Surprising Ways to Repurpose 10 Common Kitchen Waste Items

Amanda S. Creasey

The average American generates 4.4 pounds of trash in a single day. Over the course of a year, that amounts to the height of the Leaning Tower of Pisa. Overall, Americans create around 250 million tons of waste, 65% of it originating in our individual households.

“Organic,” or food waste, makes up almost half of this total. Without even realizing it, many of us are tossing out items that might still be good for something. Below are some surprising ways you can repurpose common kitchen waste items to reduce your carbon footprint, save money, and, in some cases, make your life a little easier.

1. Eggshells

There are myriad ways to employ eggshells long after you’ve scrambled the eggs. Use the thin membrane found inside the shell to ease a variety of conditions. Just lightly place it over the inflamed area as you would a bandage. You can also soak the shells in apple cider vinegar until they dissolve, and apply the resulting salve to relieve itchy or irritated skin.

To increase the calcium content of the soil in your garden, as well as to deter deer (they dislike the smell), crush eggshells and add them to the soil. You can also use half of an eggshell as a planter. Simply fill it with garden soil and start seedlings in the naturally calcium-rich container.

2. Citrus Peels

Put the sweet, fresh-smelling peels down your garbage disposal and grind them up to freshen the drain and prevent unpleasant smells from rising from your sink. Better yet, before tossing them to the garbage disposal, use them to infuse drinks with a citrusy flavor, or add a splash of color to your plate by using peels as an attractive garnish.

Among the most versatile kitchen leftovers, citrus peels serve as well in the garden as they do in the kitchen and other areas of your home. Use them to add acidity to the soil or discourage pests like ants, fleas, and roaches.

3. Coffee Grounds

Putting used coffee grounds in bowls on your deck, patio, or porch can help keep bugs away, and sprinkling them around the foundation of your house can have the same effect. In the kitchen, use coffee grounds in place of baking soda to absorb strong smells in your fridge. You can also place dried grounds in your shoes to deodorize them. Coffee grounds are even helpful in the garden, where you can mix them with compost to improve its nitrogen content.

4. Mesh Produce Bags

What can you do with those mesh produce bags after you unload the oranges or lemons? Use them as pot scrubbers to remove hard-to-scrub or burned-on grime from your baking dishes, pots, and pans. They also repurpose as packets for homemade potpourri, or the perfect way to transport your damp bathing suit home from the pool or beach.

5. Tea Leaves

To cleanse your carpet and deodorize your vacuum, sprinkle dried, used green tea leaves over your carpet. Crush them and let them sit for 10 minutes before vacuuming them up. You can also employ used tea bags to remove fingerprints and other grime from glass surfaces. Just rub the damp bag on glass until it’s squeaky clean, and dry with a paper towel.

Tea bags can even play a role in your beauty regimen. Place warm, wet tea bags on your eyes to reduce puffiness and ease pain. They can also help relieve the sting of razor burn. Finally, take used tea leaves out to the garden, where adding them to compost can increase the nitrogen content.

6. Potato Peelings

It’s easy to peel potatoes right into the trash can or garbage disposal, but you can eat them right along with the potatoes! Make potato peel crisps as an appetizer, side dish, or salad topper. If you’re not keen on the idea of eating them, place potato peels, skin-side up, on burns (including sunburns) or bites for cooling relief.

7. Banana Peels

Lots of teeth whitening products are available on the market right now, but all you really need is a banana peel. Rub the inner part of a small portion of the peel along your teeth for two minutes for brighter, whiter teeth. In addition to whitening, the high amounts of calcium and vitamin D may also help strengthen your teeth.

Blend banana peels into smoothies or fry, bake, or boil them to mitigate what can be a bitter taste and enjoy the many nutritional benefits. If that doesn’t sound appetizing, banana peels work just as well to polish shoes, silverware, and the leaves of indoor plants. In the garden, use banana peels to help repel aphids.

8. Watermelon Rinds

While we don’t tend to consider watermelon rinds edible, the firm white part of the rind (minus the green skin), is, and it offers an array of health benefits. You can pickle them, candy them, and use them in gazpacho, curry, or chutney. If you don’t want to eat them yourself, consider putting them out for local wildlife, such as deer and turtles, or use them in your compost.

9. Pineapple Tops

That tall, green crown atop your store-bought pineapple is actually the beginning of a beautiful new houseplant, or, if you live in a warm climate, a new addition to your outdoor garden. Pineapple crowns can be remarkably easy to root and grow, and the resulting low-maintenance plant may eventually produce its own fruit, along with more pineapple plants in the form of either rooted crowns or ratoons.

10. Butter Wrappers

Instead of tossing that empty butter wrapper into the trash can, stash it in your fridge until your next baking adventure, when you can use it — and its residual butter — to grease your baking sheet. You can also use butter wrappers to press Rice Krispie treats into the pan (no sticky fingers!), or to separate hamburger patties prepped for freezer storage.

The next time you’re working in the kitchen, take a look at what you might be about to throw in the trash, and reconsider before doing so. It just might be useful yet!

READ MORE: 3 Kitchen Clean-Up Guides

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