32 Grenville Street M4Y 1A3



Christopher Greaves

How to Find a Second Use

The question on everyone’s lips, once they understand that it is possible to divert resources from the kerb, at least temporarily, and that a second use can be found for everything – but how?

We are so accustomed to thinking on these lines – “I have no use for it, so banish it from my sight” – that we find it hard to think in an alternative way.

If you would be willing to try to think in an alternate way, take these two steps:

Step 1: Move each garbage pail or basket to a different place.

If your kitchen scraps pail is under the kitchen sink, move it one door to the right or left. If your office waste-paper basket is to the left of your desk, move it to the right. If the bathroom garbage is adjacent to the toilet bowl, move it next to the vanity, and so on. Make one small change in your habits. It will be enough to trigger a new thought process next time you are about to send something along the route to the kerb.

Step 2: Before tossing something into a garbage pail or bucket, look at it, and ask yourself “What is a possible second use for this?”.

In response to that question one of two things will occur to you:

2a) Here’s a second use for it. Magic! Why didn’t I think of that before? (You might need to check out our current who-would’ve-thought-it list below to help you get started)

2b) There is no possible use whatever. Good. Now that I have your attention, let me tell you how I manage, ALWAYS, to find a Second Use For Everything. Here I am, holding an object that has, as far as I can see, no apparent use for me or anyone I know. There’s the catch: “as far as I can see”; I just haven’t looked very far.

I have a trick.

I place the object fair and square where I don’t want to see it – perhaps the middle of the living-room rug, or on the kitchen counter, or perhaps my bedside table. Some days I carry a small object around in my pocket. It annoys me intensely.

After about 24 hours of this, a second use springs to mind.

How did that work?

I’m no psychologist, although you are free to consult one. I suspect that my subconscious mind goes to work on the problem. The object is annoying me by its presence (on the rug, on the counter, in my pocket), and while my conscious mind has to set about mundane tasks (catching the bus, getting to work, completing the project), my subconscious nags away at solving the problem for the conscious mind.

Make no mistake; I don’t know that that is how it really works, but I do know that it really works, and has done so for me for years.

It’s how I built up the who-would’ve-thought-it list, which you see below.

Give it a try.

It just might work for you too. And when it does, you’ll be most pleasantly surprised.

You might even put the trick to use in your professional life, thereby reminding yourself that everything has a second use – even a weird little trick like mine!


Here you will find a sample list of second Uses I have found for everyday objects; some of the uses are described in greater detail elsewhere. Too you will find the idea that helps me find A Second Use For Anything!

If you find A Second Use For Something that I’ve not listed, please send me an eMail and I’ll be happy to add it to the list.

If you like the idea of this site and would like to build a similar one for your region, please ask me for a copy ; I’ll be glad to send you the source and html code. After all, A Second Use For Everything ought to include web sites too!



200 ML Bottles Of Face Wash - Container

Rinse these well and use them as candle molds

200 ML Bottles Of Face Wash - Syringe

This is the nozzle/cap/tube which acts as a pump. Makes an ideal bathtub water-pistol for children, because it functions ONLY when the bottom of the tube is in the bath tub, that is, it cannot be used outside the bath. It has, however, an almost unlimited supply of ammunition. Paint or stick targets on the inside wall of the bath enclosure

25-litre pails

These held gherkins, tomato paste, or body-shop acetone. They make tower-vermicomposters. If you'd like InStructions on odor-free insect-free composting for cold-climate apartment dwellers, please contact me.

400 ml Ketchup & Sauce bottles

These hold HP-sauce and similar condiments; they are made of soft plastic (see "caps"). Remove the cap, fill bottle with tap water, and jab the upturned bottle into a houseplant container. The water will slowly percolate into the soil.

Air Conditioner Filters

Pot-plant bedding; splash-guard behind the taps of the kitchen sink.

Aluminium Food Bins

Shepherd’s Pie & Meat Loaf, you know the types. Punch a few MORE small holes in the base, and use as a re-usable filter for all sorts of grey water. The regular rectangular shape might help you to lodge the tray within a plastic holder, for easy removal.

Aluminium Food Trays

Right. One of my two aluminium-foil trays has sprung a leak, and the sauce from a rather large shepherd's pie is coating the floor of the oven with syrup. We'll get to "cleaning your own oven" next week. In the meantime I seem to have lucked into a soil sterilizing tray for free. The pinhole won't matter to me when I pop a few trowels-full of composted soil into the tray to bake it to kill off weed seeds (a.k.a. pumpkin seeds and the like, that the worms didn't eat). Question is: 1) how high a temperature and 2) how long.

Anti-Static Pads

Bounce™ is an example. Use them as soft abrasive wipes. Great for loosening small grease spots from the top of the stove, or for wiping non-stick pans.

Anti-Static Pads

Bounce™ is an example. Use these, once washed, as filters in the base of the "bit tub" in your kitchen sink.

Anti-Static Pads

Bounce™ is an example. Use these, once washed, as filters in the base of your small house-plant post; you can add dry soil and not have it drop through the drainage holes.

Appliance cables.

The toaster is toast, but snip off the electric wire. Useless for an appliance (and possibly unsafe) but ideal for tying bundles of scrap timber or branches for the garbage collection. If it’s headed for the landfill, it may as well do useful work on the way. Or use it for staking young trees.

Bacon Bags

These are the stout plastic bags which enclose the cardboard sheath of rashers of bacon (500g). Open them; clean them and use as for plastic milk bags

Best Use By

I think that throwing food out after the expiry date is an over-caution. Make no mistake, I go by "If in doubt, throw it out", but a sealed packet of food that's been stored in the freezer or fridge, and is now one day beyond its "best use" date isn't going to change from "edible" to "deadly" on the stroke of midnight. It is an increased risk, and unless you know how to measure the risk, how can you tell? Most meats are good if they smell OK and are cooked at a high-enough temperature for long enough; great stews, curries & soups. And those cheese slices that are 2 years old? Put them on a tree stump for the wild critters to enjoy.


Into the vermicomposter with them!

Boot Polish

See: Shoe Polish

Bread bags

Plastic bags that hold sliced bread.

(1) I buy bread from the bakery, and slip a bread-bag end-over each bagged loaf, thereby double-bagging the loaf to reduce moisture loss in the freezer.

(2) I use resident heat from the oven to dry stale bread. When cool, I pop the dried bread in a bread-bag, and roll it into crumbs with a rolling-pin.

Bread-bag tags

Those funky little plastic tags that hold the bag of sliced bread closed. You save them without knowing why. Here’s why:

If you inspect your current collection, you’ll find most tags are stamped with a date such as “DE 14” or “MA 23”, the expiry date for the bread (or milk etc).

If you want to know just how fast your philodendron is growing, or want a lazy way to date-stamp your bags of vermicastings, locate an appropriate tag and clip it to a leaf near the tip of the plant, or clip it to the bag of castings.

Bright Yellow Plastic

Smear with Vaseline to make a fly-trap

Broken Hockey Sticks

I LOVE this one: at Gayle’s Greenhouses garden centre in Mississauga (9058786114 gayles@globalserve.net) I sit on a chair, and realize that it is thematic, made out of hockey sticks. Norm Sibbick is retired and has taken up carpentry for a hobby. He still visits arenas to watch the game, but now collects the broken sticks and takes them home. Trims them and then builds the frame and screws on the slats. He’s diverting stuff from land fill and making a few bucks on the side as well. Good for him! Norm Sibbick in Oakville, Ontario, Canada 9058271516.

Business Card Borders

You’ve printed a set of business cards, and trimmed off the quarter-inch wide border. Into the vermicomposter, Right? Wrong!

Hang on to those cute little strips. They make dandy replacement tabs for the plastic clips on your hanging folders!

Butter Cups

Those one-inch diameter plastic tubs in which butter arrives, commonly at family restaurants. Rinse them clean and drop a few citrus or apple pips in each, carefully add some drops of water. Keep soaked until the pips begin to germinate, then add a teaspoon of soil for root growth. Transplant when ready.

Candle Wax

Candle wax can be melted, clarified and reused, if not by us, then by a hobbyist.

Caps of 400 ml Ketchup & Sauce bottles

These have an annoying habit of breaking off at the narrow hinge. One will sit in your kitchen sink drain hole and make a better filter than the standard metal plug.

Cardboard boxes

I shop at a supermarket that encourages the re-use of cardboard boxes in preference to plastic bags. When I place my groceries in the box, the store thinks that that is a second use for the cardboard box. I think that it is the first use of the cardboard box for me. So I use the boxes as garbage bins in my home office. About the size of liquor boxes, I cram envelopes, flyers, apple cores, broken pens and what have you – whatever I might normally cram into a bag – and when the box is full, it makes its way to the garbage pail or chute.

Carpet scraps

Especially cheap carpet, such as the trimmings found when hotel guest rooms are being re-carpeted. I cut them into one-inch squares and use two carpet tacks to tack each square to a chair or table leg to make gliders. Prevents scratching of your hardwood floors. Use strips to pad the underside of rectangular-based sofas.

Christmas Cards

Walking home this afternoon I noticed on the 12th floor that some smarty, with more friends than I could ever hope to have, has strung about twenty Christmas Cards across their bay window looking out onto Lakeshore Boulevard. Lucky for me, unlucky for them, I've been saving old Christmas cards for years, just in case. Tonight I string up cards from top to bottom of the four vertical panes. I have about two hundred, I guess, all signed by different people. Well, some of them are the same. The Hackett's send me a card each year, as does Bill.

Cigarette filters

Like you, I have a friend who smokes filter-tip cigarettes. “Find a use for the stub” was the challenge. Took me two days. I broke off the stub from the last shreds of tobacco and used it as a means of transferring red boot polish to a scratch on my briefcase. I suppose it would make a handy emergency “brush” for painting almost anything to anything, maybe a glue-brush for awkward adhesives.

Citrus peel

You’ve removed the citrus peel (lemon, lime, orange) and don’t want to compost it – it’s too acidic. Dice the peel into thumbnail-sized chunks and add two chunks to each cup in an ice-cube tray. Makes great lime-flavoured cubes for that refreshing drink.

Clear plastic bags – with holes

The grapes from Chile arrive in clear plastic bags in which have been punched a myriad of breathing holes. Great covers for new plants – they allow passage of air and light while provide some shielding from harsher elements. Shortsighted bugs might crash into them and get headaches.

Clear plastic Sundae cups

The only thing I buy from a McDonalds is the sundae. They come in a transparent plastic cup, slightly larger than a polystyrene foam coffee cup. I place my foam seedlings cup (with drainage hole) inside the sundae cup. The sundae cup traps any excess moisture, but best of all, makes the foam cup appear as a lovely glossy container – porcelain-like.

I have recently had great success propagating African Violets on a bed of quarter-inch gravel.

Coffee Grounds

The best ant-killer I ever got was coffee grounds. My ma-in-law told me about it, before she became my ex-ma-in-law. Take the grounds from your office or church percolator, and spread them on the ants nest in the lawn, near the ant-holes in the concrete etc. After a day or two all the ants will be gone. How does it work? I gather that the ants harvest the grinds to their nests and eat them. There is enough caffeine left in the grounds to make the ant overly energetic ("The ant has made himself illustrious, by constant industry industrious. So what? Would you be calm and placid, if you were full of formic acid?"). The caffeine added to the ant's high-strung nature burns him/her/it out. They activate to death.

Computer Ribbons

Hang on to them. In a spatter box (see "pizza") lay the cartridge flat. Carefully pry open the cover. Do not allow the ribbon to escape the mechanism. Apply a few squirts of WD-40 or similar lubricant. Reseal the cartridge, run the ribbon through for about three feet. Leave to mature a week or so. Your ribbons will be like new.

Cream Carton Plastic Caps

Use as lightweight and inexpensive pieces for board games such as draughts (checkers if you live in North America) or GO.

Cream Carton Plastic Caps

Use in place of pebbles; stand houseplant pots on the caps in a saucer

Creamer tubs

Those little tapered tubs of cream and milk that arrive with your coffee at the diner each morning. Clean them well and fill with water. Freeze to make interesting ice-cubes.

Cutting-Strip from Paper Roll

It makes a superb extra-strong long twist-tie for heavy cables!

Detergent Bottles

The bright-yellow 500ml household detergent bottles; “VIM” is a typical type. Remove the screw top, pierce a small hole in the base, add some pebbles and immerse in the toilet cistern. The bottle will-self-rinse and provide a useful trace of cleaning detergent on each flush. You could try pouring some CLR into the bottle periodically to flush rusty deposits from your toilet.

Detergent Bottles

The bright-yellow one-litre household detergent bottles; Slice off the top shoulder, rinse well; carry in the car. Next time you park at the mega-mall, place the upturned bottle over your radio aerial. You’ll spot your car from half a mile away!

Dish Drainer

Trim one edge, stack plates in cupboard.

Dish-Drainer (One Edge)

Rack for CD cases

Doggy-bag containers.

The North American predilection for having more food than you can possibly eat means we all take home leftovers in a cute little plastic case. Some restaurants provide a thin but brittle plastic box with a clear-plastic hinged cover. Excellent for bean sprouts – place your mung (or other) beans within and rinse twice a day. Once they are well-sprouted (in a dark kitchen cupboard), give them a final rinse and drain, and pop them in the refrigerator.

Dust Bunnies

Into the vermicomposter with them!

Egg Cartons

Those make wonderful sound proofing and insulation underneath the floor of your house. We use the ones from restaurants.

Eleven-Liter Plastic ice-cream Pails.

The ice-cream bars give/sell these once they are empty of ice-cream. Cut them about half-way down the side, producing a collar and a squat tub. The collar goes around your new shrubs in the lawn/garden bed - saves mowing them down. The tub makes a great pot-plant holder or a mixing bowl for large batches of cookie-dough

Film canisters

I’ve read/heard that they’re not good for food, but I’ve suffered no noticeable ill-effects when using them for pre-measured amounts of coffee, sugar and creamer for a quick cuppa when on long trips by car; I plug the jug in to boil, stop, and make a cup of coffee in less than a minute!

Film canisters

Pile in as many coins as you need to fill a coin wrapper, then use the coins as a guide to trim the top off the canister. You’ll have a pre-measured method of quickly counting coins!

Foam Meat-Trays

Blender with a cup of water, makes potting medium.

Foam Takeaway-Trays

Cut into strips makes a superb water-resistant plant labeling device. I write on the strips with marker pen and jab them down the inside of the plant pot.

Fruit-cup buckets

These are the translucent plastic bowls, about 4 fl ounce capacity. Make great coin holders for the place where you empty your pockets. Also good when dismantling something tricky, like a microwave oven; I put the nuts and bolts in a sequence of bowls.

Gift Wrap

Save the gift wrap from Christmas, birthdays and weddings and cut it into squares 20.5 cm on a side. These squares are size of origami squares from a child's present. Or get a second-hand copy of an origami book and wrap it with a kit of fifty various colored papers.

Holes In The Ceiling

Fill with screw hooks and hang planter baskets

Inner Tube

Hot-water heater for the camp. Fill with water and lay the tube in the sunlight.

Jigsaw puzzles

… especially those with several pieces missing. Such puzzles are NOT useless. They represent a source of carbon for Vermicomposters.

Juice Boxes - The Quarter-Of-A-Litre School Lunch-Box Variety:

Trim the entire top away from the emptied juice box. This leaves an open-topped foil-lined vertical waterproof container. Use it for storage of moist vermiculite. To enhance its appearance, dip a few small cuttings in rooting powder and press them into the vermiculite (grin!)

Kitty-Litter bottles.

Kitty litter arrives in 7 Kg plastic bottles, rectangular in cross-section, with a two-inch diameter plastic cap. Rinsed, these make excellent drip-feed water dispensers for house plants or coolers. The lid has a series of ribs that allow me to set it open to drip at a variety of rates. As well, I can mark settings on the neck for pre-determined flow rates.

Lamp Bulbs (Glass Part)

Cutting starters, filled with vermiculite of foam beads and suspended in an onion bag. I once placed several such containers in a basket and, when asked, glibly announced “It’s a bulb garden”.

Large Margarine Containers

Typically 1Kg size. I punch a half-dozen holes and use them in the kitchen sink as wet-waste collectors until it is time for a trip to the compost heap. The lid keeps it looking tidy, and serves as a drip-tray on the way to the compost.

Milk Bag Bags

The stout bags which hold 3 1-litre sacks of milk. I take the sacks of milk and place them in 1-Litre cartons before freezing to protect the plastic from punctures. Then I load the three cartons back into the bag.

Milk Bags

Many of us wash and re-use plastic food or milk bags, either for soup storage or for potting soil, or as batchers for computer cables.

Milk Bags

Slit the cleaned, dried bags across the top and down there two sides to make a long flat clear cover for the window-sill, on to which we put our saucered house plants.

Monitor Cases

Imagine that your computer monitor has blown out. You'll want to dispose of the (explosive) cathode-ray tube in a safe manner, but what to do with the case, the beige plastic chunk that now stands empty? Imagine that the monitor is facing you in its normal position, albeit empty. Place your hands either side of the case and rotate it ninety degrees so that the screen faces upwards. You now have a small-footprint wide-throated magazine rack to hold the computer trade papers you're so fond of reading while in the bathroom!

Onion Bags (Plastic)

Holds bottle caps and other small washables in the dishwasher

Paper/Foam Coffee Cups

Seed starters (orange pips)

Pizza Boxes

Make great spatter-enclosures when you are spray- or brush-painting small objects

Plastic Pop Bottle

The best thing for me is a large plastic pop bottle. I cut it off at the shoulder, put in some slug bait, and tape the top back on with the spout on the inside. The slugs crawl in, eat the bait and die - they can't seem to figure out that that spout in the centre of the bottle (which they can't reach anyway) is the exit door! In the morning, I generally have up to 50 little slugs...and just toss the bottle in the trash. No cleanup. Of course some of our huge banana slugs can't get into the bottle, but at least I get to kill all their babies. salt shaker and watching them melt :) ha ha Ammonia is way better for a garden than salt... Ammonia is faster - and they STILL curl up and die rather elegantly!

Plastic Pop Bottle (thanks to Gary Ruple)

Use 2 litre bottles as funnel. Cut at shoulder or higher turn upside down. Cut twice for canning funnel.

Plastic Pop Bottle.

Makes a great disposable or emergency pump.

Drill or punch a hole not more than one quarter of an inch in the cap. You may elect to remove the inner gasket of the cap. Replace the cap on the bottle, invert, squeeze out about half a cup of air, immerse neck-down in the fluid and allow the partial vacumn to charge the pop bottle. I can usually speed up the process by righting the bottle, squeezing out more air, and carefully re-inserting it into the fluid.

Plastic Squeeze Bottle

Transfer the contents of a paper-carton to the bottle; it makes for easier pouring AND you can see how much is left.

Postage-Stamp Sheet Borders

Chop up the blank pieces to make handy adhesive labels.

Postage-stamp sheet trimmings

The perforated borders to a sheet of postage stamps? Use them as adhesive tabs for folders and papers, or for bookmarks in a telephone directory or postal code directory.

Restaurant Tubs

Plant pots; vermicomposters

Rubber Gloves

Cut the finger portion from the wrist portion. Cut or slice the wrist portion into short-term, soft elastic bands.

Salad Spinner

The plastic bowl that you spin at high speed to shed excess water from your lettuce. Makes a great mini-vermicomposter .

Sample jam jars.

These are the miniatures, about one inch diameter and height. They often come in a "hamper" of foodstuffs as a gift. Clean and dry them well. Cut a regular taper candle into one inch lengths and surround with melted wax. Make great short-term boudoir candles.

Sardine Can Lids

Wind chimes


Kitty litter

Seal Rings

Those stout plastic rings, about 1 inch diameter, that break loose from the milk bottle when you twist the cap to open it the first time. They are great for holding folded cables together. Take the extension or computer cord, double it on itself three times, then slip the ring over the cord. Better than elastic bands - which deteriorate - and better than twist-ties - which shed their paper wrapping. And re-usable too!

Shoe Polish

You've used all but a few scraps from the shoe polish tin, or it's been a while since you used your red shoes and the polish is broken. Don't throw it away yet.

Locate a mug whose rim is just smaller than the tin of polish; the tin should completely cover the mug. Set the tin aside, and bring a mug of water to the boil in the microwave, do NOT put the shoe polish in the microwave.

Once the mug of water is boiling, place it on the kitchen counter, set the tin atop, and walk away for thirty minutes. On your return, much, if not all, of the fragmented polish will have melted softly into one mass.

Do NOT place a tin of shoe polish on the stove top, or in any other cooking mechanism. Boiling water by slow contact ONLY please.

Shredded Paper

From your home office paper shredder goes into the compost heap. Bonus: The confidential data will be eaten by the worms!

Slotted Plastic Basket

You got it. I've prowled the "dollar stores" here until I found a rectangular plastic basket, slots in the base AND SIDES, about 5" deep and 6" by 12" area, to use as a sieve for composted soil while held and shaken (not stirred) inside the confines of my compost bin. The basket QUICKLY retains the bones and plastic (headed for the garbage) and allows the soil, fine refuse and worms, (shaken AND stirred up a tad!) to drop through.

Soap Powder Boxes

So, what to do with the cardboard soap-powder carton now that you've used all the laundry detergent? Well, the first clue is that you *haven't* used all the laundry detergent. There's some in every nook, crevice, cranny and gap in the cardboard. So, cut or tear the cardboard carton into two-inch or three-inch squares, and use it as mini-scour pads to clean the baked-enamel oven top. Or the spattered kitchen cupboards. Or the floor.

Soap Scraps

Blender with water, then into squeezable ketchup bottle; add a dash of perfume.

Supermarket meal trays

In some Canadian supermarkets one can purchase a chicken, roasted, in a black plastic tray with a clear plastic cover. Salads and fruit plates arrive in similar containers. I have made very attractive table decorations by loading the black plastic base with vermicompost soil mixture and sprinkling it liberally with lawn seed. Add a cup of water, place the clear cover, and you have a mini-biosphere.

Supermarket meal trays – part two

… but one tray is especially appealing. It has hexagonal depressions about one inch diameter, all across the base. With a supply of one-cent and ten-cent coins, you can enjoy a good scaled-down version of Piet Hein’s classic game of Hex. http://www.abstractgamesmagazine.com/hex.html and http://mathworld.wolfram.com/GameofHex.html.

Toilet paper roll cores (thanks to Mike Parry)

These are very handy for storing light weight two conductor extension cords. Just fold the cord into a narrow bundle and push the bundle into the cardboard tube. Now you can store the cord without tangles.

Translucent Milk Bottles

Have a base about 4 inches square. Use the lower two inches of the jug to make strong containers for excess water from pot plants.

Vinegar Bottle

Cut into two parts – a soil scoop and a document holder

Mailings “From Chris Greaves Web Site”:

(1) Use the fingers of rubber gloves as small ice packs. Fill, close and put a bunch in a zip lock (reused) and freeze. Especially good for kids bumps and scrapes

(2) Wash aluminum pie plates that pies come in and reuse on the BBQ or in the toaster oven. The second use absolves me of washing it again. I sometimes buy a stack at garage sales, wash and reuse.

(3) Cut the top off a 2 liter pop bottle at the ridge part way down the bottle. Turn the top upside down, insert into the bottom part, put a sweet liquid in the bottom and hang the whole thing anywhere you have a wasp problem. I use mine on the deck so we can eat outdoors.

(4) When your shower cap is still good but the elastic is gone, wash it really well and use as a cover for food when you eat outside.

(5) Hard clear plastic lids from deli meats or salads make great gift tags. Write a message, or draw something on it and carefully punch a small hole about 3/4 in from the edge. Put on a non stick baking sheet, colored side up. Bake at 300 F for 3-5 min. Cool completely and before taking off the tray. Put a string or ribbon thru the hole and tie onto a gift.


416-993-4953 CPRGreaves@gmail.com

Toronto, Wednesday, June 29, 2016 7:05 PM

Copyright © 1996-2016 Chris Greaves. All Rights Reserved.