Living Green 365: Waste not, want not

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Living Green 365

How reuse can benefit your daily life

Reused items

You know the three Rs: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle. But how often do you really think about that middle word, “reuse”? Reuse seldom makes it into our everyday conversations. Perhaps it’s because the concept is so simple, or because our culture is obsessed with disposable products that are cleverly marketed for ease of use.

My grandmother had a saying, “Waste not, want not.” Having lived through the depression, she was no stranger to getting by with the bare minimum. As times changed and life became easier, she found her fastidious ways hard to shake. She was the type of person who would use a paper towel and, if it weren’t too soiled and relatively intact, rinse it out and hang it to dry and use it again. She saved chicken bones and vegetable scraps to make soup stock, used old jelly jars as glasses at the lake cabin, could make a pair of socks last a lifetime with a needle and thread, and taught me that with a little creativity and some art supplies, you could make beautiful and functional household items out of other folks’ junk. Although the term “reuse” wasn’t popular for the majority of her life, it turns out that my grandma was an expert at the concept.

How it works

The concept of reuse is as simple as it sounds: instead of throwing an item away, find another use for it. You can reuse an item as small as a button or as large as a building. In fact, many corporations are choosing deconstruction over demolition as a way to divert useable materials from going to the landfill. This also saves businesses money by lessening the need to buy new materials when building or remodeling a structure. On a smaller scale, shopping at thrift stores and finding creative uses for discarded items is making its way into popular culture. In fact, there are entire Pinterest boards dedicated to DIY craft projects using reused materials.

Minnesotans are pretty savvy when it comes to diverting useable items away from the landfill, and this creates much needed jobs. An MPCA study found that reuse, rental, and repair services in Minnesota directly employ about 46,000 people.  What’s more, these service-based businesses often include skilled mechanical or electrical repair jobs, making reuse good for your wallet AND the economy.

ReUSE Minnesota kitchen at the Eco Experience

Getting started

There are many local resources for those that want to be involved in the growing reuse movement. Nonprofit organizations such as ReUSE Minnesota, and the Twin Cities Free Market are raising awareness and providing forums for Minnesota residents to swap, trade and giveaway items for reuse instead of leaving them on the curb to end up in the landfill. Anoka County does a great job of explaining ways to incorporate reuse into your daily life, and Hennepin County offers a directory of local businesses that incorporate the reuse concept into their business practices.

This year, Minnesota residents can even learn about reuse at the Great Minnesota Get-Together! At the Eco Experience, ReUSE Minnesota will be showcasing a room furnished entirely of reused household goods, furniture, and building materials in a room designed by a professional interior designer. It will highlight just how smart reuse is - - environmentally, financially, and design-wise.  The space will include a variety of items that have been creatively repurposed, (think about making a shutter into a way to display photographs), items that have been slightly refinished or reupholstered, and items displayed as they were found in Minnesota’s great array of reuse, consignment, thrift, and architectural salvage businesses. Be sure to stop by and ask one of the knowledgeable volunteers questions about how to make reuse a part of your daily life.

The reuse concept is a great way to save money while being kind to the environment. So the next time you need something, or need something fixed, think like my Grandmother--be smart, be green, get creative, and head to your local vintage, consignment, rental or repair shop!

Additional resources:

Community events and resources

Be sure to stop by the state's larges environmental event, the Eco Experience at the Minnesota State Fair! You can learn about energy, water, air, waste, and food. There are lots of family activities, shows, and demonstrations, August 22-September 2, 9 a.m.-9 p.m. (St. Paul).

Bring a broken item to Hennepin County's next Fix-It Clinic, September 14, noon-4 p.m., University of Minnesota ReUse Warehouse (Minneapolis). 

Celebrate green living and clean energy at Re-Fest, September 14, 11 a.m.-4 p.m., Mower County Fair Grounds (Austin).

Find resources in energy, environmental health, water, transportation, waste reduction and gardening at the Bloomington Sustainability Fair, September 28, 8 a.m.-1 p.m., Bloomington Civic Plaza.

People interested in supporting and promoting biking will enjoy the 2013 PedalMN Bike Summit, September 30-October 1 (Brainerd).

Thank you for reading Living Green 365. This newsletter is a publication of the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency. Please send questions or comments about living green to the address below.


Angela Ollswang, guest author, and the Living Green Team