10 Recycling Tips from Mother Earth News

Lately I’ve been mining the Mother Earth News archives for bits of relevant wisdom–which are abundant there. When the magazine got started, in 1970, I was in first grade and recycling was new and cool. (We loved those field trips to the shiny new recycling center.) In the fifth issue, September/October 1970, T.H. Hagemann offers some great recycling and reuse tips–many still relevant today. He describes these as “little ideas that anyone can start using right now to cut day to day living expenses and–over a year’s period–add a number of dollars (a penny saved is a penny earned) to the family kitty.

“Best of all,” Hagemann adds, “these ideas are ecologically sound because each one makes better, extra or extended use of an item from our insane ‘throw-away’ system.” (One has to wonder what Mr. Hagemann would have to say about that today.)

Cut it up and use the back side for notes and shopping lists.

1. Cut up Christmas and other greeting cards and keep the clear, smooth pieces in a holder in the kitchen to be used for shopping lists, notes to the milkman, etc. (OK, so all my “notes” to the milkman now happen online and most of the greeting cards I get are electronic. Hagemann also suggests doing this with junk mail, and I still get plenty of that.)

Use it again and again.

2. Wash and save glass containers from mayonnaise and other products for food storage and keeping fruit juice in the refrigerator. Tall mayonnaise jars will protect sugar, salt, flour and cereals better than their original paper or cardboard containers, and squatty jars are perfect for storing little leftovers in the refrigerator.

Save both the lid and the can for reuse. Photo by David Pursehouse/flickr

3. Use the plastic tops of coffee cans as coasters under glasses and also to keep furniture feet from digging into your rug.

4. Coffee cans with holes punched in their bottoms–and-perhaps decorated with aluminum foil–make adequate temporary flower pots.

Nearly everyone had an avocado plant in the kitchen window in the 1970s.

5. Use the seeds of foods you have eaten–apples, oranges, grapefruit, green pepper and avocado–to grow new plants. (Remember the iconic 70s avocado plant? Hagemann had one that was 5 feet high.)

Next: 5 more tips

Craft old strings into new materials. Photo by Medea Materials/flickr

6. Save all reusable wrapping paper and string. Heavy wrapping paper makes an excellent, dust-proof backing for framed pictures. “The distaff side of our family even crocheted herself a summer handbag from the vari-colored twine from the bakery and drug store,” Hagemann reported.

Re-stitch bed sheets to give them a second life. Photo by quinn.anya/flickr

7. Bed sheets, which usually wear out in the middle, can be cut down the center and the two outside edges, which get very little wear, can then be sewn together to make a new center. It takes a little time and work to hem the new outer edges (which were formerly in the middle), but it saves the price of a new sheet. Pillow slips can be made from the good sections of the worn sheet and finally, of course, they go into the rag bag.

Turn them into hand towels, then into rags.

8. Bath towels, which also wear most in the middle, can be cut in half to make hand towels. The good pieces are later made into face cloths and dish rags and, finally, they too can be used for cleaning and shoe polishing.

You can put that plastic to all sorts of good use.

9. Pliofilm covers and plastic bags have many uses. Those fromd the dry cleaner serve as continued protection for clothes and for storing blankets and sweaters. They also make good dust-covers for the ironing board, small suitcases and other items. We use them also in our linen closet and on book shelves. Spread the bottom end of the bag smoothly on the clean shelf, the bottom edge against the back wall, or sticking up an inch or so if you prefer. While most of the bag hangs down, stack your linens or books on the covered shelf, then bring the rest of the clear covering up in front of the stack, over the top, and tuck it down gently in back. The contents of the shelf are completely visible, yet protected from dust. It is a simple matter to lift off the top of the pliofilm when you want to remove a sheet or a book, and the covering can be kept clean with upward sweeps of a damp cloth or sponge.

10. Smaller pliofilm bags are good for covering fans, kitchen appliances, handbags, shoes or gloves. When we travel, almost every item in the suitcase is kept clean, safe from accidental spills and wrinkle-free in its individual plastic bag.


Dee Williams
Dee Williams3 years ago

I have an avocado seed sprouting in my kitchen right now. :)

Chris Ray
Chris R.5 years ago

Great tips, thanks!~

Margie Bonn
Past Member 5 years ago

Thanks -
I do already do a lot of your suggestions

Janine Hofmann
Janine H.5 years ago

Thank you very much for the interesting article

Cat N.
Cat N.5 years ago

I really like the suggestion on how to protect your books.

Millie B.
Past Member 5 years ago

My work recycles Christmas cards nationally (in the UK) so I don't have a problem with these. Junk mail, however, is the bane of my life! I really wish it would be made illegal - afterall, how many shopping lists can one person use!

I use spare yoghurt pots to germinate seeds in (never tried an avocado though).

Aparna Amrita
Aparna Amrita5 years ago

liked it.

Merelen Knitter
Merelen Knitter5 years ago

A local school used to collect the fronts of cards for projects. It was a fantastic idea, but they don't do it anymore.

Alec R.
Alec R.5 years ago

Simple tasks for a better planet. Bringing up ideas like these to your neighbors and friends can help make a difference.

Monique D.
Mon D.5 years ago

Thanks...more on the greeting/xmas cards. I take the ones we get every yr & cut them down to use as gift tags on next yrs xmas presents. That way i never buy "gift tags" and the cards are reused. I also reuse all my xmas wrapping paper the next yr, even if it means taping a few pieces together to get one big piece