Learn to reuse, re-purpose and recycle at home

By Tom Phelan - ReminderNews
Featured Article - posted Thu., Mar. 1, 2012
- Contributed Photo

Recycling and reusing things has been a part of my way of life for more than a few decades. I often hear myself saying, "There's got to be a use for this. What can I do with this?" I think I inherited it from my father.

Dad had a half-dozen cigar boxes into which he sorted items of a similar nature: screws, washers, nuts, bolts, nails, etc. We had many occasions to rummage through the appropriate box or boxes to find enough items to meet our needs for most projects. It seemed as though we never ran to the hardware store to buy anything but nails. That penchant for saving and re-purposing things (now we call it recycling) has stayed with me, and grown with me.

I have a thing about taking apart old or unusable appliances, motors, or just about anything that has screws, nuts, wires and unique-looking parts. I take them apart, and store the components I think might come in handy. Sometimes I just throw the hardware into a big box of similar items, but other times I have the discipline to sort them into the tiny compartments of plastic cases I bought exactly for that purpose. These collections come through for me time and time again.

This activity can also be used at a teaching moment, not only about recycling, but also about how things work. Use the disassembly as a project to teach youngsters about how things go together. Explain the differences between the types of screws, such as the thread type (wood, sheet metal, machine screw), the metal used, the head configuration (slotted, Phillips, etc.). Carry the lesson through all the parts you remove and/or save.

A long time ago, someone told me about saving the Velcro strips from bunches of leaf lettuce. They are excellent for wrapping around extension cords and hoses to keep them tidy until you use them next. Eventually they wear out, but they are replaced every time you pick up that salad ingredient.

Save a few feet of your old garden hose. You can cut it into segments, slit them and use them to protect tender stems of sapling trees and bushes, as well as spring plantings in the vegetable garden. Certain animals and lawn trimmers will be foiled by their protection.
DIYers like you and me have been hoarding coffee cans for decades. They are a 'go-to' item for draining lawnmower oil and as impromptu paint cans and sturdy containers for screws and nails when their boxes give out. When they get a little rusty and worn, you can still put them into the recycle bin.

Woods scraps can be handy for any number of uses. I used to make them into small toys for kids, and for years we made Christmas tree ornaments for relatives on other branches of the family tree.

I once made a critical mistake when cutting stringers for a set of stairs. Unwilling to just throw the mistake into the fire, I cut the wood into the natural triangle shapes it formed, and used them for shelf supports in my shop.

When it comes to sorting through screws, nuts and bolts, that old aluminum baking pan is another reusable item. Even though you can put it in your recycling bin, it can become more useful in your shop for spilling out a can of saved goodies and picking through them until you find just what you need.

Years ago we made a long-distance move into our current home. The moving company crated several things, like big wall mirrors. Our new home had an unfinished basement, and I needed to set up shop. Rather than run to the lumber store for materials, I used the wood from the packing crates to make shelves for basement storage. They weren't especially attractive, but they have been in use ever since, and I have found no reason to take them down. When and if I do, I'll probably save the wood, and find another use for it.

Towels of every use can become quite handy. As time goes by, bath, hand and dish towels, as well as face cloths, become stained or perhaps a little ragged and unusable for domestic use. Anyone who works on his car or other machinery can attest to needing towels to sop up water or other fluids. I keep several stacks of different sized towels on the shelves in the shop and others in the basement laundry room. And I reach for them often. My wife has almost given up complaining about having those 'castoffs' hanging around. I think she has learned that if she wants an on-site handyman, she will have to put up with a certain amount of recycled and reusable clutter.

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