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Waste Not, Want Not: How to Manage When Things Are Scarce

Updated: Apr 13, 2022

When you can't depend on buying new, there's a lot we can learn about recycling from the past!

As grocery stores look toward limiting their hours, and shelves become bare, the idea of not always having everything we need on demand is starting to become a reality.

Though the idea of not being able to purchase the things you need can be disconcerting, there are many ways to relieve the pressure of having to buy new when we recycle. During the Great Depression many of our parents or grand-parents simply had to make do with whatever they had. Similarly, during the Second World War, every spare bit of scrap, be it metal, fabric, or otherwise would be saved and used for the war effort. Scrap metal would then be used to manufacture weapons, ammunition, and even ships!

While you mightn't be saving scrap for victory, it can certainly help to go easy on some things that aren't guaranteed to be re-stocked quickly in the coming weeks. And, even when everything is back to normal, it's never a bad idea to reduce & re-use! So, here's a few things you can do to start recycling.

1) Keep your glass jars

Now glass jars may be something you already recycle by tossing them in the blue bin instead of the trash, however, many of them can be re-sealed and reused for other purposes. For example, they can be great for sauces, jams, soups, or even dry goods like pasta, rice, and popcorn!

Some people look down on previous generations for not being as pro-active as those of us who live in the 21st century when it comes to recycling. However, we should remember that at one time everything from milk to soda came in glass bottles, and once they were emptied, these bottles would be collected, washed, and re-used. People have been recycling for generations, just in different ways!

2) Cereal bags as wax paper

This is possibly one of my favourite recycling tips from the past, and something many still do today. The bags that line cereal boxes are coated in wax, and as a result, are perfect for re-using on baking sheets once the cereal is gone. All you need to do is wash & dry them, then cut them along the seams. Like so:

Alternatively, you can also re-use cereal bags as freezer bags, or for mixing salads, seasoning vegetables, etc.

As a side note, don't forget it's a good idea to wash & re-use ziploc bags as well as plastic containers (yoghurt, margarine, etc.)!

3) Pick up a needle & thread

Sewing is a bit of a lost art these days, but it's amazing the sort of magic you can work with just a needle and a bit of thread. When you start to realise how much sewing can accomplish, (and how much money it could save you back in the day) you can begin to understand why it was normal for many people to do their own tailoring, or in some cases, even sew their own clothes. At the very least, in days-gone-by, if a button came off, you re-attached it, and if you blew a hole in your trousers, you patched it at home.

Now, while you may not turn into a full-blown seamstress over the course of the COVID-19 crisis, there are a few things you can be thinking of when it comes to clothing. For example, I had an old pair of pants I had planned to donate, but when it came time to self-isolate, we weren't sure when we would have the chance to go in and drop them off. So, I started thinking about what else I could do with them. As it happened, I was actually in need of an apron for the kitchen and the barbecue, so, my wife and I decided to make one...out of my old trousers. Personally, I think it turned out pretty well:

Now, you may not have need of an apron at the minute, but next time you go to throw away your old clothes, think of what other purpose some of that fabric could serve. Maybe it's just good for rags, but maybe it could be cut up & used for a quilt. The options are endless once you start thinking. Of course, if the option is available to you, donating an old item of clothing is always an excellent way to give it a second life and reduce waste.

4) Tin cans as kitchen organisers (or plant pots!)

Now that you've stocked up on canned food, what do you do with those cans once they're empty? Our advice is to keep them! Once you've removed the top with a can opener, all you need to do to make them safe is simply flatten out any sharp outcrops with a pair of pliers. Then, just soak the cans in some hot soapy water to remove the labels. Once you've painted & decorated them, they're perfect for utensils, tea bags, pens/pencils. Alternatively, fill them with dirt and use them to grow household herbs like basil & oregano!

5) Food recycling

Now, while I'm sure we are all familiar with leftovers, there are some other great ways to make food last a little longer that perhaps you wouldn't normally have thought of. For example:

-Broth: The next time you are cooking vegetables, take your peelings and throw them in a pot of water. Add salt. Boil for around an hour, and then, strain the liquid into some of those glass bottles you've been keeping whilst hot. Screw the lid on and leave them out for about an hour, you should hear them seal. Now you've got vegetable broth!

-Breadcrumbs: If your bread has gone stale, don't throw it away! Dry bread is better for breadcrumbs anyways! Take a few slices and throw into your food processor and within seconds you've got breadcrumbs that can be frozen and used later for dressing (stuffing), breading, or crust.


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