Many items that are billed as single-use products can, in fact, be used again and again. Such is the case with disposable utensils. When hosting a backyard bash or big get-together, encourage your guests to place their plastic forks, spoons, and knives off to the side rather than tossing them in the trash. Then, just give them a good wash in sudsy water and return them to a kitchen drawer to use for your next party. Even better, skip the plastic and buy an extra set of silverware (you can find cheap utensils at the thrift store) to have on hand whenever you're serving a crowd.
Water is our planet's most precious resource, so show a little respect by reusing it whenever possible. After boiling eggs or steaming vegetables, leave the leftover water in the pot to cool. When the water reaches room temperature, pour it in plant containers or garden beds to keep plants hydrated while saving on your water bill.
You like the way dryer sheets leave your laundry fluffy, soft, and clean-smelling, but don't discard them when your permanent press cycle comes to a halt. Put those little slips to work around the house as dusting cloths. Use your spent dryer sheets to wipe down window blinds, baseboards, electronics, and sink hardware. The slightly abrasive texture grabs grime, and the chemically treated surface helps keep dust and residue from settling again.
Mesh Produce Bags
The same mesh produce bags that hold tangerines or onions from the grocery store can be used to clean pots and pans in your sink. Ball up an empty mesh bag and secure it with a rubber band. Squirt some dish soap on your homemade scrubber, then go to town on grease and built-up food residue.
Hotel Shower Caps
It's common practice for travelers to swipe the miniature toiletries provided in hotel bathrooms, but it's the disposable plastic shower cap that's the real prize. Instead of tossing it out or passing it up, put your shoes into the cap before you tuck them into your luggage. By wrapping your kicks, you'll protect your clothes and prevent dirt and dust from rubbing off on them.
Some nutritionists will argue that you should never peel an apple (the peel contains much of the fruit's beneficial fiber), but if you do choose to eat your apples bare, don't discard the skin. Those scraps of apple can be turned into a delicious and nutritious homemade apple cider vinegar. Combine peels, sugar, and water in a jar, cover with cheesecloth, and let nature turn your scraps into a probiotic superfood.
Snag a pair of stockings? There are a couple of good reasons not to throw them in the bin. You can cut one leg off a pair of pantyhose and use it to tie a delicate tomato plant to a stake to keep it growing straight. The stretchy fabric has enough give to hold the tomato plant gently without damaging the stalk. Alternatively, you can MacGyver your vacuum cleaner to suck up lost items from behind the couch by cutting off just the foot from a pair of pantyhose and using a rubber band to attach it to the end of the vacuum hose. Bits and pieces will stick to the nylon without being swallowed by the vacuum.
Care for your leather garments with conditioner, and you can extend their wearable life. But if, say, the elbows have worn thin and it's finally time to say goodbye to a well-loved leather jacket, you can give the material a new purpose. Cut it into pieces to assemble a wallet, fashion belt, purse, vest, or more. You're limited only by your imagination.
Related: 5 Things to Do with… Leather Belts
You may not want your house guests to see ratty old towels hanging in the bathroom, but that doesn't mean you have to relegate them to the trash heap. Instead of tossing old towels, cut them into strips and braid them into a funky bath mat, or cut them into small rounds and sew flannel backings on them to make reusable makeup remover pads.
A tennis ball won't last forever. Avid tennis players can wear out those bouncy items in about a month or so. What to do with them once they're kaput? Clean them up and pop them in the dryer with a load of sheets or towels to serve as a chemical-free fabric softener. The ball will beat against the fabric, helping it dry faster.
After they've served to garnish your drink, you can put lemon wedges and peels to work around the house. Rub a lemon half on a rusty metal surface, along with a sprinkle of coarse salt, to remove corrosion. Or, drop several lemon peels in a jar and cover with white vinegar and a lid to make your own grease-cutting cleanser for windows, countertops, and other surfaces.
Related: 12 Ways to Clean House with Citrus
Make an old candle jar burn brightly once more. Melt down wax chips (you can purchase these at craft stores or use your own candle scraps), and pour the liquid into the jar after placing a fresh wick in the center. Allow the candle to cool to room temperature, and it will be ready to light.
Related: 14 New Uses for Old Candles
Some home cooks love the taste of bacon so much that they'll eagerly reuse bacon fat in any recipe that calls for oil or butter. If you're unconvinced, start out small by coating a skillet with bacon grease and using it to fry an egg. Or, let the birds have at it: Coat a pine cone in bacon fat and sprinkle it with birdseed for a winter treat for your feathered friends.
A pair of tired flip-flops can be refreshed and refashioned if you're up for replacing the straps. If not, though, you can use these budget buys in a variety of household DIYs. Cut the sole into small pieces then place them under furniture legs to keep the chairs from scratching hardwood floors, use them to stop up a mouse hole in your home's siding, or shred them into fine pieces to use as packing material.
Reduce. Reuse. Recycle.
Most things that are disposable you can really use more than once.
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