Every time you reuse something you are helping the planet. It is one less thing in the landfill. It is one less thing being manufactured and polluting our air and water. It is that much more money in your pocket because you are reusing something instead of buying something manufactured for a single purpose. There are things you never have to buy if you reuse what you already have.
Plastic soda bottles
Let's start with something we throw out every day: plastic soda bottles. We all should probably drink less soda; but because we drink it, a lot of plastic is thrown away every day. Many people recycle soda bottles. Some cities require it, but there are so many more bottles that still end up in the landfill.
Use the top half of the bottle as a funnel. Cut the bottle in half and throw the top in the trunk of your car. You will never again waste a paper funnel or spend money on the plastic ones; all the funnels you will ever need are free. Do not throw the bottoms out, either. They can be used for seed starting. (Just remember to poke some drainage holes in the bottom.) Using soda bottles to start cuttings is great because I can see the roots forming and I won't mess with the seedling because I'm impatient. Soda bottle bottoms can be used to hold paint when you only need a bit. Don't buy containers to hold paint; there are free containers right in your house.
Soda bottles can occupy a small toddler or infant. Make a soda bottle rattle for him. Peel the paper off and fill with beans, pasta, nuts and bolts, glitter or any noisy sparkly junk. Securely glue the top on; you can even glue a pompon on the top (be careful with infants as they may choke on any loose items.) Kids will love driving you crazy with the sound, and looking at the objects inside.
A smaller bottle can be used as an ice pack; just fill it up and freeze it. Remember water expands, so don't fill it all the way up. A frozen water bottle can be used to sooth an injury or toothache; or tuck it in a lunch to keep things cold. Make a few and use them in a cooler and you won't have a watery mess after your outing; plus you can drink them as they thaw. After a long day at work, you may come home with sore, tired feet. Heat up a bottle of water in the microwave. Make sure the lid is on tight and sit down in your favorite chair. Place the bottle of hot water on the floor and roll the arch of your foot on it--nothing feels better. Make sure you do two; one for each foot.
Winter sowing is a great way to use soda bottles. First, cut the bottle in half but not all the way through; leave a "hinge." Then poke holes in the bottom and plant your seeds in there. Close the bottle and tape it shut. Make sure the lid is off, and you now have a miniature greenhouse.
Wire clothes hangers
Do your old wire hangers seem to multiply every time you close the closet door? They have many uses; in fact, it seems like they are good for everything but hanging shirts.
A hanger can be an excuse to get another hanging basket; make a plant hanger out of it. Leave the hook and stretch out the rest. Continue to twist the wire with pliers until you get to the top. Leave a loop at the end to hang your plant on. Spray paint it and all that's left is to get another hanging basket to use it.
Use them at your next cookout when you need marshmallow and hotdog skewers. Unpainted hangers work well because there are always plenty to go around, and they keep the kids' hands far from the fire. Not to mention, they won't catch on fire. Just unwind the hanger, straighten it out and make a handle on one end.
With three kids and mounds of laundry this next idea is very useful in my house: a dryer vent cleaner. Unwind the hangar and wrap the straight end with pipe cleaners or pantyhose. Now you can clean the dryer vent without buying one of those dryer brushes. You can attach anything that will trap the lint on the end of it. Look around; you might be able to reuse something else!
Most people re-use glass jars for canning and food storage. What do you do with them if you don't can or cook? Take up candle-making to reuse glass jars. Glass jars are perfect for making candles. Put a wick in and pour the wax in your glass jar. You can decorate them and get really creative. They can be given as gifts or saved for emergencies. During last winters power outages we used a lot of candles. What I wouldn't have given for a free glass candle then! I ended up with wax drippings everywhere--on my dresser, the mantle, even on the back of the toilet. Saving the glass jars and making candles inside would have made that situation much better. You can also make citronella candles for those mosquito-filled summer nights. Use the internet to find many different recipes and techniques for candle-making.
Another good idea for large glass jars is to use them to store foods like sugar and flour or other bulk items that come in bags. The items stay fresher longer and won't spill. The glass containers will also keep any critters out. With all the uses for glass jars, you never need to throw one out again.
They are referred to as "redneck Tupperware" but whipped topping and other plastic containers are invaluable. I have a big problem with leaving my good Tupperware containers in the car or anywhere I take them. I also tend to use them outside. Why worry about that if you have an endless supply of containers that come free with your food? I guess the only person who doesn't like the idea is my 4-year-old. He thinks granny's fridge is full of whipped topping! I have seen the disappointment in his eyes when he found the previous night's green beans instead.
Besides using them for food you can use them for art projects with the kids: let them make flowerpots for you with paint and decorations. Provide a selection of seeds so they can choose what to plant in their new flowerpots. Children love to plant the seeds or plants and watch them grow. Not only is the flowerpot free, but you can show them how to collect seeds for free. Young gardeners will love the experience of collecting seeds and grow them on their own.
Keep a container on top of the dryer for change. Cut a slot in the lid and set it on the dryer. It will make a good unbreakable bank and it's free.
Save a few of different sizes for the kids to use at the beach or sandbox. The different sizes will make great sandcastle forms. Poke holes in one and make a sieve.
A great second use for those big ice cream buckets is as a dog bowl. Our dog likes to tip his bowl when he's done and if he doesn't tip it over, our 2-year-old likes to float food in the water. Using the ice cream bucket and putting the lid back on after the dog is done not only keeps it fresh for next time, it deters mischief-makers.
Another idea for those ice cream tubs is to store dry cereal. Our cabinets were built in the 50s, and cereal boxes have grown by a foot since then. Modern boxes won't fit, so we have to set boxes on top of the refrigerator. Of course, if the box isn't securely closed, it inevitably tips over and spills. Putting the cereal in a tub with a lid, it fits in the cabinet and doesn't go stale; two problems solved.
Start holding on to those plastic food containers with lids, and I'm sure you can use every one of them.
Egg cartons are a good seed starting tray. Why spend money on the plastic trays when you toss out a free one every week?
Some clothes are so worn or stained they just cant be donated, but there are several potential uses for old clothes before you toss them out. Old t-shirts can be cut into squares for great dust cloths. Sweat shirts work really well for polishing.
Old jeans can be knotted into a dog toy. Cut the denim into strips and just knot it up any way you want; your dog will love to tear it up. It's fre and it will last longer than a store-bought toy. Denim is also great for potholders, because it's thick and durable. Cut the denim into squares and stitch two layers together. Fill it with batting or even old t-shirt material. Use old buttons from old shirts or patches from uniforms to decorate them.
So you may be thinking, I already re-use all that stuff. But chances are, you may have big junk that you don't know what to do with.
One of my favorite places to see what people do with big junk is the trash to treasure forum right here on Dave's Garden. Old doors become trellises; an old painted ladder with a mosaic-covered bowling ball affixed to the top becomes a whimsical obelisk. Windows can be made into cold frames and greenhouses. Old dressers can be transformed into potting benches. The dresser drawers can be used as under-the-bed storage. Maybe you or someone you know has remodeled the outside of their house and has old gutters laying around. They can be cut and uses as small window boxes (watch for sharp edges, though.) You might have difficult spots near the foundation; since the gutters are long, lining a wall and planting it will have a dramatic effect. Plant the whole thing with viola or petunias. Hens and chicks or sedum will look great if it is in the sun. The possibilities are endless.
For the garden
We all have a broken a pot or two from trying to carry too many things or carrying a wet pot full of dirt. Don't be mad when that happens; be happy because then you can lay the pot broken side down and plant something coming out of it as if it's laying on its side.
Old pantyhose has many uses in the garden. If you don't have any, you may want to buy some cheap hose and use them. They are that useful in the garden! Just don't steal any off of your neighbor's clothesline. Hose can be cut into strips to tie roses and tomatoes. They won't break down like natural twine, and they won't cut into the plant. Pantyhose legs can be used to store bulbs. Stretch the pantyhose over a wire hanger to make a pond skimmer. If you have an herb garden, you can make sachets. We all get very dirty in the garden. Everyone hates when someone cleans their muddy hands on the bar of soap, so save the small pieces in the foot of the pantyhose and use it to wash your hands outside. Just hang the bag of soap in a dry place when you're done.
Save a few aluminum cans to put in the bottom of a big pot. It will save on dirt and make it lighter. You can also reuse packing peanuts in the bottom of containers, too.
Newspaper is a necessity in the garden. Use several layers as a weed blocker, or as a layer in a lasagna bed. It can be shredded and mixed with the dirt to amend clay soil. You can make paper envelopes for your seeds out of newspaper. Newspaper works great for packing material in trades. Storing bulbs is a great way to reuse newspaper, as it will absorb the extra moisture. Cleanup is easier if you use newspaper to cover your potting area. A few stacked up will be great padding for your knees when you are weeding. Newspaper is an all-purpose dropcloth when doing any messy or drippy project. I don't get the paper every day but my neighbor does. Ask around--most people will be happy to give their old issues to you.
Remember two things: you already have everything you need, and a can of paint and a plant will make anything look good. Let's try to buy less and figure out ways to re-use all our junk before throwing it away.
Can you think of any more ideas? Feel free to add them here!