Trash That Can Be Treasure

“One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.” This adage has long been known to be a truth, which is why thrift stores and dumpster divers exist. This may be even more true in survival situations. Things that can be helpful to live and even thrive can often be found in others’ discards – or even in one’s own!

Because most catastrophes and disasters include some degree of destruction – usually a lot of destruction – there will be wreckage and trash, often spread in large areas. However, rather than considering this debris waste, it may be surprising how much usefulness is hidden there. Recycling, reusing, and upcycling the things that can be found in a field of debris can make the difference in a survival situation.


The internal parts from appliances can be used for other things. There are usually magnets as part of the works in microwaves. The drums of laundry machines can be removed and used separately. The motors may be repurposed. Refrigerators can be laid down and filled with ice, making excellent ice chests – if ice is available.

Clothing and Fabric

Clothing will wear out or become damaged. Discarded clothing or fabric of any sort can be used for repairs, making new clothing, padding, bandages, cleaning cloths, and a variety of other uses. It may need to be washed before using, but as long as there is a water source, cleaning the fabric will only take a bit of time and effort.

Corrugated Steel

Corrugated steel is used in a lot of buildings because it is sturdy and weather resistant. It can be used to make or repair shelter or protect an area like a fence.

55-Gallon Drums

Steel drums can be used for a burn container, forge, grill, or even a distilling pot. Plastic drums can be used for water storage, fuel, or dry goods like grains.

5-Gallon Buckets

These can be used for bulk storage of dry goods. They can hold a lot of things. There are lids available that have spin-on/spin-off sections that seal airtight when closed but open easily for access.

Glass Bottles and Other Glass Containers

Glass is easy to sanitize and usually has an airtight lid. This will allow them to protect food and liquids. When storing dry foods, consider tossing in a desiccant packet to prevent mold or mildew from forming. They can also be used – even without a lid – for lighting by making them into lamps or candles. They can be used to build. Baby food jars can be cleaned out and used for storage; screwing the lids (with two screws, to prevent it from turning) to a piece of wood will keep them together and make it easier to get access; simply unscrew the jar from the lid and turn it back onto the lid when done. This makes it so that the contents are visible.

Old Treadmills

If one of the destroyed buildings from which things are salvageable is a gym, the treadmills have a belt, which is multilayer material that can be used for other things, and an electric motor that could be run by a generator to power other things that may be useful for survival.

Paper and Cardboard

This type of material can be burned for heat or cooking, though it is important to check for treatments or dyes that could be harmful. Paper can also be used for padding or writing notes. It makes good insulation for a shelter or even inside clothing. Thin cardboard such as cereal boxes and cases of beverages can be used to make patterns and templates.

Plastic Containers

Containers from food items can be washed out and used for all kinds of other things. Most of the time they have lids that seal.

Plastic squeeze bottles – like from ketchup and mustard – can be used for all sorts of things including food items, but also oil for lubrication so it can be dispensed by drops.

Large water containers can be cut down slightly to be made into other things, such as scoops. They can also be turned upside down, cut the bottom inch off and flip; reattach so it can be lifted to fill with water with the lid on, and it makes a handy camp sink with a soap holder on top.

Tarps and Plastic Sheets

These can be used to make shelter. They can be hung up to make hammocks. They can be used to carry things, collect water, redirect heat, or even worn as a poncho or blanket. They can be used to collect rainwater.

Tin Cans

Aluminum, not tin, is the usual material from which these cans are made. Because they are made of easily cut and bent metal, but are still sturdy, they can be used for quite a number of things, including a makeshift “hobo” stove. They can be used on a string as a perimeter alarm system. They can be cut and flattened to make other items.

Larger cans, such as coffee cans and #10 (bulk sized) cans can be used for holding goods, as well, to keep them fresh and safe from critters until use.


Vehicles may appear useless if they do not run, but they have so many parts that can be useful in a survival situation. Tires can be used to build things like shelter or planters to grow food. Oil from the engine and transmission trouble can be used for fuel to heat and light an area, or to lubricate something that should move but does not. Seats can be used for comfort or torn apart for insulation. The chassis can be used as is for shelter or can be placed as a protective barrier.

Bicycles have gears, chains, and wheels that can be used for many uses, if the bicycle cannot be repaired to use for transportation.


Wood is obviously useful for burning for heat and building shelters, but it can also be used to build other useful contraptions as needed. It can be formed into planters or made into weapons. This can be from old buildings, tools such as brooms, mops, or rakes.