Ask The Experts: What Can I Do with Old T-Shirts?

t-shirts on hangers
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Q: I’ve got too many t-shirts. What can I do other than throw them away?

A: Many of us have a shelf or drawer filled with t-shirts from events or gatherings that are meaningful. But what can you do when, over time, these items wear out, or there are just too many of them? Repurpose them! There are a lot of easy home crafts and interesting ways to reuse an old t-shirt and save it from going to a landfill.

New or Usable T-Shirts

Some t-shirts just aren’t the right size or fit, or don’t get worn as much as originally planned. If they’re new or like-new, they can be donated to a local thrift store or charity. If a t-shirt is the right look but not the right fit, consider cutting the sleeves or neck. T-shirts still in somewhat good condition can also be donated to companies that will repurpose them into a new product.

Old and Worn Out T-Shirts

Worn out t-shirts can be cut up into small pieces to be used as cleaning rags around the house. Or cut them into strips and knot or braid them, to create an entertaining dog toy — just make sure your dog doesn’t eat it.

Sentimental T-Shirts

Old t-shirts with sentimental value that still have some life in them make great pieces for a quilt. There are many patterns available online, or craftspeople who accept whole shirts and can do the project from start to finish.

Get Crafty

There are many easy at-home craft projects that are perfect for old t-shirts. These include making bracelets, headbands, plant hangers and so much more. This helpful list provides many options for t-shirt crafts.

Steel: The Most Recycled Material in the World

person recycling steel

Did you know that steel is the most recycled material in the world? In North America, we recycle around 80 million tons of steel each year. That’s more than the weight of all of the cars in the entire state of California. It’s also more than all the paper, plastic, aluminum and glass we recycle each year combined.

Why Recycle Steel?

Steel recycling is good for the environment because the more steel we recycle, the less mining for new metals we have to do. Every ton of steel we recycle saves 2,500 pounds of iron ore, 1,400 pounds of coal and 120 pounds of limestone. It also saves energy — recycling steel uses 74% less energy than creating steel from raw materials.

Why Is Steel So Recyclable?

Steel can be recycled over and over again to produce new steel. Why is it so easy to recycle? First, it’s magnetic, so it’s easy to separate from other metals. Second, unlike recycled paper or glass, which suffer from degradation when recycled, steel doesn’t lose any strength when it’s re-melted to make new steel, so it doesn’t lose any of its value.

What Is Steel Used For?

From cars and skyscrapers to soup cans and sardine tins, steel is used to make many of the objects we interact with every day.

Here’s a list of common steel items:
(Click to see how each item can be recycled)

Steel can be used in any of the applications above then be melted down and remanufactured into any of the other items on the list — or even the same item. Isn’t recycling neat?

How Do I Recycle Steel?

It depends on the item. Items such as food cans can be put in your curbside recycling. However, if your steel is scrap metal or large appliances or small appliances, check to see if a scrapyard will take it.

If you have scrap metal you’d like to sell to a scrapyard, start by determining the market price for the metal you have. (A few cans or small steel items are unlikely to be worth the trip.) Then, find a scrapyard by looking up your zip code in the iScrap app. When you bring in your steel, you can recycle other kinds of scrap metal at the same time, including aluminum, copper, brass and cast iron.

Reuse Broken Planters and Grow Beautiful Houseplants

plants

It’s easy to spend money on plants. From chic planters to the newest and cutest blooms, not to mention potting soil and fertilizer, it really starts to add up. But you don’t have to break the bank to grow beautiful houseplants. Just follow these tips to cut back on how much you’re spending. After all, reducing and reusing are two of the three R’s!

Fixing Broken Planters

Breaking planters is all too easy. From window ledges to curious cats to failed macramé knots, there are plenty of ways to send one tumbling. Unfortunately, whether they’re ceramic or terracotta, they’re not recyclable. But it doesn’t have to mean the trash. Here are some ways to repair or upcycle your damaged planters:

  • Planters with cracks, fine lines or fewer broken pieces can be sealed with an epoxy glue or cement adhesive. This will make them watertight, extend their life, and it can even give them a fun, modern look. Alternately, you can take the more glamorous Kintsugi approach by adding a gold or silver tint to your epoxy.
  • Consider repainting the planter, by hand or with spray paint, if you dislike the look after the epoxy has dried. This is also a great way to spruce up any planters whose colors have washed out or faded — they’ll look brand new.
  • Use broken planter pieces as stones in the bottom of other plant pots to help with drainage. This is especially useful in planters that don’t have a drainage hole, so the bottom layer of soil doesn’t get stuck sitting in extra water. Too much stagnant water can cause the soil to become moldy and give your plants root rot.
  • Repurpose your planter pieces. Turn them into plant labels for your garden, succulent terrariums or a mosaic.

Starting Plants From Cuttings

Many houseplants can be turned into new plants just by taking cuttings. This includes succulents, vines, snake plants and monsteras. Check out the video below to see the four main ways plants can be propagated. Then, double check the right way to propagate the plant you’re interested in and get started! Ask friends and family if they’ll give you any cuttings from their plants, or offer to trade with them. Pro tip: Add some liquid organic fertilizer once a week to get your cuttings growing even faster.

Starting Plants From Kitchen Scraps

Food scraps left over from fruits and veggies, including pineapple tops, avocado pits and lemon seeds, can be used to grow beautiful, unique plants for your home. Follow these instructions from A Piece of Rainbow to learn more.

Top Troublemakers: Plastic Bags

Plastic Bags

Plastic bags are recyclable, but only when disposed of through a store drop off program. Let’s breakdown why they can’t be recycled at a traditional recycling facility.

The reason lies in how things get recycled.

Everything in your bin first goes to a facility where items get sorted into like piles. Plastic bottles end up in their own pile, as does cardboard, glass, steel, aluminum, and other types of hard plastic containers. Plastic bags, however, do not end up in their own special pile but instead in the leftovers called “residuals”. The residuals go to the landfill and are essentially all of the material that were not supposed to be put in the recycle bin in the first place. Plastic bags are residual because they can’t be efficiently sorted with the machinery available at Materials Recovery Facilities.

Not only do plastic bags end up in the landfill, they reduce the efficiency of recycling at the MRF. Plastic bags, because of their lightweight and flimsy nature, can easily get tangled in the machinery. Think of what would happen, for example, if you tried to vacuum a plastic bag. Chances are it would get wrapped around the rotating brush of the vacuum and get clogged somewhere along the system. That is essentially what happens at the MRF, at which point workers have to shut down the entire operation and climb into the dangerous machinery to remove the bag.

So why are many plastic bags labeled “recyclable”? Because the material can be recycled with the right equipment. To recycle your plastic bags you must take them to a store drop off location. Plastic bags can be recycled into various low grade plastic items such as new plastic bags or composite lumber. Please note that this list is not always up to date and during the COVID-19 pandemic some locations are not taking bags.

Extend the Life of Your Wooden Cutting Boards and Kitchenware

Cutting Board

Cutting boards, butcher blocks, cheese boards, salad bowls, spoons, spatulas: There are a lot of kitchen items that are commonly made from wood. Properly caring for these items can make a big difference in how long they last. A wood cutting board, for example, might last only a year if it’s mistreated or neglected. But when well cared for, a cutting board can last over 10 years.

In order to give your wooden cutting boards and spatulas the proper care they need, you only need one thing: food-grade mineral oil.

By applying mineral oil to your wooden kitchen items somewhere between once a month and once a year (depending on how often they’re used), you’ll keep your boards and spatulas from drying out, splitting or warping. Just make sure the oil you use is food grade so that it won’t go rancid.

Here’s how to do it:

  1. Clean your wooden cutting board or utensil. You can use dish soap and water and rinse it off, or coarse salt and half a lemon (or some white vinegar) and wipe it clean. Lemon is especially great at eliminating any odors that might be lingering in the wood. Once clean, let the board dry.
  2. Apply the oil. Use your hand or a rag to apply the oil evenly across the wood’s surface. Let it soak in overnight.
  3. Wipe off the excess. Once the wood has absorbed what it can, use a rag to wipe away any remaining oil. The wood should not feel damp or sticky.

If your wooden board or utensil is brand new, repeat this process 3-5 times before putting it into regular rotation.

If you want to ramp up your kitchen tools TLC even more, you could try a wood butter, conditioner or cream instead of plain mineral oil — these use a little bit of wax to help lock the oil’s moisture inside the wood. Check out A Piece of Rainbow for an all natural DIY recipe as well as some store-bought recommendations. But if you just want to stick to the basics, you can’t go wrong with food-grade mineral oil.

Go Green in Every Room: Low Waste Kitchen

kitchen

There are many easy ways to reduce waste in the home, and one of the best places to start is somewhere most people spend a lot of their time: the kitchen. Taking simple actions such as choosing reusable bakeware over disposable plastics, or replacing single-use items with washables are a great way to start.

Be an Earth-Friendly Baker

Many recipes for baked treats call for a special type of pan and a special way to line the pan when baking. Silicone baking mats are non-stick, easy to use, and come in a variety of sizes useful for lining many types of pans. These mats replace the need for tin foil or parchment paper in baking, and also make a pan easier to wash when you’re all done. When choosing the right pan to bake in, look for something durable that can be used many times, and avoid single-use tins, which don’t hold up and create unnecessary waste.

How to Clean up the Mess

When you’re done cooking or baking, try cleaning up with washable towels and a homemade cleaning solution. Washable cloth towels are a great replacement for paper towels. Over time they work out to be less expensive than their paper counterpart and they eliminate a significant amount of waste. Many common household products such as white vinegar, essential oils, or baking soda can be mixed to create simple cleaning solutions that help you clean up without the chemicals. This article provides chemical-free DIY cleaning solution mixtures for a variety of different surface types in your home. Lastly, try placing your homemade cleaning solution in a glass or plastic spray bottle for easy use and storage.

Tips for Reducing Your Energy Bill While Staying Cool

powerlines

Staying cool in your home while keeping your energy bill manageable is an ever-present challenge in California. Luckily there are a variety of steps you can take to keep the air conditioning (AC) off… some that may even help save you money!

Behavior Change

With simple and more conscious behavior changes, you can keep the home cool without having to install any equipment or other technologies.

  • Prepare foods that don’t require heat (think salads, sandwiches and popsicles). Avoid cooking indoors by using a BBQ to keep the heat out of the kitchen.
  • Keeping shades drawn during the day and open windows in the early morning hours or at night to bring cooler air into your home.
  • Take a cold shower to cool down, or even do a few-second cold blast when getting out of a shower.
  • Close the vents in rooms that aren’t being used to redirect cold air to the most frequently used parts of your home.

Design Considerations

Big savings can be accomplished with these more involved home projects.

  • Energy Smart Landscaping: Planting leafy trees on the South and West sides of the home can block harsh solar rays.
  • Upgrading and Sealing Windows and Doors: Poorly sealed and/or insulated windows and doors can be some of the biggest culprits in letting cool air out of the house. Make sure all doors are shut and make upgrades to windows and door sealants as needed.
  • Install a Programmable Thermostat: This allows for temperature holds which can prevent the AC from unnecessarily running overtime.

The Green — and Tasty — Benefits of Local Produce

veggies

Food mileage – the distance food travels to reach your plate – has increased fourfold since the 1960s.

While there is no certification label or specific definition to buying “local,” you can identify where your food is coming from by checking the packaging or signage at the grocery store. Choosing local produce at the store or farmers market, has many benefits including:

Lower Greenhouse Gas Emissions

The closer food is grown to where it is sold, the lower its impact on air quality. Food is transported around the world by truck, cargo ship, airplane and rail, all of which release carbon dioxide. Buying from local farms means a reduced environmental impact from transportation.

Healthier Food

Eating fresh produce maximizes its nutritional value. A University of California study showed that vegetables can lose 15 to 55 percent of vitamin C within a week of being picked. Because food grown locally spends less time en route to its destination, it can be picked when it is ripe.

Strengthen the Local Economy

Now more than ever it is important to support local small businesses, including farms, within the City of Lincoln community. Buying local food helps support local businesses and keeps your dollars in the local economy.

Reduce Plastic Consumption But Keep Recycling It

plastic

Did you know that there is something you can do that’s even better than recycling plastic. You can avoid buying it in the first place! Here are a few reasons why avoiding plastic is the most eco-friendly choice.

Plastics Are Made from Non-Renewable Sources

Virgin plastics are made from petroleum and natural gas. Not only are both of these sources non-renewable but their extraction can also be hazardous for humans, animals and the environment.

Not All Plastic Can or Will Be Recycled

The EPA estimated that in 2017 only 3 million tons out of 35.4 million tons of plastic produced was recycled. That’s less than 9%. Why is this? Many reasons: some plastic used in durable goods that remain in use, some was used in materials — such as mixed material products — which cannot be recycled, some was improperly disposed of, and some was intentionally or unintentionally littered.

Plastic Can Be Recycled Only 2-3 Times

Unlike glass and metal which can be recycled indefinitely without significant degradation, plastic can be recycled only 2-3 times before it has to be downcycled into products like composite lumber. Even so, recycling plastic is very important because it greatly reduces the amount of virgin plastics that must be created to meet demand.

Given the problems with plastic, it’s easy to see that reducing our plastic use in the first place is the way to go. After all, the phrase is “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.” Recycling is last on the list because it’s the last resort. We are better environmental stewards when we put more effort into the first two Rs: Reduce and Reuse. Only when we can’t avoid a piece of plastic, or reuse it, is the best option to recycle it.

See a full list of the plastics — and what to do with them — in the City of Lincoln.

Plastic Free July: 3 Easy Ways to Avoid Plastic Every Day

plastic free picnic

July is one of the warmest months of the year, with people flocking to the beach and spending time playing outside. Going green this July doesn’t mean any of that has to change. Reducing plastic consumption within the flow of daily life doesn’t have to take much extra time or effort. Here are a few plastic-free tips for taking on summer in style.

Alternative Product Containers

Many sunscreens and lotions now come in plastic-free packaging. Look for sunscreen options that come in a tin as opposed to a plastic tube. Lotion can also be purchased in bulk and stored in a glass container or a reusable plastic one. Many moisturizers are also available in solid bar form and can be kept in a reusable storage tin.

Reusable Picnic Ware

Who doesn’t love a crisp cold salad or some BBQ on a hot summer’s day? In order to make your picnic or takeout meal plastic-free, bring along washable napkins and reusable silverware. If you are bringing food from home, consider using a reusable container and plates to keep your picnic zero waste.

Bring A Bottle

Over 50 billion bottles of water are consumed in America each year. Of those, 80% are not recycled and end up in a landfill. There are two simple solutions to help reverse this trend. First, use a reusable water bottle when you need water on the go. If you’re not in love with the taste of your tap water try using a water filter. Second, if you do grab a plastic water bottle in a pinch make sure to recycle it in your One Big Bin!

Want more plastic free ideas? Check out plasticfreejuly.org