June 2017
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One Man’s Trash

There is an old saying that goes “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” More often than not, it is not just a saying on a farm. When I get called a packrat, I can say I come by it honestly. My father was raised on a farm where he learned to save everything. When I was a kid, he kept all kinds of junk in our garage. There were scraps of wood and a box full of miscellaneous screws and nails waiting for some imagination to give it form. I liked to build things, and I didn’t have to look very hard to find materials.

Today we live on a farm and I do the same thing my father did. Everything gets evaluated for its usefulness before going into the garbage can. Reducing waste follows one of the ethics of permaculture – care of the earth. When we throw things in the garbage, we think of it as being someone else’s problem. We need to think of it as our problem. When we keep useful items around, they don’t go into the landfill. Later when we find use for an item, we save money by not having to buy something else. Reusing items and reducing waste is a truly sustainable practice.

Here are some of the types of items I like to collect:

Wood: I save every scrap of wood I come across. Long boards are stored in the garage for future projects. Scraps of kiln-dried pine get cut up to be used as kindling for the wood burning stove. Scraps of pressure-treated wood are useful for weighting down cardboard or newspaper for sheet mulching. Pallets get broken up for kindling.

Metal: Anything made of metal gets stored in the shop. This goes for scrap metal or wire. If I can’t find a use for something or it’s too big, I take it to the local metal recycling place and get paid for it.

Cardboard: Cardboard gets broken down and stacked flat in my shop. Plastic tape and staples are removed. I use cardboard for sheet mulching and weed control. I used it to make my chicken brooder in the garage.

Newspaper: Newspaper is getting harder to come by in the electronic age. I save all I can find. I also bring it home from work when possible. I use it for sheet mulching, starting fires, under the car for oil changes, and covering things when painting.

Plastic:Small plastic containers from food products are useful for storing seeds or parts in the workshop. Cat litter buckets are useful for all kinds of dirty projects like carrying chicken manure to the swale.

Transformers: I mean the little AC transformers that come with electronic equipment. I save every one of these that I come across. If someone throws something away at work, I save the transformers. With a voltmeter, a soldering iron, and some electrical tape, I can usually come up with a replacement for one that fails or a device that came without the “optional” transformer.

Screws: Just like my father taught me, I save every screw, nut, bolt, and fastener that is left over from products and projects. They all go in a drawer in the workshop. That’s the first stop when I need parts for a miscellaneous project.

Here are some other examples of uses I’ve found for items I had saved:

• Old sheets get torn into strips and used for tying up tomatoes.
• I had some old real estate signs. I removed the plastic sign from the frame. The plastic was used to smother weeds. The wire frame was used for tomato supports.
• I used pieces of metal conduit and long shelf brackets for tomato stakes
• Closetmaid wire shelving. This is the white wire shelving they sell at the big box stores. I use a piece of this to cover my 5 sunflower seed sprouting buckets. It keeps squirrels and chipmunks out but allows the seeds to air out.
• Another use for Closetmaid shelving: I cut the center support from these with a pair of pliers which results in what looks like 2 giant combs. I pound those into the ground around my garden fence to form a 6” deep barrier to burrowing animals.
• I keep cat little buckets stacked in the shop. I use them to cover young sensitive plants for overnight frost protection.
• Scrap wire and coat hangers are used for training fruit tree branches.

These are just a few examples. Please share your ideas and stories about creative uses for old junk in the comments.

I like to visit local garage sales to look for treasure in other people’s trash. Recently I picked up several 5-gallon plastic planters for 50 cents each that normally go for about $10 at the big box stores. I’ve bought concrete blocks at garage sales and picked up scrap cardboard and newspaper for free. I tend to see hidden treasure in most junk. Call me a packrat if you want. My wife sometimes does. I have learned to store the items I save neatly and hide others where she doesn’t see them!

So next time you’re about to throw something away, don’t be so fast. Ask yourself if it might be useful before you toss it. You could save some money by reusing it, and help the environment at the same time.

Please share your thoughts and opinions in the Comments.
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