Don’t Throw That Away: Jeff Yeager’s Earth Day Tips

The old English catchphrase during Colonial times was “Waste not, want not.” During the Great Depression, the motto was “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.” And for today’s generation inspired by the growing green movement, the mantra now is “Reduce, reuse, recycle.”

In celebration of Earth Day, April 22nd, I’m encouraging people to take a few minutes to think extra hard about the second element of that last phrase, the “reuse” part.

According to the EPA, the average American generates about 4.5 pounds of trash every day. That means that during your lifetime, you’ll likely throw away about 600 times your body weight in solid waste (another good reason to lose some weight, I suppose).

The good news is that we’ve made great strides in recycling, with almost 90 percent of U.S. households now having curbside recycling programs available to them. The bad news is the amount of trash we each produce has been growing steadily in recent decades—now nearly double what it was in the 1960s—more than offsetting the advancement we’ve made during that period of improved recycling efforts.

The focus of my latest book, Don’t Throw That Away!, is entirely on what I call “creative repurposing” or “upcycling,” ways to reuse things we normally just throw in the garbage can or recycling bin. And I’m talking about reusing all sorts of things, everything from airsickness bags to zippers, according to the alphabetized index in the book.

By getting a little creative and reusing would-be throwaway items, you’ll not only help save the Earth’s resources and live lighter on the planet, but you can also save some money at the same time. Here are a few examples of creative repurposing:

  • Fruit and vegetable peels: Of course you can compost them (and I give readers all the rotten details about composting in the book), but the skins of many types of fruits and veggies have a multitude of other uses as well, including: banana peels can be used to shine shoes (I call it a “banana split shine”) as well as fertilize your prize rose bushes and protect them from insects; papaya peels contain vitamin A and papain, which makes them great for softening skin and soothing cracked heels, and peach skins work similar magic; scrub copper pots and pans with lemon peels or other citrus rinds and a little baking soda for a bright and shiny finish; you can even naturally darken greying hair using potato peels!
  • Old cell phones: Did you know that under FCC regulations, you can call 911 in case of an emergency using any cell phone, even phones with expired service contracts? So don’t throw away your old cells when you get a new ones, just keep them powered up and scattered around the house, car, office, everywhere in case of a true emergency.
  • Refashioning: Restyling old clothing into new apparel (aka “refashioning”) is becoming a hot new trend, to the point where some designers are now coming out with lines that are simply made to look like refashioned garments—I guess that would be faux repurposing? Many of the projects are simple, like making “tee-skirts” —fun little skirts made out of old T-shirts—requiring little in the way of sewing skills or equipment.
  • Cheapskate-soap-on-a-rope: Save those little slivers of soap from the shower, put them in the heel of an old pair of pantyhose, and keep it tied to the outside water spigot to wash up after working in the garden. The mesh lets you get every last bit of suds out of soap slivers.
  • Eggcellent reuses for eggshells: Crumble them up and sprinkle them around the garden to fertilize the soil and deter slugs, deer, and other pests; add some along with the coffee in the filter for a less bitter cup of java; or make adorable “egg shell candles,” a chance to repurpose both eggshells and leftover candle stubs.

And whatever you do, don’t throw away that dryer lint! Stuff it inside an empty toilet paper tube and use it to light a fire in the fireplace. Dryer lint is highly flammable, so it’ll really light your fire, so to speak.

Happy Earth Day 2012, and remember: “Reduce—Reuse, Reuse, Reuse, and Reuse Again—Then Recycle.”

Learn more about creative repurposing at

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Don't Throw That Away! by Jeff Yeager
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