Recycling Denim, Washing Windows and Brushing Green

The Facts on Used Jeans, Clean Windshields and Reusable Toothbrushes

I have many pairs of blue jeans that are in decent shape, except the knees are worn out and they’re either too big or too small. Is there a place to take jeans where they can be reused in some way?

—Janine Erali, Wyo Hills, PA

Blue jeans are popular around the world because they’re not only stylish but hard-wearing. Unfortunately, their Achilles heel is weak knees. One time-honored thing to do with old jeans (if you can’t accept the youthful fashion statement that says they should be worn as a badge of honor) is to turn them into cutoff shorts. If the jeans simply don’t fit any more, you can bring them to your local clothes reseller or consignment shop. Some resellers will take even badly damaged jeans, says Choose to Reuse author David Goldbeck, because they can be sold as rags for industrial wiping.

The material that goes into blue jeans is eminently recyclable. At the Levi Strauss plant in Thailand, for instance, Operations Manager Ed Poste is spearheading an experimental program to recycle 100 percent cotton cutting room scraps into a rough card stock paper. And the Watson Paper Company makes a variety of blue paper products from scrap denim, including letterhead and stationery. The company also sells denim pencils.

Denim can also be reused in other ways. For every five pairs of new jeans, one pound of scrap is created. According to Burlington Denim’s Darlene Ball, “Every time we ship a yard of fabric to someone who cuts and sews and manufactures the jeans, we lose about 10 percent of that yard.” The company, based in North Carolina, is doing its bit to end the 70 million pounds of annual waste by respinning those scraps into usable fabric for new jeans. Textile recyclers like Massachusetts-based E. Butterworth and Company also buy denim waste, though in wholesale quantities of 5,000 pounds or more.


Watson Paper Company
1719 Fifth Street NW
Albuquerque, NM 87102
Tel. (505) 242-9351

Are there any toothbrushes that are recyclable or biodegradable?

—Emily Sacchetti, Ellicott City, MD

Small as they are, tossed toothbrushes create a lot of waste—there are 100 million pounds of them in America’s landfills. If we followed our dentist’s recommendations and replaced our toothbrushes every three months, there would be about a billion of them discarded annually. A modest answer to this problem is the Recycline toothbrush ($3.79 at retail stores), which is both made from 100 percent recycled plastic and is recyclable. At the end of the brush’s useful life, Recycline takes it back (via the provided postpaid envelope) and reprocesses them into source material for plastic lumber.

Since it’s only the bristles that actually wear out, Monte Bianco toothbrushes come with disposable heads. Old toothbrushes also make very handy cleaning tools, especially for those hard-to-reach areas larger brushes won’t reach. And after five minutes in boiling water, bristleless toothbrushes can be reshaped into “totally groovy bracelets” for kids, according to the “Turn Trash Into Treasures” web page. The instructions are at


Natural Choice (Monte Bianco Distributors)
1365 Rufina Circle
Santa Fe, NM 87501
Tel. (800) 621-2591

Recycline, Inc.
50 Mount Vernon Street
Cambridge, MA 02140
Tel. (617) 354-7296

Can you offer any suggestions for an environmentally-safe alternative to windshield wiper fluid?

—Brent McIntosh, Centerville, OH

Commercial windshield wiper fluid is not a complex substance. There are three basic ingredients: water, a detergent and, to keep it from freezing, methyl alcohol or methanol. It’s the methanol that makes it dangerous. Methanol is corrosive and toxic, and can cause blindness or death if ingested. Like antifreeze, wiper fluid is also harmful to pets, should any be spilled on the ground.

You can make a relatively benign washer fluid yourself with one part alcohol (pure alcohol, not isopropyl) and ammonia mixture and two parts water. If you use too much water, the mixture will freeze in the lines on cold days and destroy your washer pump. A further problem arises, says the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s Ken Giles, if your homemade washer fluid is not properly labeled or stored in a childproof container. Do-it-yourselfers should take both precautions.


U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission
4330 East West Highway
Bethesda, MD 20814
Tel. (800) 638-2772