Nothing new about recycling

Published 6:49 pm Tuesday, April 5, 2016

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    Recycling isn’t a new concept. Whatever could be used was used on the farm and in the farmhouse 60 years ago.

    Old clothes became rags, but only after the clothes were truly rag-worthy. And rags were a valuable commodity for wiping your hands when working on equipment. Grease rags came along later, but any other shirt would do until then.

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    Jars that could be used for canning were carefully saved, but those that could not be were kept and might become containers for nails screws, small bolts and washers.

    We didn’t take burnt cylinder oil to the transfer station because there was no such place. It could go to a service station, but most of it was stored in a barrel and then dipped out to oil farm equipment. The chains on old-fashioned planters had to be well-oiled at the beginning of the planting season and then, when the season was over, the planters were cleaned of dirt and coated with more cylinder oil before being stored until the next year.


    We didn’t have a hay bailer because, with no cows, we didn’t save hay. But when we came across baling wire, it was saved. Nothing was handier than a stretch of bailing wire. You could wrap a cracked implement handle with it and sometimes get a few more years of use from such a tool.

    Grass peanut bags were saved by tying a bundle of them with a long piece of baling wire and hanging them from barn rafters. Thus suspended, they were less likely to become the home of field mice that could otherwise ruin a pile of bags. Smaller grass bags were saved in the same manner and later used for ground feed.

    And if a mouse did get into the corner of a bag? Chances were pretty good that the bag could be saved by stitching the hole closed with cotton peanut twine, the heavy string used to close bags of peanuts in the fall.

    If we pulled nails out of rotten board, the boards got tossed, but the nails saved. Then, on a rainy day, we kids were put to work straightening nails by hammering them atop a thick piece of iron.

    Our mothers and grandmothers were as conservation-minded in the house as fathers were without.

    Aluminum foil (remember when it was tin foil?) was likely to be saved. It might even be rinsed off, flattened and then folded for future use.

    As we began to buy packaged foods at the grocery store, containers were frequently saved. Aluminum pans were particularly desirable and could have all kinds of uses.

    It was only later, when extensive packaging and prepared foods became more commonplace that we began filling bags with the trash and looking for places to dispose of it. At first, there was a ravine on most farms, then public dumps and later landfills. In time, we developed more formal recycling programs.

    We’ve come a long way from straightening nails.