Today’s guestpost was written by Garland Davis.

Recycle reuse repurpose in appalachia


I just put my garbage bin out for tomorrow’s pick up. When we first moved in here we would place our garbage can or bagged garbage at the curb and the garbage men would throw it into the back of the compactor truck. A few years later they automated the trucks and gave us a special gray container that could be picked up by a mechanical arm and dumped into the truck. Garbage was picked up on Mondays and Thursdays in our neighborhood. Early last year, we received two new containers. A green one for green waste and a blue one for recyclables. They alternate for the Thursday pickups.

This got me to thinking about how we handled garbage when I was growing up in rural North Carolina. There was no garbage pickup. If an item was wooden or burned, it was kindling or fuel for the fireplace or the cook stove. Glass jars were saved for vegetable and fruit canning. Jugs were saved for storing milk and other liquids. Baskets were saved for use in the garden. I can remember my grandmother and mom unfolding the wax paper that bread came wrapped in, and smoothing it out to use as sandwich wrap for school lunches. Usable metal buckets were saved for many purposes. Cloth bags were saved (I wore many shirts made from flour bags) for sewing. Soda pop came in bottles that that could be returned to the store for a deposit refund. Items that one had no use for were given to others who could use them.

Every house had a garbage pile, usually in a gully or “down in the woods.” Only unusable items made it to the gully. Mostly metal cans (No one had heard of aluminum cans. Aluminum was used to make new fangled cookware and airplanes.), buckets with holes, broken glass and an occasional leaky tub. The gullies took a long time to fill. There wasn’t a lot thrown away

Now sixty years later, our landfills are overflowing and more garbage is being generated per capita each year. Millions of dollars are spent managing garbage and recycling programs. But, recycling isn’t a new concept. I didn’t know it, but I grew up recycling. Frugality and reusing the usable was a necessity in the life we lived.


I hope you enjoyed Garland’s guestpost as much as I did! He’s right-the best way to recycle is to use and re-use what you’ve got.


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  • Reply
    May 17, 2014 at 1:13 am

    We have to take our own garbage to the dump a piece down the road. We recycle all that is possible. We burn what is safely burnable. And kitchen peels, scrapings, etc. are given to the chickens; if they don’t eat it, the birds that raid their chicken yard do.
    God bless.

  • Reply
    Garland Davis
    May 16, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    A lot of the stuff that goes to the land fill is the packaging of items we buy. It seems as if everything is “Over Packaged.” I recently purchased a utility knife at Lowes. It was packaged so well that I had to dig in the garbage can to find a blade from the old utility knife to cut the package.

  • Reply
    May 16, 2014 at 5:33 pm

    Hi Tipper,Mark 6:43-Jesus reply to leftovers.God Bless.Jean

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 16, 2014 at 3:10 pm

    Do you remember using used jar lids to put under furniture legs to level them? Sometimes it took a stack of them. How about old shoe tops cut in strips to use for hinges? Tin cans became biscuit cutters and cabbage choppers. Paper milk cartons became freezer containers. Plastic Clorox jugs became footballs. and on and on!

  • Reply
    Ken Roper
    May 16, 2014 at 12:05 pm

    I think Garland did an excellent job
    with this piece. But even with the
    “Green Movement” that a lot of us have
    adopted, it ain’t helping much.
    Cindy and Dolores has it pretty much
    right, things are made to not last
    anymore. I don’t know how the big city
    folks stand all that garbage, it’s
    getting pretty bad here in the mountains. Too much plastic, drink
    bottles and cans, and styrofoam.
    Almost every day when I come in,
    there’s some beer bottles and other
    things in my yard from the untrained
    dope-heads. I’d better hush before
    I really unload…Ken

  • Reply
    Lottsa Stuffs
    May 16, 2014 at 12:01 pm

    It took me a minute and enlarging the photo to see the cans…My mind was wanting to see a large brown plastic garbage can with black straps hanging down…funny how our eyes (mine are pretty old) play tricks on us…
    What I wanted to tell Garland, was the old tin cans will at least eventually rust away…I have found aluminum cola cans that other then faded a wee bit like brand new…Plastic bags ina wad on the side of the road that have critters living in them dry as a bone and the store it came from had completely changed their logo to a new one it was so old…not even beginning to crackle or disintagrate…Very scary…You know what’s scarier, my husband bringing home wooden shipping crates to make garden beds and wooden flags from…Me, going to the recycle room at the dump and grabbing all the colored wine bottles I can find to add to my bottle trees…Husband picked up two formed like stair railing pieces but were something else, he is going to make me a “hold on to” for the back outdoor steps…Lots of free stuff…If you have your ’round-to’it’ badge!
    Thanks Garland and Tipper,

  • Reply
    b. Ruth
    May 16, 2014 at 9:52 am

    and Garland…Yep, when a person thinks back, one wonders why we aren’t covered in garbage from the olden days. I would love to have the buttermilk delivered in those old quart bottles, the milk delivered in 1/2 gallon bottles and cream in the pint glass bottles. Mom would buy whole milk and dip the cream off the top and put it in a separate jar.
    All the peanut butter jars were saved for canning jam and jelly, sealed with parrafin, (a no, no today!) Hersey cocoa cans were saved for extra nails, screws or sometimes marbles as were the little ‘baccer cloth pouches with the draw string. Lard pails were used over and over til they dented up and then they went to the barn for carrying feed or water to a new calf. Old warsh tubs that got a hole, was mended with one of those old metal hole mending kit util hit wore out. Then the tub was sat on a stump in the yard in the back for a early lettuce bed in the spring…or like my aunt, placed in the side yard white-washed and come Fall pansies were planted in them for the most beautiful flowers the next Spring you ever did see.
    Thanks for the memories Tipper, and reminding us of what we can do to save our enviorment Garland!

  • Reply
    Ed Ammons
    May 16, 2014 at 9:14 am

    Those old garbage dumps are a haven for a multitude of little critters and a treasure trove for little boys just looking.

  • Reply
    May 16, 2014 at 8:53 am

    I remember our old form of recycling. Flour sacks were used for clothing or blankets. I don’t remember having as much garbage as we see coming from people today. Of course, there are more people contributing to our supply of garbage, but there appears to be more waste. Leftovers in homes are often discarded in stead of being cooked in a different manner or just reheating it. It’s creativity that can help eliminate the supply of garbage filling our landfills.

  • Reply
    Ethelene Dyer Jones
    May 16, 2014 at 8:22 am

    When do you suppose our garbage will push us out of a place to live on earth? When we, ourselves, unable to be “recycled,” will have no earth-space on which to dwell?

  • Reply
    May 16, 2014 at 8:10 am

    Garland and I grew up with the same practicality. Our flour sacks became tea towels/dish towels – usually after we had embroidered them with a work ethic or garden design. My early clothes were from chicken feed sacks (Dad grew sweet corn so it was sold rather than fed to the chickens although the chickens were given the corn cobs after we’d had roasting ears.) But back to the feed sacks – it was a real treat to go with Grandma to the feed store and pick out the fabric for my next play-set or skirt and blouse. And when those wore out they might become aprons or quilt pieces or rag strips for crocheted rag rugs. I still have a coffee can stool covered with the last piece of feed sack. These stools were our “booster seats” on which we were put up to the table or on which we sat in the car so we could see out.
    “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without” was our motto.
    Things that couldn’t be “re-purposed” ended up in the burn pile which sometimes was burned in an old 50 gallon drum or in a pit Dad dug out in the orchard.
    As concerns about chemicals in our lives and the toxins produced by burning increased adjustments were made. Trips to the dump were made 3 or 4 times a year.
    Much of the material taken to the dump came from cleaning up the roadside along Dad’s fields. He always complained about those irresponsible city folk making such a mess of the country side. We hauled off broken toilets, old mattresses and springs, broken furniture – you name it, it was dumped along our country roads.
    “Funny thing”, when I was dating my now husband, I overheard his Dad (a highway engineer who often traveled the back roads) complaining about country folks (he didn’t know I was in the next room) and what slovenly people they were because of how badly they trashed their roads and living areas.
    I don’t think I ever won him over.

  • Reply
    Sheryl Paul
    May 16, 2014 at 8:09 am

    recycling and upcycling!! We still try to use before even to repurpose. My husband and I make a very small footprint. We do not buy a lot of packaged food, we make our own, no cake mixed, tv dinners, mac & cheese boxes or canned items that we can make ourselves. We use fresh not canned, out of season we do buy frozen, but not in plastic in the boxes this can be reused in many ways or recycled with little trouble. OOPS got off on one of my passions.

  • Reply
    May 16, 2014 at 8:05 am

    A view to our past—how right you are Garland —we certainly use everything and very little waste—too bad some of those ways are still not in place today!!!

  • Reply
    Steve in Tn
    May 16, 2014 at 7:38 am

    Nice post and reminder of how much we waste. I wish we had recycling centers everywhere.

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    May 16, 2014 at 7:34 am

    Thank you, Garland for your thought filled post. Our excess has turned us into a garbage filled nation. Green and recycling seems like a good idea but does nothing to address the real problem. We have too much useless stuff. I could go on a rant about our useless stuff but I will spare you from my ire. I will, however, give one example.
    Our current appliances are over engineered and under useful. They are created with planned obsolescence. None last much more than five years. They are not intended to last. The landfills are full of old appliances. Appliances that are not really old they just no longer work so we have to buy a new one.

  • Reply
    Roy Pipes
    May 16, 2014 at 7:28 am

    I remembering us recycling just as Garland wrote. I told my wife just a few days ago. “I’ll bet we throw away more each week than our mothers did in a year.”

  • Reply
    May 16, 2014 at 7:15 am

    Excellent post!!!

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