Around-the-House Hacks – IV

Did you realize that 99% of the meat packages you buy at your local grocery store come on Styrofoam trays with shrink-wrapped plastic? The Styrofoam tray is used to cushion the meat so that packages can be set upon each other without compromise to the appearance to the meat in each package. And, of course, we appreciate that and don’t give it much thought. And think about all of the take-out/to-go containers you get that are also made from Styrofoam!

Did you also know that Styrofoam is non-biodegradable? So that means that when you open the package to use the meat product and toss the tray in your trash, it is going to end up in a landfill where scientists believe it will remain in solid form for at least 500 years!! The very building block of expanded polystyrene foam (the name Styrofoam was trademarked by the Dow Company) plastic is petroleum, which is neither renewable nor sustainable.

So, why not find some creative ways to recycle/reuse this product? Sure, it’s most likely still going to end up in a landfill (people have burned it in campfires and the like, but it releases several toxic emissions when burned and shouldn’t be handled that way), but if we can get several uses from it before tossing it, we’re at least not creating additional landfill matter from using something else where Styrofoam can be reused.

The trays are easy to wash, usually fairly clean except for raw meat having touched it – nothing that hot, soapy water can’t erase. And there are so many ways in which the trays can be reused!

Having an outdoor picnic? We all know how flimsy paper plates can be, so why not offer your guests an appropriately-sized foam tray to use instead? They’ll surely appreciate the extra sturdiness while filling their plates. The larger trays also make good food platters for what you’re serving. Afterwards, if you don’t want to wash and reuse (and that’s the purpose of paper plates anyhow), you’ve gotten at least one extra use from them before they hit the landfill.

Have budding artists at home who like to paint? Foam trays make an excellent palette for dabs of the various paint colors they want to use, again, being much more sturdy.

Foam trays are also useful when you’re working on a project that requires separate colors of small beads. Using a hot glue gun on a metal stand? Put a piece of foam tray under the nozzle when the gun is in resting position and it will catch any small drops of melted glue from the nozzle between uses. Teaching a child to sew? Punch holes in a foam tray and fill a large-eyed blunt needle with yarn or multiple strands of embroidery floss and have them learn in an easier, more visual way! Draw and cut out patterns from your cookie cutters and let the kids decorate them for tree ornaments! And I’m sure many crafters could think of ways to use these items for their projects.

For the gardener, foam trays are great as disposable knee pads! Sure, they aren’t as cushiony as the pillowy-type knee pads you buy, but they do provide an extra layer of comfort and save your knees/pants from any mud or dirt. Use the trays to line the inside of your wooden garden walls, providing an extra layer of insulation for the garden.

Going on vacation and need an easy way to pack the jewelry you want to take with you? Use a piece of foam with holes for your pierced earrings and place the entire thing in a zippered plastic bag. They will stay secure in single pieces without becoming a tangled mess and you’ll be able to see right away each pair you have to choose from.

Foam trays are great for putting under planters that have drainage holes in the bottom. They will hold any excess water from watering the plant, as well as allowing that water to be pulled back in when the roots get dry.

If your feet get tired easily, grab clean foam trays and cut insoles for inside your shoes or boots. You’ll get an extra layer of cushioning for free!

Props for Halloween or party games can easily be cut from foam and then painted or decorated as needed.

And, when you’ve run out of ideas…. check out: to see if there is a recycling center near you.

Happy reuse/recycling!

The Age of Disposability

I intend to take my dysfunctional laptop (see my post called “Cha-Cha-Cha-Changes” for reference) to a place that recycles electronics. I am an avid recycler in any way I can be; our local library has a special dumpster for all things paper, and they make a few pennies per pound for what is deposited there. Our borough recycles glass, most plastics and aluminum cans. My bestie’s son works for a company that has a cardboard recycle bin, so he is kind enough to take my broken down boxes to work with him to recycle the cardboard.

And yet, the majority of our tangible products today have become disposable. Paper plates, paper towels, paper napkins, disposable hot and cold drinking cups and diapers are just a few items I can readily think of which are used once (and often for a limited time) then placed in the trash. And we think nothing of it!

Listen, I’m part of the group of people who uses – maybe sometimes abuses – disposable products. I certainly try to reuse what I can in addition to all of the items I recycle. But I do not want to go back to the days of hankies that were used, washed and ironed to be reused. Trust me, with my sinus and allergy issues, I believe I am successfully keeping the tissue brand I use in business! My old place here does not have a dishwasher, so yes, I am going to use a paper plate for meals like sandwiches.

I also do a bit of donating to our local thrift store when I have items in good condition that no longer serve me. I belong to a paperback swap site, and books that don’t get requested in a fair amount of time either go to the local library for their semi-annual book sale or also to the thrift shop to sell to someone else. I even have a dresser drawer with a few slightly stained tee-shirts and pants that I wear when I’m going to be doing some heavy cleaning, thus keeping my unstained clothes in good shape for regular wear.

I can remember the days that, when something broke, the man of the house would take it to his work bench and attempt to repair it. It could be the cord on a small appliance. Maybe it’s a table lamp that needs a new socket. The point is, that generation spent a few cents to fix an item rather than a few dollars to replace it.

Some time ago there was a big “stink” about the K-cup and how many of them were making their way to landfills. Guilty! What gets me is when people are making remarks about this while carrying a disposable coffee cup – with plastic, unrecyclable lid – from their favorite convenience store or coffee shop. (My mother would say, “That’s the pot calling the kettle black.”)

Now we’re all about plastic straws. A few places are going back to paper straws. They too are considered trash but will eventually break down in some future generation. And there is great ado about our oceans being full of trash. But… isn’t that because there are members of our society who are either too lazy to dispose of their trash appropriately – or maybe too self-centered. Whatever the reason, we are all facing the consequences of a few people’s thoughtless acts.

When I think about it, we do make a lot of trash. Not all of it is our fault, since stores usually package meat on a Styrofoam-type tray with plastic wrap. Cereal boxes may be recyclable (in some places, they are) but that plastic-type bag holding the cereal inside the box is not.

I obviously do not have a solution to this growing mountain of an issue. I don’t see myself being willing to give up most of the disposable items I use. And yes, I therefore shoulder some responsibility for the trash that is seemingly overtaking our world. Yet, on the other hand, I feel entitled to push others to recycle what they can and whenever they can. I’ve taken bags of aluminum cans from a business site that is not required to recycle home with me and put them in our recycling bins. I try to find a new use or a new home for items I no longer need for their original purpose. Because the library’s paper recycling center is close to me, I’m now picking up paper recyclables by the bag from my hairdresser, who previously wasn’t recycling them.

I’m doing what I can. And I’m asking you to do the same. It may require a little bit of time and attention, but knowing you’re doing your part to save Mother Earth is a worthy reward!