Reusing and Re-purposing Before It Was Green Throwback Thursday

by Robyn Wright on April 4, 2013

in Living

I saw a few things online today about general recycling, the kind we do today. It made me start thinking about how it was when I was a kid in the 70s ad 80s. Especially in my younger years it seemed that people did not recycle because they were trying to be green and save the planet, but it was more of a thrifty re-using of items and just practical. I thought this would be a great topic for Throwback Thursday this week.

jelly jar glass by my lush lifeHeck, brands even marketed items to be re-used. What sticks out in my head most is Welch’s who put their yummy grape jelly into jars that could be used as glasses when we ate all the jelly. Grandma had a bunch of these that my brother and I used to drink out of at her house.
Photo source: Flickr My Lush Life

Baby food jars always had another purpose, especially for crafts and storage. Do you remember your teacher or scout leader putting a call out for baby food jars? How about the handyman in your house using the jars to hold assortments of screws, nuts, bolts, and nails?

When I was a kid peanut butter jars were glass with a metal lid. In the summer we would use an ice pick to puncture holes in the lids and then run around (yes with a glass jar) and collect lightning bugs (fireflies) or other bugs in them.

Now I do not recall my family doing this, but I know people used empty plastic bowls, especially Cool Whip and margarine tubs, for their salad bowl sets.

Egg cartons were always saved too. They were great palettes to keep paint colors separated for the kids at school. Plus we made all sorts of caterpillars, eyeballs, and other creatures with them.
Photo source: Flickr Colemama

Do you remember making candle holder thingies from old Pringles cans with the cut out for a little display at the bottom? Sara vs Sarah has great pics and project instructions even!

Toilet paper tubes, paper towel tubes, and wrapping paper tubes were all much thicker and stronger when I was a kid. You could use them to keep ropes and extension cords neat and tidy. The kids used them as telescopes, wheels, and tunnels for cars.

coffee cans from roadsidepicturesCoffee cans were metal back then and served folks well long after the coffee was gone. I think everyone had a coffee can that you poured bacon fat into and stored in your fridge. Great storage for larger items in the garage than what the baby food jars would hold. Painted, kids would make things like flower pots to give to Mom on Mother’s Day. My dad kept a large empty coffee can on his bass boat so that when my mom and I had to go to the bathroom we could squat over it with a blanket for privacy and go – then he dumped it out into the lake and saved the can for future use. Ugh.
Photo source: Flickr Roadsidepictures

I think I could go on and on here. I loved doing the craft stuff – not necessarily the end result, but the process of crafting is fun. Just recently I have started thinking myself and asking Hubby if we have a use for certain glass jars and bottles or other containers before they go into the recycling bin. It isn’t the same though as when I was a kid and it just seems like everything was saved to serve another purpose. I am glad we are more aware of how recycling helps, but I wish the reusing and repurposing was more prevalent than recycling even.

The City Museum, St. Louis

If you happen to visit St. Louis be sure to see City Museum which is primarily created with re-purposed items!

What items to you remember reusing when you were younger and how did you use them?

© 2013, Robyn Wright. All rights reserved.

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1 bittripfan April 4, 2013 at 4:11 pm

love that idea!

2 Nancy Bowers April 4, 2013 at 4:31 pm

When I was younger? Still reuse and repurpose today! Always save bread twisties to reuse. Have margarine tubs and other plastic bowls for reuse (who needs rubbermaid?) But mostly I keep my food in glass containers anyway.
njb414 at gmail dot com

3 mom4everever April 4, 2013 at 4:40 pm

this is wonderful- we reused everything till there was no purpose and I still do today

4 mom4everever April 4, 2013 at 4:41 pm

I want to come to St Louis to see maybe see a cubs /cards game

5 lfhpueblo April 4, 2013 at 10:39 pm

Grease still goes into glass jars (like Salsa ones) to be throwed out. Wouldn’t dare put grease down a drain, too afraid of it getting clogged. If you go camping, keep dryer lint and put a few loads worth of lint into a used toliet paper tube. They make good fire starters. Just keep them in a big zip lock bag that you can use over and over to keep your tubes in. However the state I live in probably won’t let there be any camp fires or even the metal park grates to be started this year. We are too, too, too dry. I remember those margarine tubes by Parkay that were very heavy and pretty patterns that were made to serve salads in. I remember my mom purposely bought that brand so she could get enough blue ones for the whole family twice over. She put ice cream or pudding in them, or salads. I think the colors that were available were orange, yellow, blue. She literally had hers til she passed away, so they lasted well over 35 years. I think my sis just had them given to Goodwill when Mom passed away. Loved the Welch’s jelly jars that turned into kids juice glasses, wish they’d do that now a days. My mom would keep the glasses somewhere after we used the jelly up and then put them in our easter baskets as a gift or wrapped them up at Christmas as one of our gifts (frugal mom, very tight budget). Reader’s digest magazines kept for brownies to make Christmas tree craft with to give parents. Other magazines kept for brownies to put inside two layers of pretty plastic (like some pull shades used to be made out of) and then hole punch holes spaced around outside edges of both layers of plastic (which was about an inch larger all around then the magazine). Then lacing around through the holes to close up the magazine between the two layers. These were suppose to be camp ground seating, you put them on the ground and sat on them, so your behind wouldn’t get damp from the ground. Wax milk jugs, quart and half gallon kept by school teachers for craft class when candles were made for Christmas presents for the parents. Are they even allowed to have candle wax melting equipment in schools anymore? I mean we were doing this in the third and forth grades, and not for Brownies, but actual school class. Kept lids to mold clay around for another craft parent present thing we did in school. Old buttons were cut off clothes that were going to the rag basket. They were either re-used on another clothes item mom made, or we got to use them to do craft things with, like gluing them to headbands along with a bow. Old broken crayons, well mom had an old coffee can she’d melt them down in using the double boiler technique. She then poured the melted crayon into Dad’s sardine cans she’d cleaned out, and they became multi-colored crayon chubs to color with. I didn’t care to color with them though, I thought they were awkward. She didn’t waste bits and scraps of soap either. They’d be grated and the soap gratings put into a sock that would be loosely hand stitched (so it could be used again). Then she’d wash us up with that sock when we were really little kids. My mom actually washed and dried aluminion foil and folded it back up and saved it. She used a sheet of it several times before it was ever thrown away.

6 terrik April 4, 2013 at 11:38 pm

Yes, yes, yes! I was mostly raised by my grandparents and spent a lot of time with my great-grandmother. These were people who grew up in rural Indiana during and coming out of the depression. They learned to use everything as much as possible.

Mommaw used to use old bleach bottles with a cut in the side to hold wooden clothespins. I remember her using an old sink as a flower planter, the first versions of two liter bottles as bird feeders and terrariums. She used to get fabric swatches in the mail that I used to make Barbie pillows and doll quilts.

Granny kept those old plastic margarine tubs, and I know we used them in Bible School because I remember gluing two together with the bottom one upside down, then adding that zig-zag fabric trim onto the edges.

People learned how to make the most of what they had, because they didn’t have much, and when they did, they saved because they never forgot what it was like when their families barely had enough to eat and kids were lucky if they had two pair of shoes.

This is part of why I have issues with letting things go, I’m a “keep it because we might need it someday” person & am so happy to be able to use freecycle now so I have an alternative to throwing things out.

7 Kathy April 5, 2013 at 4:38 am

I do did the PB jars every summer and I am still recycling baby food jars

8 Robin April 5, 2013 at 5:37 am

I just remember using paper towel tubes for crafts (though I’m sure those didn’t last too long)!

9 Ravzie April 6, 2013 at 5:29 am

I can’t count how many things have been made from the butter tubs!

10 nanlara April 8, 2013 at 7:25 pm

we always used cool whip tubs for leftovers

11 Eileen Richter April 10, 2013 at 12:41 am

We used coffee cans in the garden, take the lids off to make a metal “tube’ and cover tomato plants or others to keep rabbits and other low critters to stop from chewing the bottom of the plant and to keep protected from wind. Then we slipped them off when the base was strong enough and strung them up with rope and hung them in the shed for next year. We didn’t buy a lot of “store bought” items as we farmed and got most of our food off the land, but we did use the plastic containers for cereal bowls. There were nine kids so buying dishware that would not break was silly when it was free! We did use a lot of items for crafts too. Not a lot of money for toys or crafty supplies. I remember the egg carton caterpillars and other things we made at school from all the students bringing in supplies. Baby food jars were kept for individual paint jars during art.

ejrichter60 at gmail dot com

12 slehan April 13, 2013 at 12:50 am

“I think everyone had a coffee can that you poured bacon fat into and stored in your fridge.” – I know we did that. I changed to a glass ramekin when I moved out because I never had that much bacon grease.

13 April Dwndrgn April 16, 2013 at 12:06 pm

Oh yes, we did all of the above when growing up [frugality was a way of life] and if I were on my own (the hubs and the father in law just toss everything) I’d probably have very little trash as I love reusing things. In fact, I get indulgent smiles at work because I’m always after everyone to reuse things instead of buying new. I actually have boxes of old binders and other office supplies that I hold on to and anyone who needs something comes to me first. My boss even checks with me before tossing things that I might be able to reuse. Even if I can’t right away, I’m sure something will come up so I always take them.

14 Lisa April 16, 2013 at 5:42 pm

Having a parent who grew up on the farm (where you saved and reused EVERyTHING) and one from the city struggling to make ends meet (again everything was reused for something else), I also grew up reusing. We had lots of “treasures” to use for crafts as well as fix something else, store something etc. It’s a balance between saving for later possibilities and recycling right away.

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