15 'Disposable' Items That You Can Reuse

CC BY 2.0. Vegan Baking

Disposable items should generally be avoided, but here are ideas for extending their lifespan if you do end up with some.

Let's be clear: I am not a fan of disposable items and have tried to eliminate them from my home, but occasionally they appear, in which case I make them last as long as possible. Remember that manufacturers will say anything to make you buy more, so always question the single-use description and squeeze as much life out of them as possible.

Ziploc bags: These come in many shapes, forms, and brands. When a Ziploc enters my house, usually via my kids’ school, I hang on to it for months. It’s useful in the freezer, mostly, and gets a good soapy wash in between uses. The plastic milk bags that we get here in Canada are also fine for indefinite reuse.

Pickle & condiment jars: Any glass jars in which food is purchased can be reused. They’re good for storing dry goods in the pantry and refrigerating soup and stock. I keep little glass yogurt cups and mini pickled artichoke jars for spices.

Chopsticks: Take home your wooden chopsticks and give them a wash. They can be used to skewer food on the grill, prop up houseplants, label seedlings, stir paint or glue, and clean hard-to-reach corners (covered with a rag or used dryer sheet) or muddy shoes.


Simon Law/CC BY 2.0

Aluminum foil: Don’t throw it out! Give it a rinse or spread on the counter to scrub off any food bits and let dry.

Dryer sheets: Run them through the dryer a second time, then use them to dust your house, shine chrome faucets, or clean gunky corners with a chopstick (see above). Put one beneath the kitchen sink strainer to catch more food bits.

Paper towels: If you use a paper towel to dry something that’s just wet but clean, leave the towel out to dry. If you use it as a napkin to catch crumbs, shake it out and reuse.

Parchment paper: This is my little baking luxury that saves me having to grease pans on a regular basis. You can reuse parchment paper until it turns brown on the edges and crumbles to pieces. After cooling on the pan, just fold it up and tuck away in a drawer until your next baking project.

Elastic bands: You know those extra thick elastic bands that hold together heads of broccoli? Those have bee transformed into childproof locks in my home. Wherever two cupboard pulls are located near each other, I link them with an elastic band so my toddler cannot open the doors. You can use them to seal a leaky hose or to provide grip when opening a tight lid. Loop them around the ends of hangers to help slippery clothes stay on. Check out Melissa's list of 19 clever uses for rubber bands.

Butter wrappers: Foil wrappers have butter residue that can be used to grease pans (when parchment doesn’t cut it). Fold and stash them in the cupboard till you need them.

Plastic containers: Yogurt, cottage cheese, and sour cream containers can be kept for sprouting seeds in the springtime or for freezing liquids like stock. If you have a plastic water bottle, squeeze it to flatten, add some water, freeze, and use as a lightweight freezer pack.

containers of stock

SaraJane/CC BY 2.0

Junk mail & newspaper: Use it for notes and lists, or children’s crafts. Newspaper can be used to absorb grease if you’re frying vegetables or bacon, or to collect non-meat food scraps for the compost bin. Ball up black-and-white newspaper to polish shoes. Use it to start fires.

Swim diapers: It may sound crazy, but these diapers are built to keep out the water. Apparently you can wash them in the washing machine several times before they start coming apart. Be sure to air dry in between uses. (Don’t do this if your child has had a number two.)

Wine corks: When dry, these make great fire starters.

Plastic straws: Wash, dry, and reuse until they start to break. Use them to keep necklace chains from tangling: thread the chain through the straw and close the clasp. Insert flower stems to keep them upright in a vase of water.

Shower cap: You know those thin plastic shower caps you get at a hotel? Good Housekeeping recommends keeping two of them to cover the bottom of your shoes next time you're traveling.