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RePurpose for Living

by Tamia Nelson

First, there was recycling. Then there was upcycling. And now? Well, who really knows? But, if you are a penny-pinching paddler who hates to throw anything away that might be useful, then Tamia has a few ideas for you.

February 14, 2017

Article by Tamia NelsonFirst, there was recycling. Then there was upcycling. And now? Well, who really knows? Reusing stuff that you pulled out of the trash to make something new and valuable suddenly seems very yesterday. And that's true, in a way. Though the word "upcycling" didn't make it onto the printed page until sometime in the 1990s—when it was immediately co-opted by the Mad Men—the underlying idea goes way back. People have been doing it for millennia. You know: Swords into plowshares. That sort of thing.

Of course, the swords-into-plowshares meme didn't really catch on. But upcycling got the attention of the editors of some trendy lifestyle mags for a while, beginning back in the noughties. And it got my attention, as well. It turns out I'd been doing it for years, without ever realizing just how cutting-edge I was. Who'd have guessed?

I expect I'll keep doing it, too, even if it's now lost some of its luster. A penny-pinching paddler can't afford not to, after all. What about you? Are you loath to throw things away that could be useful? Then here a few more ideas for…

Turning Your Trash Into Treasure

Do you like a glass of wine with your evening meal? Farwell and I do. But our cellar isn't much to look at. There are no cobweb-draped bottles in sight. Just a stack of cardboard boxes, each containing a robust plastic bladder filled with five liters of passable plonk. And once the bladders have been emptied, the whole shooting match is destined for the trash.

Or not. Consider what we'd be throwing away:

Cardboard Wine Boxes.  Those five-liter wine boxes are sturdy enough to survive being dropped off the back of a truck. So they can certainly hold a few magazines. And sure enough, once they're empty, they make excellent map and magazine files. Just remove the bladder and cut the box in half along diagonal lines scribed on the sides. You get two files from each box, and they're a lot cheaper than the ones from the stationery store. Wine boxes can also be used to keep empty bidons from rolling around (remove the panel through which the bladder's spigot protruded) or to make tray-like organizers to stop small items—camp utensils, knives, repair materials, and the like— from getting lost among the general clutter in cabinet drawers (remove a side panel of the box). A helpful hint: A box-cutter is your best friend for these operations, but don't let your fingers get in the way of the blade. Wine boxes are made of heavy corrugated cardboard. It's easy to lose control while making a cut. The consequences can be painful.

And what if your cellar also holds a few cases of vin not so ordinare, the stuff that comes in corked bottles, with a vintage printed on the label? Then—assuming you buy the good stuff by the case to save a few bucks—keep the boxes that the bottles came in. They can be stacked on shelves to make handy, colorful storage bins for everything from boots to 'bar bags. (Yes, I know: Handlebar bags are bicycle luggage, but I've found that a 'bar bag can be mighty useful in a canoe, combining the functions of map case, camera bag, and haversack.)

OK. Let's get back to that boxed wine. Have we exhausted its potential? Not yet. We can also use the…

Wine Bladders.  Some years ago, I wrote about making water bags from empty wine bladders, but there are many other ways to use them. Dick Patterson retasks them as float bags. (Go to the 14th edition of "Our Readers Write," then scroll down to "The Air is Free.") And on occasion I've also used one as an air pillow. (I prefer my down-filled travel pillow, but needs must.) Others use wine bladders to store and dispense cereal, rice, and similar staples. Just be sure to wash the bladder and let it dry thoroughly before filling it with food.

Now, about those wine bottles (again). They have…

Wine Corks.  More and more wine bottles are sealed with screw tops or synthetic corks, but if you find the real deal, you'll have a cork cork, and cork floats. The first PFDs were cork-filled vests, in fact. So drill a hole through the cork, thread a stout cord through the hole, and tie the cord off with a fisherman's knot. You've just made yourself a floating keychain. (Test it in the sink before you need it, and add more cork floats if necessary. Do not assume electronic keys are waterproof, however. They probably aren't.)

That's enough about wine boxes and bottles. Truth be told, Farwell and I drink far more tea than wine, and we prefer loose-leaf, bulk tea to bags. Which means we have quite a collection of…

Tea Tins.  These aren't the big, square tins with the circular "plug" lids of the past, a few of which we still have on our shelves. Today's tins are smaller, and the press-on lids fit over the tops rather than in them. But though the new tins aren't waterproof, they're great organizers, ideally suited to storing candle stubs, matches, lighters, batteries (be sure to tape the ends or place the batteries in plastic bags to prevent shorts), first-aid and repair supplies, fishing lures, and various condiments. Best of all, if you won't be opening a tin every day, you can make it truly waterproof by running a strip of duct tape around the press-fit lid's side seam. Warning: Don't take my word for this. Test your taped tins in the bath before relying on them to keep the water out.

Now, moving out of the wine cellar and kitchen, let's consider the virtues of…

Cat Litter.  The pails, that is. Not the litter itself. Upcycling used cat litter isn't a job I fancy. But if you buy litter in pails, the empties are useful. Wash them and let them dry, then retask them as storage containers. And if you're an amphibious trekker, follow the lead of many thrifty cyclotourists and turn a pair—or even two pair—into a set of rigid panniers for your bike.

You don't own a cat? Don't despair. I'll bet a quick search of the garage will turn up a couple of…

Five-Gallon Pails.  Most of ours came from restaurants and bakers who were happy to see the last of them. We scrubbed the pails clean, aired them, and then put them to work. Their uses are legion. We've strapped them to packframes—think of them as a 21st-century pack baskets—stored bulk food and kitchen gear in them, and even employed them as portable commodes, for the ultimate in leave-no-trace camping. Don't worry overmuch about comfort. Unless you take after the title character in the "Princess and the Pea," the lack of a proper toilet seat on these pails isn't the drawback you might think, though you needn't bring a book with you when the urge strikes. You'll likely find you aren't tempted to linger. Mind you, upcycled pails aren't perfect. The original lids don't fit very snugly, for one thing. But the pails can easily be made airtight and waterproof with Gamma Seals or carefully applied duct tape. A final caution: If you do use a bucket as a toilet, but sure it's clearly labeled.

Next, let's consider the virtues of…

Going Nuts.  No, I've not strayed onto the minefield of political commentary here. I'm talking peanuts. Farwell inherited his father's fondness for salted goobers, and we buy them in bulk. Once the big wide-mouth jars have been emptied and washed, they make first-rate containers for staple foods. They're waterproof, sturdy, and lightweight, and the clear plastic makes it easy to distinguish rice from rigatoni or lentils from linguini. And while peanut jars are no substitute for "proper" bear cans—please don't tell the ranger I told you they were!—they will discourage casual nibbling by smaller visitors looking to dine at your expense.

Bearly Safe

And while we're thinking smaller, what about…

Altoids Tins? These "curiously strong" peppermints—they have a walk-on part in The Guardians, a thought-provoking British serial drama from the 1970s, by the way—may be a tad overpriced, but the tins make up for it. I've turned a couple of them into minimalist medical and survival kits, and they can be used as fly boxes and mini repair kits, too. Altoids tins are also good molds for making …

Curiously Strong Tins

Bars of Soap From Scraps.  I've never liked discarding those last thin slivers of soap left in the dish, but they're not much use in the bath. So I melt them with a little water in a saucepan, pour this soap soup into an Altoids-tin mold, and allow it to cool. The resulting bar is the perfect size for camp use. Do this often enough, and you can really clean up.

OK. Upcycling trash may run counter to the mood of the moment, but it still makes sense for the penny-pinching paddler. And if I've left your favorite upcycling tips out, please tell me your secrets. I'll lose no time in passing them along.

Questions? Comments? Got something to add? Then e-mail Tamia.

Further Reading


Copyright © 2017 by Verloren Hoop. The moral rights of the author have been asserted.

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