If the brilliant late-1980s TV show "MacGyver" has taught us anything, it's that you can repel a gang of thugs, break out of prison, and build a functioning spacecraft with little more than a paper clip, a C battery, some twist ties and an empty tube of toothpaste.
Yes, OK, fine, MacGyver was fiction, but you can conjure up all sorts of handy household fixes — no improvised bazookas, sadly — with everyday items that most of us thoughtlessly chuck in the garbage. Join us on a journey through the exciting world of Internet-fueled recycling/repurposing obsessions to identify the 10 things you should absolutely never throw away.
If you're cleaning out your home office and come across a box of these butterfly-winged beauties, do not even THINK of throwing them away. In the life hacker community, binder clips are the go-to tool for a clever solution to any household problem.
Binder clips are prized for their strength — if you ever had a fingertip, earlobe or tongue caught in one of these suckers, you know what we mean. They're also flat on one side, enabling them to stand up with some degree of stability.
- Minimalist wallet – pinch some folded cash and a credit card in the clip; even hang a house key from the silver handle.
- Picture "frames" – drive some nails into the wall, put binder clips on some favorite photos, then hang them from the nails.
- Toothpaste helper – keep your half-empty tube of toothpaste locked and loaded by rolling up and clipping the bottom.
- Cable corral – attach some clips to the edge of your desk to hold the ends of unused USB, power and audio cables.
When Reynolds sold its first rolls of aluminum foil back in 1947, the company advertised it as the foil for "1,001 kitchen miracles." Foil exhibits some unique properties of metal — moisture-proof, odor-proof, able to withstand extreme temperatures — and adds the uncanny ability to be molded into any imaginable shape. Foil is also washable, making it the material with 1,001 lives.
- Pot scrubber: Ball up some aluminum foil for an easy way to remove baked- on, caked-on grime from pots and pans. Also works on grease-caked grills.
- Silver polisher: Submerge tarnished silver in a glass pan of boiling water lined with aluminum foil; then add two teaspoons of salt. In minutes, a simple chemical reaction will dissolve the tarnish without damaging the silver.
- No-fuss funnel: Where's a funnel when you need it? Form a cone out of a double layer of foil and you're in business.
- Scissor sharpener: If your scissors get dull, simply cut through a sheet of aluminum foil.
In the world of high-tech gadgets, it's a short trip from "next best thing!" to a child's plaything. Computers, TVs and cell phones fall out of fashion so fast that some folks have collections of old gadgets collecting dust in the basement. If you're tempted to drag yesterday's technology to the curb, check out these numbers about the benefits of recycling electronics [source Environmental Protection Agency]:
Visit the EPA donation and recycling website to search for local retailers who accept old TVs, computers and cell phones. There are also charitable organizations like Cell Phones for Soldiers and Hope Phones that will take your old flip phone put it in the hands of someone who will really appreciate it. Another cool organization is Music and Memory, a group that gives old iPods and other MP3 players to dementia patients.
Next time you pop open a nice full-bodied merlot or celebrate with a crisp bottle of Champagne, hold on to that cork. With some patience -- or some serious drinking – you'll collect enough corks to make dozens of cool DIY projects.
A simple bulletin board or corkboard is the classic project. Glue a hundred or so corks in an eye-catching pattern on a backing board or within a colorful frame. For a cork bath mat, slice the corks in half lengthwise and hot glue the flat sides to a sheet of shelf paper [source: Ewing].
Even if you only have a handful of corks, you can get creative. Make a floatable keychain by twisting a loop screw into a favorite cork. Carve a cool pattern into the end of a cork to make handy stamps [source: Puhala]. Or take thin slices of cork and glue them inside cabinet doors to make them slam-proof [source: Stimpson].
Step inside a fancy restaurant kitchen and alongside the expensive chef's knives and $200 All-Clad pans are cheap plastic squeeze bottles. Chefs fill squeeze bottles with olive oil, custom sauces and spicy condiments to add a controlled dash of flavor or color to a dish. You can buy the same squeeze bottles for your home kitchen or save a couple of bucks and raid the recycling bin.
The next time you make pancakes, fill a big squeezable ketchup bottle with the batter and squirt out perfect portions without drips or spills. Fill old salad dressing bottles with your own vinaigrette or wash out the Sriracha bottle (really well) and fill it with homemade Magic Shell ice cream topping [source: Trover].
Recycled squeeze bottles are equally useful outside of the kitchen. Fill old honey bear bottles with paint for the kids' art table or dispense hand soap from a former mustard bottle. It'll keep your guests guessing!
Plastic Grocery Bags
Far out in the Pacific Ocean floats an island of garbage twice the size of Texas. Known as the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, it's an accidental accumulation of millions of tons of floating debris — much of it plastic — trapped in a convergence of oceanic currents.
The single-use plastic grocery bag has been targeted by environmental groups as a ubiquitous symbol of waste. Discarded plastic bags can travel hundreds of miles on the wind and float along rivers and oceans, if they don't lodge in trees first. Every year, an estimated 100,000 marine mammals and 1 million sea birds die from ingesting plastic waste [source: Surfrider]. Several states are currently considering "ban the bag" laws [source: NCSL].
Part of the trouble is that most municipal recycling programs don't accept plastic grocery bags. Most grocery stores will take back used bags, or you can give them a second or third life through a number of household uses.
- Make a comfy pillow for a pet by stuffing crumpled up plastic bags inside an old pillowcase.
- Protect a fragile package by stuffing the box with plastic bags.
- Use plastic bags as makeshift gloves when cleaning the bathroom.
- if you're really crafty, you can even make raincoats, yarn and reusable grocery totes out of loads of old bags.
There are millions of adults and children in developing countries without access to prescription eyeglasses and bifocal reading glasses. Uncorrected vision effectively renders them uneducated and unemployed, driving them even deeper into poverty. There are a number of charitable organizations that accept donations of used glasses, sort them by prescription, and ship them to people who cannot afford the luxury of good vision.
Lions Club International has been doing this good work for decades. Local branches of the Lions Club distribute eyeglass collection boxes to community buildings like libraries and schools. You can also mail eyeglasses to one of 18 Lions Eyeglass Recycling Centers worldwide.
New Eyes is another organization that distributes used eyewear to the needy. In addition to prescription eyeglasses and reading glasses in good condition, New Eyes accepts sunglasses, metal eyewear in any condition, and watches and jewelry that the organization sells to raise money.
A favorite T-shirt is like an old friend. I have T-shirts that I've worn for 15 years and others that I should have stopped wearing a decade ago. When the holes on your favorite T-shirt are big enough to accidentally stick your arm through, it's time to consign your old friend to the rag drawer.
Cotton T-shirts make the best all-purpose rags for dusting, wiping off counters, washing cars. OK, that's not exactly true — old cloth diapers are the absolute champion of rags, but harder to find.
If you're a super-crafty DIY fashion type, check out these 50 ways to repurpose an old T-shirt including bracelets, hair wraps, tote bags, and rag rugs.
Rubber bands are a junk drawer staple (right next to the actual staples, coincidentally) and should never, under any circumstance, be thrown out. If you have small children, then you are familiar with the Parent's Rule of Rubber Bands and Tape, which states: "In the event that you should throw out a rubber band or finish a roll of Scotch tape, your children will immediately and desperately need said rubber band or tape for their school project."
- Wrap a large rubber band around the top and bottom of an open paint can for a cleaner way to wipe off paint brushes.
- Wrap two rubber bands around the edges of a cutting board to stop it from slipping.
- Wrap a thick rubber band around hard-to-open jar lids.
- Triple-wrap a rubber band around the middle of a wooden spoon or spatula to stop it from sliding into the mixing bowl.
- Childproof two cabinet doors by wrapping a rubber band tightly around adjoining handles.
Toilet Paper Tubes
When American brothers Clarence and E. Irvin Scott invented the toilet paper roll in 1890, they created more than a convenient way to dispense an indispensable product; they ignited our collective obsession with the humble cardboard toilet paper tube [source: McRobbie]. For children, a handful of toilet paper tubes is fodder for hours of fun in the form binoculars, rockets, submarines — and that's without the addition of paper towel tubes.
- Stuff a bunch of plastic grocery bags inside a paper towel tube to make a handy dispenser.
- Organize hair bands and hair clips in the bathroom by wrapping them around a toilet paper tube.
- Keep extension cords from getting tangled by folding them neatly inside a paper towel tube.
- Keep holiday lights from tangling in storage by wrapping them around the outside of a paper towel roll and taping down the end.
- Safely store important documents like diplomas and birth certificates by rolling them up inside paper towel rolls.
For lots more tips for giving new life to old stuff, check out the related links on the next page.
Looking for some housework delegating guidance? Check out our article Housework Delegating 101: Put the Kids to Work now!
Author's Note: 10 Things You Should Never Throw Away
I'm a tosser. Not in the British slang sense, but because I tend to toss things away rather than dream up creative ways to reuse them. I'm also a middle-class American, which means I carry around considerable guilt over the towering pile of non-biodegradable trash I send to the landfill each year. I try to recycle as much as possible, but I admit that there are days — let's call them weekdays — in which I'd rather throw something away than go through the trouble of washing it and storing it away with the hope that it will one day be repurposed into a homemade child's toy or ironic cocktail coaster. This is why I don't hang out on Pinterest.
- 5 Reuses for Mint Tins
- 12 Reuses for Toothbrushes
- 15 Reuses for Envelopes
- 15 Reuses for Cheap Plastic Cups
- 5 Reuses for Oatmeal Canisters
- 8 Reuses for Cereal Boxes
- 5 Reuses for Socks
- Breyer, Melissa. "19 Clever Uses for Rubber Bands." Treehugger. Oct. 23, 2012 (July 19, 2014) http://www.treehugger.com/cleaning-organizing/19-clever-uses-for-rubber-bands.html
- Ewing, Monica. "Wine cork bath mat." Craft Nest. March 24, 2010 (July 19, 2014) http://www.craftynest.com/2010/03/wine-cork-bath-mat/
- Gordon, Whitson. "10 DIY Miracles You Can Accomplish with a $1 Binder Clip." Lifehacker. July 21, 2012 (July 19, 2014) http://lifehacker.com/5927857/top-10-diy-miracles-you-can-accomplish-with-a-1-binder-clip
- McRobbie, Linda Rodriguez. "Toilet Paper History: How America Convinced the World to Wipe." Nov. 7, 2009 (July 19, 2014) http://mentalfloss.com/article/23210/toilet-paper-history-how-america-convinced-world-wipe
- National Conference of State Legislatures. "State Plastic And Paper Bag Legislation: Fees, Taxes And Bans; Recycling And Reuse." Feb. 2014 (July 19, 2014) http://www.ncsl.org/research/environment-and-natural-resources/plastic-bag-legislation.aspx#bans
- Puhala, Kelly. "20 Quirky Ways to Use Wine Corks." Brit + Co. Oct. 3, 2013 (July 19, 2014) http://www.brit.co/wine-cork-roundup/
- Reader's Digest. "12 Extraordinary Uses for Rubber Bands" (July 19, 2014) http://www.rd.com/home/12-extraordinary-uses-for-rubber-bands/
- Reader's Digest. "18 Incredible Uses for Cardboard Tubes" (July 19, 2014) http://www.rd.com/home/18-incredible-uses-for-cardboard-tubes/
- Real Simple. "50 All-Time Favorite New Uses for Old Things" (July 19, 2014) http://www.realsimple.com/home-organizing/new-uses-for-old-things/favorite-new-uses-00000000019718/index.html
- Reynolds Kitchens. "Aluminum Foil" (July 19, 2014) http://www.reynoldskitchens.com/products/aluminum-foil/
- Stimpson, Jennifer. "10 Uses for Aluminum Foil." This Old House (July 19, 2014) http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/photos/0,,20225533_20509123,00.html
- Stimpson, Jennifer. "10 Uses for Wine Corks." This Old House (July 19, 2014) http://www.thisoldhouse.com/toh/article/0,,20176738,00.html
- Surfrider Foundation. "Rise Above Plastics" (July 19, 2014) http://www.surfrider.org/programs/entry/rise-above-plastics#program-resources
- Trover, Sara Rae. "Uses for the Ever Wonderful Plastic Squeeze Bottle." Apartment Therapy. Nov. 13, 2008 (July 19, 2014) http://www.apartmenttherapy.com/uses-for-wonderful-plastic-squ-69471
- U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. "Electronics Donation and Recycling" (July 19, 2014) http://www.epa.gov/epawaste/conserve/materials/ecycling/donate.htm