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10 Recycling and Reuse Tips from Mother Earth News, 1970

6/17/2011 12:38:17 PM

Tags: Mother Earth News archives, recycling tips, recycling tips from 1970s, reuse tips, tips for reusing garbage, Robyn Griggs Lawrence

Robyn Griggs Lawrence thumbnailLately I’ve been mining the Mother Earth News archive disks 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.)

 pickle jar 

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.

coffee can 

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 on that was 5 feet high.)


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.

plastic dry clean 

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

9. Pliofilm covers and plastic bags have many uses. Those from 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.

The Mother archive CDs are my favorite reading material right now. If you’d like to do a little mining for wisdom yourself, check out this offer. Right now, you can order the complete set of Mother Earth News archive CDs and receive two free passes to the Mother Earth News Fair in Seven Springs, Pennsylvania, in September. See you there? 

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t brandt
6/20/2011 8:16:22 AM
Speaking of "mining for wisdom," the following site gives access to ag/rural periodicals from the 19th & early 20th century: Great insight into the past when self-sufficiency was mandatory.

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