[In his ongoing but sporadic series Don't Throw That Away!, the Green Cheapskate shows you how to repurpose just about anything, saving money and the environment in the process. Send him your repurposing ideas and challenges, but whatever you do, Don't Throw That Away!]
Remember when you were a kid and the biggest fear you faced was the prospect of waking up on Christmas morning to find a lump of coal in your stocking, Santa's ultimate up-your-chimney gift for kiddies more naughty than nice?
Well, when I put away our outdoor grill a couple of weeks ago for the winter and stood pondering what to do with a partial bag of leftover charcoal, it got me thinking. After some research, I've concluded that a lump of coal -- or rather charcoal* -- may not be such a bad gift after all. Here are some creative repurposing ideas for last summer's leftover charcoal:
* 1. Rust-free tool and tackle boxes: Charcoal absorbs moisture, so stick a couple of lumps in your toolbox and fishing tackle box to keep your hammers and hooks from rusting. I also put a few pieces in a garbage bag and wrap the business ends of my gardening tools in it for a rust-free winter's nap.
* 2. Compost it: Charcoal can be added to the compost pile -- in moderation -- and will increase the carbon content of the resulting humus. Of course there are plenty of other unusual things you can compost as well.
* 3. Natural air freshener: Charcoal keeps air smelling fresh by absorbing moisture that can cause mold and mildew. Put a few pieces in an old pair of pantyhose and hang it in the basement or other damp room, or put some in drawers, closets, or even in the fridge instead of baking soda.
* 4. Moisture-free salt and sand: Replacing the bag of summertime charcoal in the garage with sacks of rock salt and sand to handle winter de-icing? Mix a couple of pieces of charcoal in with the salt and sand; it will absorb moisture and keep them from clumping.
* 5. Flatulence odor control: Okay, so it's not exactly a do-it-yourself project for leftover charcoal -- and in fact I'm not certain that it even works at all -- but Flat-D is definitely one of the most intriguing products I've unearthed in my tireless research on behalf of The Daily Green. (And I found it just in time to finish my Christmas shopping for everyone on my list.)
* 6. Shoe odor control: So maybe you're not ready to stick a briquette down you undershorts, but putting a piece of charcoal in an old sock and sticking it in your shoes before you put them away will help reduce odor. It also removes moisture, which will make your footwear last longer.
* 7. Keep cut flowers fresher: Just like the charcoal filter in a fish aquarium, a couple of pieces of charcoal in the bottom of a flower vase will keep the water clean and clear and make fresh cut flowers last longer.
* 8. Mark the spot: Use charcoal instead of chalk when marking measurements and construction plans on concrete and other surfaces -- not to mention making a hopscotch court for the kids in the driveway. Like chalk, it washes off in fairly short order.
* 9. Healthier orchids: Some plants, including orchids and bromeliads, thrive in soil enhanced with a small amount of charcoal. It increases drainage and alkalinity.
* 10. Don't forget Frosty: Of course, keep a couple pieces of charcoal handy for adding eyes and buttons to your snowmen this winter. Come that first snowfall, you'll be kicking yourself if you've already thrown away -- or repurposed -- all those dreaded lumps of coal.
[*IMPORTANT NOTE: Use chemical-free, natural "lump variety" charcoal for the purposes discussed in this article; contact with chemically enhanced charcoal, particularly some "quick-start" varieties, can be dangerous to plants and animals, including humans.]
Jeff Yeager is the author of The Cheapskate Next Door and The Ultimate Cheapskate's Road Map to True Riches. His website is www.UltimateCheapskate.com. Connect with Jeff Yeager on Twitter and Facebook.
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