Published 1:09 am, Friday, October 30, 2009
My mother used to eat Sau-Sea shrimp cocktail on occasional summer afternoons. It came packaged in elegant reusable glasses and was sold in two-packs in the refrigerator section of our local Lucky Market.
I thought that was so cool. There was something very elegant about the tiny crustaceans smothered in ketchup and horseradish, which she pulled out with an especially narrow fork.
But most compelling was the reusable glass. I don`t know what sort of cocktail is meant to be served in them, but I imagined layered parfaits of strawberries and whipped cream or chocolate with graham cracker garnishes later gracing the cups.
Some of my friends had Flintstones glasses that once held Welch`s grape jelly. And peanut butter came in tubs you could use again. I`ve been told that sour cream came in glasses for years printed with mod looking daisies and floral designs. Last week I purchased a container of cherry jam at Fresh Market. It was sold in a reusable glass perfectly sized for a glass of gin and tonic.
Reusing is perhaps the trickiest part of being "green." How many milk-carton bird feeders do we really need?
During the Great Depression, manufacturers got smart; they sold feed and flour in reusable printed feed sacks. People bought more than they needed in order to get several matching prints; it took three bags for a dress, two for an apron. Some were printed with doll or toy images, which could be sewn together. Patterns were specially designed to use the feed sacks efficiently. Households, during this time, were careful. When an item had lost its usefulness in one capacity, another was found for it.
It`s a hard habit to learn; though, it`s remarkably rewarding. I am making dog jackets out of an old winter coat that moths have gotten the better of. Last month, I took some old curtains from my son`s room and stuffed them with foam scraps to make cushions for the kids to sit on while arguing in front of the television. I have a little appliance that carbonates water so we can make our own seltzer or sodas. I like to store this in reusable lemonade bottles. I feel good about not bringing more soda bottles into the house.
I save mason jars from Classico tomato sauce and replace the lids to store beans and rice in the cupboards. I have every intention of making pickles in them one summer or "putting up" a great deal of tomatoes from the garden, but canned only two jars of tomatoes this year.
Admittedly, most objects in the house are recycled or discarded or passed onto someone who can use them when I am finished. And I try to fight my short attention span and intense but irrational desire for something new. I will not actually look better with a different sweater, but it`s hard not to believe that I will. It`s hard to overcome a psychology predisposed to believe that few problems can`t be solved by shopping.
I try to refill fancy soap containers with soap and shampoo I have purchased in bulk (to reduce packaging). I am clumsy. Although, I`ve gathered a nice collection of funnels for the purpose. We all try to share things our children have outgrown or we no longer use.
I would love to see manufacturers consider the principle of reusing in the design of their packaging. Why can`t laundry soap containers double as watering cans? Yogurt containers could become flowerpots if they were designed a little better. Coffee packaging could keep crackers fresh. Baby wipe boxes can store small toys or art supplies.
It wouldn`t take much to make the packaging a bit more appealing and to give it a second life. And, in truth, it wouldn`t take us much effort to look at our orange juice container a little differently and ask ourselves, "What else could this be?"
If you have any great ideas about ways to reuse household items, I would love to hear about them. And in the meantime, let`s consider what we have and what we bring into our homes and ways we can diminish our impact.