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Margaret Hartley's Greenpoint
by Margaret Hartley


A Daily Gazette community blog
Ideas on greener living

Reusing containers, over and over

When I found a note on my desk from a colleague, in an envelope with my name written on it, my first thought was not, “I wonder what this could be?”

It was, “What a waste of an envelope!”

Turns out it wasn’t really a waste because it wasn’t sealed. I can scratch out my name and use it to send a letter to my dear daughter when she returns to school in September. She is used to getting weird, reused packaging materials from her loving mother.

I reuse just about anything I can — jars, bags, wrapping paper, office paper — and a lot of reusable mailers come across my desk at work.

I get big padded envelopes with books in them, small padded envelopes with CDs, sturdy boxes with food items or promotional materials in them.

The food goes to the food pantry. Most of the books, CDs and promotional materials get their own reuse in our office’s annual silent auction, where we raise money for food pantries, shelters and other Schenectady organizations.

And I reuse whatever mailers I can. My son uses a lot of those sturdy boxes to hold CDs, bolts, little plastic army men, Legos and other necessary and important items. A colleague downstairs uses some to mail cookies to lucky loved ones.

My daughter ends up getting a lot of mailers, large and small, filled with things she left at home, things she might need or things her brother feels she should not live without.

I’m not sure she fully appreciates my ingenuity with boxes and padded envelopes. “You are a very interesting packer,” she told me after receiving a box, cut down and re-formed to the perfect size to hold tea, tights and the exercise roller she had requested. Give me a box knife and a roll of tape and I can remake anything.

I reuse those window envelopes I save after paying bills on the phone, although I have to tape paper over the window to address them.

I can give you this good piece of advice for reusing billing envelopes: Make sure you entirely blot out any bar code, or the envelope will be sent to the party that sent you that bill — no matter what address you write. I learned this the hard way when my insurance company returned the check I was trying to send to my daughter’s ballet school.

Of course, my friends call me quaint for using the mail at all, and my family members can not understand my washing and reusing plastic freezer bags. But why not? They are perfectly good and I’d prefer to cause the manufacture of as little new plastic as I can. At my house, containers of all types are used until they absolutely can’t be anymore.

Sometimes friends take advantage of my frugality by using me as their recycling center. I get bags full of their Chinese takeout containers, glass jars and lidded coffee cans, because they are convinced I can use them.

And a lot of it I do reuse, but even I have my limits.

Fortunately, my daughter is home right now and helping me sort through the overrun. “You have too many jars,” she tells me. “Recycle these. And how did you get so many Chinese takeout dishes?”

Those round, plastic, lidded takeout containers are handy for freezing meatballs and cookies. Big jars are good for storing nuts and dried beans. Any canning jar can be reused for canning until it cracks, and that might take a decade.

Still, I think I will let my daughter sort through my collections of useful containers before she returns to school. Our town will pick up the boxes and jars, there’s a paper-recycling bin behind the church for all my extra envelopes, and our friends in towns with single-source recycling can take all our plastic.

And by the time my daughter comes home for Thanksgiving, I’ll have a whole new collection.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

Have a question or a topic you’d like addressed on Greenpoint? Contact or @Hartley_Maggie on Twitter.

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