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I give my plastic a second life. How you can reduce waste -- and guilt, too!

From article on 7/29/19.

A group of my colleagues, who embarked on a month-long challenge to see if they could cut down on the amount of plastic they use, faced some of their toughest obstacles in the supermarket. There is almost no escaping all plastic, especially in food packaging.

My part of the #NoPlasticChallenge contribution is different. I’m Mr. Reuse It, and you can be too.

Some of the plastic we get can be recycled, but not all of it. And that’s going to make you feel bad about throwing it in the trash and messing up our environment with more plastic waste.

But there’s some light at the end of this tunnel! There are ways to give some of these orphan plastic items another chance at life and in some cases, multiple uses.

Second chance bags

I live in a place that has a plastic bag ban, but I made the switch to reusable bags years before to reduce the blizzard of bags in my old postage-stamp sized apartment. The challenge is finding a second reuse for all the other plastic bags and wrap. And I have my mom to thank for the idea.

She never met a bag she didn’t want to reuse. Any bag from a store was repurposed, many as trash can liners and I’ve done the same. Why buy a box of plastic trash bags when the store gives you a free one?

Bags from supermarkets go right in the garbage can, to be reused as trash bags. There are limitations, of course, especially if you have a big family. But even then, those big bags Target, Kohl’s and Macy’s provide for mega purchases can replace tall kitchen trash can bags in a pinch.

I’ve also reused plastic that wraps 6 and 12-packs of toilet paper and and other multi-pack products to seal stinky trash in, especially for the daily scooping of cat litter.

Food storage bags

I cook and, like my mom, intentionally have leftovers for lunch or other meals. Typically, I’ll cook more than I need for one meal, which I usually put in a plastic slider bag and freeze. After a while, I wondered why I was only using those bags once?

My new habit is to turn food storage bags inside out and wash them with detergent, along with the dishes. I’ve gotten multiple uses out of a single bag. Don’t rule out using that old take-out container for leftovers, too.

There are limitations. The greasier a food is, the harder the bag is to clean. Those bags get two to three uses before they get tossed. Bags used for rice or other “low mess” food storage can be cleaned and reused for months.

Let your nose and sense of touch be your guide. If it feels greasy or has an odor after washing, it may be time to send it to bag heaven.

Repurpose if you can’t recycle

Throwing out those plastic coffee and bread crumb and other plastic container lids that aren’t accepted for recycling was bumming me out. So, I repurposed them as spoon rests when I’m cooking or reheating food. I own a proper ceramic spoon rest for the big culinary projects, but these do the job for smaller meal cooking.

There is always a spare lid or two in the drainer, clean and waiting. Use them until you decide they’re too nasty, or if you’re a little careless like me, until you partly melt one when it gets too close to a burner.

Battle bottled waste

Some types of plastic bottles -- from soda and water bottles to the ones prescriptions and over the counter meds come in -- are unavoidable. Like the lids, they’re not all recyclable. But you can reuse them.

If you have leftover hardware, corral it in an old prescription bottle or two, instead of having it rolling around in the bottom of your junk drawer. Separate the screws from the nuts and bolts, or fill them with nails, there’s no limit.

I avoid water bottles at home by using a water pitcher with a filter in it. But If I’m out of the house and buy a bottle of water, I don’t limit it to one use, especially if there is a water fountain available. My cousin from Manhattan got me into the refill habit. She was doing it years before refillable water containers became a thing.

Reusing the weird stuff

These are things such as the plastic tubs that fresh mushrooms and Brussels sprouts come in. What you’re left with is a flimsy plastic square or rectangle. But they can be reused as an organizer. What’s in mine? Several bottles of prescription drugs I take daily fit in an ex-mushroom tub. They also can corral spices, in place of a proper spice rack.

Old apartments and houses are notorious for having floors that aren’t level. Typically, you find out the first time you put an egg on a countertop and it rolls on the floor. Stick the next egg in a leftover cap from a plastic bottle or container. Soda caps also work to prevent the splat.

The end?

When the plastic trays split, the medicine bottles and lids crack or get dirty, you still might be able to avoid sending them to the dump. It takes a little research, but the Sierra Club has this guide to recycling the #3 to #6 plastics that are currently shunned by municipal collection. If not, at least you have some satisfaction that you gave these plastic orphans a second purpose before oblivion.


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