[In his ongoing but sporadic series Don't Throw That Away!, the Green Cheapskate shows you how to repurpose just about anything, from dryer sheets to pantyhose, saving money and the environment in the process. Send him your repurposing ideas and challenges, but whatever you do, Don't Throw That Away!]
Ever since the mandatory conversion to digital TV -- the proverbial death knell to rabbit ear television antennas -- I've wondered if aluminum foil sales have plummeted.
If you grew up with rabbit ears, you know what I'm talking about. Who didn't fashion aluminum foil into a homemade antennae appendage in hope of enhancing the reception of their rabbit ears? I was never convinced that it worked, but at least it gave us something to do, since we couldn't see what was happening on the screen.
Even with the demise of rabbit ears, aluminum foil sales are still big business. Over 1.3 billion pounds of aluminum foil is produced every year in the U.S. -- that's a heck of a lot of leftovers. While aluminum foil is just as recyclable as aluminum cans, many curbside recycling programs won't accept it for sanitary reasons (check with your local recycling program for their foil policy). That's a shame, because recycling aluminum uses only about 5% of the energy that it takes to produce aluminum from raw materials.
Alas, until aluminum foil recycling becomes more commonplace, here are some ways to get the most mileage -- and most value for your money -- from your aluminum foil by using it more than once:
* Wash it and use it again (and again): I swear my mother is still reusing foil from the time of Christ for wrapping and rewrapping leftovers in the fridge. Just wash it in soap and water, flatten it out with a rolling pin on the kitchen counter, and it's good as new. (Caution: Foil that has come in contact with raw meat should not be reused for other food purposes.)
* Sharpen scissors and garden shears: Fold used foil so that it's six to eight layers thick, then cut thru it a few times with dull scissors to instantly sharpen them. To sharpen hefty garden and pruning shears, fold the foil so that it's even thicker.
* Reduce static cling: I don't understand how it works, but if you throw a crumpled piece of aluminum foil into the clothes dryer, it seems to magically reduce static electricity. A true miracle of cheapskate science.
* Shoe/boot forms: Wad up balls of old foil and stuff them into leather boots and shoes to help them keep their form when you're not wearing them.
* Paint and plaster texture: Use crumpled up foil to add interesting texture to painting and plastering projects. Also when you're painting, old foil is handy for masking doorknobs and other fixtures you don't want painted, and wrapping your paintbrushes and rollers in during a lunch break.
* Deter pets and other animals: For no apparent reason, our cat started using our fireplace instead of her liter box. We put a couple of sheets of used aluminum foil on the floor of the fireplace -- which cats, dogs, and other animals can't stand -- to break her of that bad habit. Hang strips of used foil on strings around the garden to deter birds, deer and other unwanted pests, too.
* Protect young plants: Make a collar out of used foil to fit loosely around the stems of young tomato plants and other plant starts in order to keep cutworms and other insects at bay.
* Make metals shine: Scrub rust off of steel and chrome with a wad of aluminum foil instead of using steel wool -- it works even better. You can also use aluminum foil and simple household products like baking soda and salt to clean silver and gold, with the proper know-how.
* Shim a table leg: Ball up some old foil for under the short leg of an uneven table to make it a level field once again.
* Scrub grills and baked-on messes: A wad of used foil makes a great scouring pad for cleaning the gunk off BBQ grills and stuck-on food from pots, pans, and inside ovens.
* Repair stripped threads: People often say that I have a screw loose. When I do have a nut, bolt or screw with stripped threads, I wrap a little aluminum foil around the bolt or screw and try gently tightening it again. A quick temporary fix.
* And remember your 10th wedding anniversary: Lucky break for your wallet! Believe it or not, 10th wedding anniversaries are traditionally celebrated by exchanging gifts made of aluminum. What could be more romantic than a piece of homemade aluminum foil art?
When I was working on this piece I read that some folks recommend putting sheets of used foil on snowy sidewalks to help melt the ice faster and make shoveling easier. Well, I tried that this weekend at home and had no such luck. So I'm not sure about that one.
Now, if I could just find some creative ways to repurpose my old rabbit ears...
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