When it No Longer Works, Use it for Something Else

Reader Contribution by Ed Essex
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We talk a lot about recycling. In most cases that means turning something in to be demolished and made into another product, but what about reusing a product for something else?

Living off-grid has helped make Laurie and me more aware of what we purchase and how we dispose of those items that have outlived their usefulness. There is no recycle program (to speak of) where we live due to a low population density and the distances that the recycle haulers have to go to service our community. It just isn’t cost-effective.

One of the ways we’ve learned to reduce our trash is to reuse an item or change the use of the item. If it no longer works for one thing, change the use to something else.

We had a TV satellite dish installed for our RV for six months while we were building our house. When we placed the order for the service to switch over to our new home, we expected the workers would just move the dish from the RV location to the house. Nope, no way. They insisted on a new dish for the house. It was their policy and nothing I could say would change it, so we ended up with an extra dish lying around doing nothing.

I took the dish apart, reassembled it in a horizontal position and turned it into a birdbath. Our tweety friends just love it. All you have to do is add water.

This spring I assembled a plastic birdbath for my mother. She had received it as a gift for Mother’s Day. When I screwed the top onto the pedestal it broke. Not my birdbath— solid steel and aluminum with powder coat paint. It should last for years. 

Our neighbors were going to haul an old stock tank to the dump. Laurie brought it home instead. I repaired it and used it to water our horses for a year and it broke again. Fixing it one more time was iffy so I hauled it up to the house and put dirt in it. Laurie planted garlic last year and we are expecting our first fresh garlic this season! It works great as a planter because it doesn’t hold water but rather leaks real slow. You couldn’t design a better planter.

Our last tip is something Laurie came up with last year— making tote bags out of old feedbags. We use them all the time for shopping, especially when our items are heavy. These bags are really strong and kind of waterproof. They shed water rather than absorb it. Now that we have our own bags, we are seeing others from people with the same idea. We’ve also sold some on a farmers-market website, so I guess reuse can actually help stimulate the economy.

Many of you have been doing this sort of thing for years. I know it isn’t a new concept, but it is for me. I nowthink before I actually dispose of an item. Not everything can be re-used, so if you have to throw it out, at least do so in a responsible manner.

For some reason, producing our own power and water and growing our own food just seems to make us think differently about things that we used to take for granted (or not think about at all). It’s one of the natural benefits of living on an off-grid homestead.

Ed and Laurie Essex live off-grid in the Okanogan Highlands of Washington State where they operate their websites Good Ideas For Life and Off Grid Works.

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