“Reuse” is the middle limb of the mantra “Reduce, reuse, recycle” but in many ways it spreads its tentacles into the other two limbs. On the one hand Reuse can avoid both unnecessary waste and consumption; on the other where does reusing morph into recycling? I like to think of Reuse as squeezing every last bit of utility out of something before it leaves my home*. This week, as part of Zero Waste Week, I shall be sharing some of my Reuse experiments and explorations, not just in terms of my waste bin but also the feelings they evoke. And a good place to start is in my favourite room: the kitchen…
Refilling jam jars
Late summer and early autumn means harvest time and preserving. Apart from being a thoroughly enjoyable process, making preserves offers a very pleasing Reuse opportunity. Rather than hit the kitchen section of the department store, I press the jars I’ve amassed throughout the year into service.
As much as I love homemade jam, I still buy some in. Mr M and I both love sour cherry jam but there is just no point making our own. Dark sour cherries barely make it to the greengrocer’s and when they do, they cost a fortune. Much better to buy it, even if it means a slow trickle of new jam jars. Plum jam is a different matter. Victoria, Jubilee and even Greengage plums are readily available from The Creaky Shed and very affordable, and they make the most delicious breakfast preserve, which I store in sterilised jam jars that I have amassed over the years.
In true “zero waste” fashion I even use the plum stones in the jamming process as they contain pectin, which means I can reduce the amount of sugar by 5 to 10%. I simply tie the stones loosely into a scrap of muslin, hit the makeshift bag with the back of a frying pan to crack them – no single-purpose tools in my kitchen! – and pop the bag into the jam mix when I start the rolling boil. **
All shapes and sizes
Although I make many of my own preserves, sauces and other condiments, we still buy ingredients in jars, like Dijon mustard (in seemingly industrial quantities), capers, olives, preserved lemons… The shapes and sizes of these jars vary wildly but most of them have some Reuse potential.
Large jars are useful for chutneys and mincemeat whilst wide-necked ones come in handy when pickling vegetables in chunks or slices. Due to the poor summer I may not be juggling the usual glut of courgettes and cucumbers but I’ve still managed to grow enough to lay down a few stores, keeping more jars out of the recycling bin. As pickles contain vinegar, I cover the jar with baking parchment before closing the lid. This means a little waste in due course, but in the round, my homemade pickles constitute a tasty condiment with minimal food miles and no ‘virgin’ packaging.
Tiny jars (like the ones used for capers and tapenade) also offer Reuse options, keeping them out of the recycling bin for as long as possible. During the summer I regularly harvest basil to make my own pesto. As the season fades, I take one last cutting, mix up a large batch of pesto (minus the parmesan) and freeze small portions in tiny jars. When I need some pesto, I simply defrost one and add finely grated Parmesan.
But glass jars can be recycled…
Some might say, why bother about Reusing jars when they can be recycled?
Keeping waste out of landfill and incinerators is critical but, in my book, diverting it to the recycling bin is rarely the best solution. Recycling is an industry. It involves processes and is at the mercy of commodity prices. Whilst we may pop things into the recycling bin, there is no guarantee that they will be recycled – sometimes the economics just don’t stack up – or that the process used will be environmentally responsible. I therefore prefer to Reuse as much as possible on site.
Secondly, by reusing old jars, I am not only keeping these objects out of the waste stream, I also avoid bringing more glass into the house. Why buy new jars of pesto, when it is ridiculously simple to make my own? Similarly, for every jar of plum jam I make, that is another new jar I am not bringing into the house only to send out again in the recycling bin.
Best of all home made preserves and condiments taste infinitely better than shop bought equivalents, and the intensity of flavour means we use considerably less per serving. A Zero Waste journey may start with a focus on avoiding unnecessary packaging or food waste but ultimately, for me at least, gets distilled down to the question: is this level of resource usage appropriate for a healthy, comfortable life? In this context, eating large volumes of bland food is a form of waste. By Reusing a simple thing like a glass jar, I can exercise some control over the resources we use in pursuit of a contented life.
* As this year’s Zero Waste Week is based on the theme of Reuse, I have defined what it means to me and shall use the term with this meaning throughout the week.
** If you are new to makng jam (or preserves in general) there is no need to be daunted. I recommend Delia’s Complete Cookery Course by Delia Smith or Jams, Preserves and Chutneys by Marguerite Patten if you are based in Europe. These are old titles but still in print as they are no-nonsense, practical books, which cover the jam making process in great detail. If you are based in the US/Canada/Australia…, please feel free to recommend in the comments below a local classic cookery book that covers jam making for beginners!