What’s the (Re)Purpose of It All? by
(24 Stories)

Prompted By Recycling

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To be honest, I hate recycling. If the future of the planet didn’t depend on it, you can be sure I wouldn’t do it. It’s so complicated and way more work than just throwing stuff out. But since I have grandchildren who I am hoping will be able to breathe the air, survive the increased temperature and swim in the seas long after I am gone, I recycle. The glass, the cardboard, the whole catastrophe. I also repurpose, which I guess you could say is a form of recycling.

Remember those Chianti bottles in college that became candle holders for those sultry, romantic nights with your boy (girl) friend? They’re probably still sitting on the window sill in my apartment on Division Street in Ann Arbor, waiting for some new college student’s hopeful lover to come for a candlelight dinner.

Jam jars for leftovers, street trash for art project, dryer lint to make paper. Even broken ceramics to put in the bottom of planters. There are endless ways to reuse the things we have and no longer need. A friend of mine takes old books, cuts out the center of them and makes beautiful art projects of them.

Aren’t hand-me-downs a form of recycling? When I was young, my older cousin gave me all her beautiful clothes (a tweed woolen snow suit with leather knees I remember the most.) When I outgrew them my mother turned them over to the Shinnecock Indian Tribe near where we lived on Long Island. I hope their children enjoyed them. When we grew up, I was bigger than my cousin, so she inherited clothes from me instead. But she also became a fanatic recycler of sorts. Making beautiful quilts out of old clothes. Women, by the way, have been recycling ties and clothing and torn cloth in the form of quilts for centuries.

I recycled all of Richard’s Hawaiian shirts with the original coconut buttons by giving them to a short lawyer friend, the only man I knew who they would fit and who would wear them in Hawaii. All the rest of RIchard’s clothes and shoes went to various grandchildren (who have long since outgrown them, since he was 5’5″ tall and they are 6′ and taller!) I loved seeing them worn by them; it was a way he lived on. The boys have passed them on to their younger cousins and friends.

I try to find ways to reuse as much as I can because frankly, separating the top from the bottom of the greasy pizza box just isn’t my cup of tea. But I haven’t yet found a way to repurpose that. So I do take my green bin down to the compost regularly. And separate everything from everything else like a good person. I just don’t enjoy it. Harumph.



Profile photo of Penny K Penny Righthand

Characterizations: funny, right on!, well written


  1. Suzy says:

    Thanks for your honesty about hating recycling, Penny. And thanks for pointing out all the different types of recycling we have been doing all along without calling it that, like the wax-dripped Chianti bottles, and the hand-me-down clothes. As the youngest of 5 girl cousins, I got plenty of those clothes! Great story, and I’m happy to know you recycle anyway, even though you don’t like to.

  2. Marian says:

    The important thing is that you recycle to help the future of the planet, Penny. I totally understand why you don’t like it. I admire your discipline and creativity in repurposing items, which is a great thing to do. My late cousin Joe, whom I’ve written about on Retrospect, used to make the most wonderful and often humorous art out of plastic containers. At least they aren’t in the landfill!

  3. Brava Penny, you didn’t have me fooled for a minute, I didn’t think you were the polluting type.

    And yes recycling is a pain in the tush, but worth the trade-off for fresh air and clean water!

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    You are so right that there are many way to re-use and re-purpose. I certainly remember hand-me-downs as a kid, and our Depression-era parents did not waste things. There was less planned obsolescence and fewer throw-away goods too. Your description of the Hawaiian shirts reminding you of Richard was very touching, and brought to mind many things I live with daily that remind me of the people they came from. A thing well-loved and well-used is a treasure. When I moved a couple of years ago, the hardest thing was finding a way to get rid of things–sell, give away, go to thrift store, recycle–without having them go to the dump.

  5. Betsy Pfau says:

    You express your feelings well, Penny. You care more about making this planet survivable for your grandchildren, than the inconvenience caused by recycling, so the trade-off is worth it. I also like the point about re-using in so many ways and that cultures (and women) have been doing it for centuries until we became disposable consumers.

    I borrowed maternity clothing from friends and my infant son wore hand-me-downs from a neighbor, who happened to have a daughter, so David wore a lot of pink. I didn’t care and he didn’t know, but I got a lot of, “Oh what a cute girl you have” in the grocery store. It certainly saved me lots of money for all those changes of onesies when he spit up on things. Babies outgrow or stain stuff so quickly!

    I really like your image of reusing fabric for quilts, and that is a wonderful craft that has gone on for generations. I have a high school friend who makes art from trash picked up at the beach. Lots of creative ways to repurpose society’s cast-offs.

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I also left Chianti bottle candle holders in Ann Arbor, Penny. As a former preschool director, there were so many uses for trash. We rarely tossed out anything because there was art to be created from these things I love the concept of handing things down or repurposing. We had a quilt made from all of my husband’s old t-shirts from college and sports teams. And while you can’t recycle pizza boxes, my grandkids used to love to use the clean part for their art creations. Thanks for bringing up so many fun memories.

  7. I’d say you covered the territory beautifully, Penny. I loved the image of the candle and Chianti bottle in the window, waiting for new acquaintances to become lovers. And yeah, people have recycled so much for so many reasons over the ages. And thanks for unsticking your pizza box!

  8. I fully support repurposing, Penny. Re-use is way better than the reconstitution form of recycling. And re those pizza boxes. I agree; it’s a pain. As we hunkered down with our Covid isolation I took to buying frozen pizza. There’s some surprisingly good stuff out there. And no worries about the pizza boxes, cause it’s frozen. But the frozen pie is packed in a sealed plastic bag. Can’t win.

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