Reduce and Reuse STUFF

You’re spending way more time at home than usual because of the pandemic. Enclosed in your homey abode, you look around and suddenly wonder: Where did all this STUFF come from? Panic sets in: I need to get rid of it!

With the winter holidays upon us, now is a good time to consider reusing and reducing that STUFF. Taking old items that you might consider trashing or recycling, and finding new uses for them, is an excellent small action anyone can take to help sustain the environment for future generations.

Of course, the most effective way to reduce waste is to not create it in the first place. Reducing new purchases and reusing old items helps the planet all around. It prevents pollution linked to extracting more raw materials to make a product, saves energy, reduces greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, and reduces the amount of waste that’s transported to landfills and recycling centers. Plus, it saves you money!

The Academy’s armadillos love cuddling up together in used blankets donated by staff and the public. Credit: Karen Verderame

Jars from grocery store foods can be reused to store leftovers. Old clothing can be cut into cleaning rags or donated. Old maps (remember printed maps?) can be repurposed as gift wrap. Holiday wrapping paper can be flattened (even ironed) and reused as, well, next year’s holiday wrapping paper. If every American family wrapped just three presents in repurposed materials, it would save enough paper to stretch from New York to Los Angeles, according to 3M Company.

It’s never been easier to make a positive impact on the planet. Small actions by a lot of people can make a big impact for everybody. Here are some tips to get you started.

Some of the author’s collection of reused maps and gift wrap. The origami dinosaur and crane, repurposed childhood artwork, will stand in for bows this month. Credit: Carolyn Belardo

Donate STUFF you don’t want

Instead of discarding workable appliances, tools, furniture, books, clothes and building materials, try selling or donating them to a good cause. Churches, community centers, thrift stores, schools and nonprofit organizations — including Goodwill, Salvation Army, Restore, ARC, Catholic Charities, Big Brothers Big Sisters, Habitat for Humanity, Disabled Veterans — accept donations that they then distribute to those in need or sell to benefit those in need. Uhuru Furniture and Collectibles’ sales support the African People’s Education and Defense Fund. Each organization has rules for what they will accept, so check before dropping off.

You can also sell items on Facebook Marketplace or post in your local Buy Nothing group to help your neighbors access needed items for less.

Drexel University work study student Daouda Njie holds a container used for temporary storage in the Academy’s Invertebrate Paleontology Collection. Credit: Katy Estes-Smargiassi

Take care of your possessions

Maintain and repair your STUFF; it will last longer. Got a hole in a sock? Sew it instead of throwing the sock away. Every year Americans produce 14-16 million tons of unwanted textiles, but only 15% get reused or recycled. The rest ends up in landfills.

Car tires wearing out on one side? Rotate them. When tires can’t be repaired, recycle them; they can be ground up and used to make pothole filler, new surfaces for roads, and other products. Repair shops many times take used tires and recycle them, usually for a small fee.

Buy used

You can find everything from used clothes to used tools that are less expensive than new items and as good as new. Consignment shops, thrift stores, antique stores, used furniture stores and estate sales abound in the Philadelphia region. The Resource Exchange operates a shop, gallery and workshop space and redirects donated items to artists, builders, educators and the general public.

Major retailers — including Walmart, Nordstrom, Macy’s Eileen Fisher, Patagonia and REI — are selling slightly used clothing or plan to do so. There are dozens of secondhand apps and sites, with ThredUp, Poshmark and Tradesy the most established apps. Men’s clothing sites include Menswear Market and Grailed. There’s Ebay and social media platforms such as Facebook’s Marketplace and your local Buy Nothing group.

These beat-up end tables were refurbished with a modern look by the Academy’s Manager of Membership and Appeals Katie Marquardt. Go to this link to check them out.

Borrow, rent or share items

How often have you bought party decorations, extra chairs and tables for large gatherings, specialized tools, sports equipment or travel gear that you’ll rarely use? Perhaps instead you can borrow these things from family, friends or neighbors. Many towns have businesses where you can rent a variety of equipment instead of buying it.

15 Fast Tips to Reuse

  1. Switch to rechargeable batteries, many of which can be used up to 1,000 times.
  2. Use your grocery store bags as trash can liners.
  3. Instead of using Styrofoam peanuts to pack materials, use crumbled newspaper from your recycle pile.
  4. Save cardboard boxes from your Amazon delivery and reuse them for storage or to mail something.
  5. Reuse junk mail as scrap paper.
  6. Instead of using disposable silverware at work, reuse your own silverware and cup.
  7. Bring your own reusable cloth or paper bags when you go grocery shopping. 
  8. Turn your old T-shirts into cloth tote bags in which to carry your groceries.
  9. Reuse glass pasta sauce jars to store leftovers or pennies.
  10. Use old coffee cans to store nails, screws and screwdrivers.
  11. Turn plastic milk jugs into watering cans for the garden or for household plants.
  12. Reuse plastic takeout food containers to store leftovers or poke holes in the bottom, fill with dirt and grow a plant.
  13. Repurpose old toothbrushes as cleaning tools for hard-to-reach spots, like around the bathroom faucet.
  14. Eliminate or cut down on paper towels by using small absorbent wash rags and tea towels.
  15. Repaint or stain a wooden coffee table or other piece of furniture instead of throwing it away.
The Live Animal Center reuses paper towel tubes for animal enrichment. Plus, why dirty a plate when the guinea pigs prefer making a mess while eating their meal of hay. Credit: Karen Verderame

Visit our Small Actions Spark Big Changes webpage for more tips and to find out how the Academy staff is doing their part both at home and at the office.

By Carolyn Belardo

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