Single-use items are so ingrained in our culture that nearly all of us — no matter how sustainability-minded we may be — throw things away without even thinking about it. These easily-disposable items might even be coming home with our groceries and household products.
These tips from Mainers will help you find small things that can be reused in many ways around your home, garden and beyond.
Bread bag ties and clips
The ties and clips that keep your bagged bread closed often get lost or wind up in the trash. You may want to keep better track of them, as they can come in handy in a pinch, especially in the garden.
“I have used the bread ties in the garden to [stake] things up, such as trellis peas that aren’t going the way I wanted,” said Darlene Nicole-Utz McSwine, a gardener based in Dover-Foxcroft.
The uses for these ties and clips don’t end in the garden, though.
“They are almost as useful as zip ties. [I use them for] holds on chicken wire, keeping bagged items closed, hanging pictures, keeping my headphones untangled in my purse, the cords behind my computer and TV labelled, hanging hair ties in the bathroom to free up counter space,” Holly Fillmore from Lewiston said. “My absolute-100-percent-all-the-time use is at the end of the tape roll.”
Toilet paper tubes
Now that the pandemic-fueled rush on toilet paper is mostly over, you can stop using your toilet paper tubes as back-up toilet paper and find uses for them around the house. Billie Jo Smith in East Orland said that dryer lint in a toilet paper tube can be an effective fire starter for camping. Toilet paper tubes can also be used as seed starters and to prevent cutworms from chopping down seedlings as they are transplanted into the garden.
The stretchy mesh bags that carry onions, potatoes or even avocados in bulk at the grocery store have a surprising number of uses around the house.
“The plastic mesh bags from onions [and] avocados make really good dish scrubbies,” Raina Cole from southern Maine said. “I don’t do anything extra, just cut off the extra packaging and ball the mesh into my hand and scrub.”
Mesh bags are also useful in the garden — for example, as trellises for heavy vining gourds or to help with drainage in potted plants.
“I save mine for my bulbs I dig up in the fall, and overwinter for planting the next spring; such as dahlias and [gladiolas],” Regina Fick from Garland said.
If you have chickens or any other backyard fowl, you are likely already saving your store bought egg cartons to hold your farm fresh eggs. Even if you don’t have birds, though, egg cartons can be reused in a number of ways. As with toilet paper tubes, for example, they can be turned into effective DIY fire starters for wood stoves.
“You take your dryer lint, cut out the egg seat and drizzle some candle wax on it,” Kellyjo Tibbetts from Lyman said. “Then your wood stove has a tinder starter. [It’s] super useful.
Once they are thoroughly washed, yogurt containers can be used again in planting.
“Plastic yogurt and sour cream containers are great for growing or sharing plants, as well as lining some planters for small ones, like succulents,” said Wendy Smith, a gardener based in Carmel.
Smith said that she washes them in the dishwasher on the top rack on a sanitizer cycle. You can also rinse them with hydrogen peroxide, give them a spritz of isopropyl alcohol or a quick dip in a diluted bleach solution like you would use to sanitize garden containers and allow them to dry fully before planting.
If your favorite coffee comes in cans instead of bags, save them both for home storage and to grow mushrooms and as planters for other kinds of plants.
“This is our first year using coffee cans for this purpose, but we found that the tomato plants we potted up into coffee cans absolutely thrived compared to the same kinds of tomatoes in other pots of any kind,” said Alison Murray Whittington, an artist and home gardener based in southern Maine.
Plastic container lids
Before you toss that plastic container of Parmesan cheese, check to see if they will fit on your Mason jars.
“I basically check all lids before I toss them,” Shari Maynes from East Sebago said. “My favorite is the grated Parmesan lids. I like to use the shaker with a dry rub that I make [and] it’s good for a sugar container, dry creamer, I also plan to put some [diatomaceous] earth in a jar to make it easier to sprinkle around the chicken pen … I’ll probably put chicken scratch in a jar too to see if it’s easier to shake it out that way, too.”