Hillbilly Recycling

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Over the past couple of decades, recycling has become the right thing to do. It is both fashionable and responsible to reduce our consumption and waste. In areas where there is less cash for consumer goods, recycling has always been a way of life. Raised in southeast Kentucky by parents born during the Great Depression, I know a thing or two about recycling. I've never gone as far as to keep an overstuffed sofa on the front porch or swim in a truck bed, but I never buy something new if I can use something I already have.

Years ago, a local group offered me a yard sign for a referendum vote that I would never support, but hey, free sign! Good quality, too, made of plastic and metal. So I painted over the political message and used electrical tape for my own message. It's visible and effective if not artistic. I've used it over and over.

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After a recent room remodel, I saved the good long planks and pieces of old paneling from the scrap heap before the workers hauled it off. Along with leftover siding and various other things I'd stashed over the years, I had enough material to build my kids a playhouse. The story of how I did it is in this post.

The containers that paint or roof tar comes in become buckets. A bucket without a handle becomes a bin. A leaky bucket becomes an irrigation aid or a sieve. A leaky bucket without a handle becomes a flower pot. A worn-out broom becomes a porch broom -not good enough for the floors anymore, but fine for the porch, sidewalk, or for reaching cobwebs and insect nests. When it's no longer good enough for even that, it becomes a garden stake.

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Not too long ago, the legs on my coffee table gave out. A relative had an extra coffee table in storage, but the laminated top was in bad shape. So I removed the top, took the legs off my table, and glued the two together. The process was documented in this post. I never buy new furniture. Vintage or antique furniture is much sturdier at the same price, and leaves less of an environmental footprint.
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Large coffee cans became a set of custom canisters that match the kitchen color. A canning jar is great for canning, but when the food is gone, it's a container for leftovers or a drinking glass. Large jars are good for storing beans, rice, popcorn, or anything else that's clumsy in its original bag. Jars keep insects out, too. There's the joke about the matching set of bowls that say "Cool Whip" on them... believe me, I don't do that, since I have heirloom china (which is also recycling, ya know), but I do keep plastic food containers instead of buying Tupperware. Pint size cottage cheese cups are great for food storage in the refrigerator or freezer. I use others as scoops for cat litter, cat food, and liquid fertilizer (great for measuring the amount). In the spring, I cut the old ones apart. The top part becomes a collar for tomato plants to discourage bugs and act as a funnel for water. The bottom part becomes a seed tray.

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Most years, I set out 60-80 tomato plants and almost as many pepper plants. Tomato vines need trellises. I make mine from just about anything long and strong -tree limbs, tool handles, leftover trim, pipes, or slats. The horizontal bars are three pieces of 15-foot rebar and some L-shaped bracing leftover from some house construction. Shorter sticks are used for pepper stakes. I don't have time to hoe weeds all summer, so I use plastic sheeting that was leftover from my in-laws basement lining project for garden mulch. It's much stronger than the plastic mulch sold for garden use, enabling me to use the same sheets year after year. It doesn't last forever. I have to go back to the old newspaper mulch method for part of the garden now. The early garden isn't great to look at (flowers can be a distraction), but it will grow on you. Literally.

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I don't buy newspapers, but I put them to good use after someone else does. First, I read them. Some are kept for the fireplace, since wadded newsprint is good for tinder and rolled up whole editions can be used for kindling. Newspapers are also used for garden mulch. You lay down entire sections at a time and cover them with pine needles (because it looks better and it keeps them from blowing away). I don't use the colored sections for the garden because of the toxic dyes, but those are good for the bottoms of our birdcages. At the end of the garden season, I rake up what's left and throw it in the compost pile. It's pretty well shredded by then.

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The compost pile is the ultimate in recycling. Almost anything organic goes into it. In this picture, you see one bin is overflowing with grass clippings because it's May. I was emptying out finished compost from the other bin to use in the garden. Grass clippings are the biggest component in the compost, but I also add autumn leaves, trimmings, peelings and food scraps (lots of coffee grounds), rotted wood, and fireplace ashes. Since I have room for two big bins and only remove compost once a year, I don't turn it often. The addition of compost has changed my garden from almost pure clay to fine topsoil over a few years. You may have noticed the compost bin itself was made from scrap lumber. It's in an area of my property not easily seen.

These examples barely scratch the surface of my recycling habits. Call it redneck engineering or southern ingenuity (there are worse terms), but habits like these save money, or allow me to do things I otherwise couldn't afford. And it reduces waste, which is the right and fashionable thing to do.

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May 27, 2008 - 2:08am
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