, most of us have a few of these spindle packs at home. But when the last disc is used, the spindle goes bye-bye. Well, it shouldn’t have to. You can use it as a handy lunch container for bagel sandwiches. You can turn it upside down and make it into a pen caddy. And wrap computer cables around the spindle before putting on the lid for a very neat and tidy cable organizer.
15. Aluminum Foil
Every American throws away around three pounds of aluminum foil per year. It should all be recycled, but it's not. However, it can be reused very easily. It’s durable, so a quick wash with a kitchen sponge and some soap and water will get it back to life. Just dry it flat, and fold it up. Or fold it several times and cut with scissors — it will really sharpen them up. You can also use it as a paint texture applicator, and you can restore the sheen to steel and chrome by rubbing the metal with foil.
16. Ziploc Bags
It bugs me at how wasteful we are as a society. Ziploc bags are a prime example. They are sturdy enough to be used many times — often a quick rinse with some hot water and a little soap is enough to make them as good as new, but we throw them out. Well, here are some ideas for Ziploc bags after their first use as a humble sandwich bag or food container:
- Store pantyhose in them, with a corner of the packaging. It will help you keep them separate in the drawer and identify colors.
- Use them as a piping bag. Just snip the corner.
- Make your own inflatable packaging — just insert a straw into the corner, blow, and seal, and you’ve got cheap packing material.
- Fill with crushed ice for a quick cold compress.
- Break up graham crackers inside a Ziploc bag. No mess.
17. Soda Can Pull Tabs
This one is a direct result of finding a box of soda can pull tabs in our “junk drawer.” I was puzzled. At first I figured they were being collected for my daughter’s school, like those box tops for education. Nope. Turns out, you can make some very beautiful and unique pieces of jewelry out of them, as well as purses, handbags, and even lampshades! Not convinced? Check out this collection of soda can pull tab jewelry at Etsy.com for inspiration.
18. Cardboard Egg Cartons
Let eggs bring you peace. Those egg containers made of the cheap, recycled paper are great for soundproofing a room. They don’t look too pretty, but if you have want to make a room quiet, staple these to the walls. Their design is perfect for absorbing sound waves. You can be creative, painting them different colors and soundproofing a kid's playroom or a workshop. You can also use these same egg cartons as fire lighters, so pack a few for your next camping trip. And finally, they make good containers for things like hair ties or small office supplies (paper clips, brads, elastic bands, and so on).
19. Laundry Detergent Caps
When your bottle of detergent is empty (and I mean really empty), don’t just throw it in the recycle bin. The cap is a great scoop for pet food, ice melt, cat litter, or even as a play toy in the kids’ sandbox.
20. Baby Bottle Nipples
I could write a whole book on the waste that comes from the medical industry. It’s amazing how much could be reused that “cannot” due to strict regulations. One such example is nipples for baby bottles. When you have a baby and feed him/her in hospital with formula, they will put a new nipple on the bottle each time and throw the old one away. They have to. Don’t let them trash it though. It’s yours, paid for through your insurance, so take them home with you. They’re nothing fancy, but they are definitely good backups and can be sterilized and reused several times.
21. Spice Mills
The spice racks in supermarkets have a lot of these “one-time-use” mills, filled with peppercorns, salt, and other spices. The idea is that you buy one, grind away, and chuck the whole thing when it’s empty. But there’s no need to trash a functioning mill, especially as you can refill it for pennies with bulk spices. Of course, the spice mill has been designed to prevent refilling, but there’s an easy way around it. Instructables has instructions for reusing spice mills.
22. Toilet Paper
The great thing about used toilet paper is…nah, not really — just a little fun to end the article.
So, that’s my list, but it’s by no means complete. Think of it as a good start. Now, what do you reuse that most people put straight into the garbage? Do you have some shocking or crazy suggestions? Let us know.