• Jason Hunt

Trash into Survival Treasure

When it comes to living off the landscape, be it in the city, the suburbs, or the woodlands, the old adage of one man's trash is another man's treasure certainly becomes a reality. When resources are constrained for whatever the reason may be, it's instinctual to try to fashion what's needed from what's available at the time. At one point in my adult life, we were so poor that to afford hinges for our chicken coup was considered a luxury. The coup itself had been scabbed together from a variety of fencing picked up off the farm, the random wire I could bend, sheet metal we found in creeks, and an old door I picked up from a trash pile off the side of the road. We had saved to buy our first chickens and were very proud to have made a step toward becoming more self-reliant until I tried to close the door! We leaned it up and braced it with some boards and blocks, thinking nothing of it until the next morning when we found the entirety of our flock of twelve dead. A raccoon had wedged itself in the door, knocking off the simple bracing we had leaned up. Angered, I walked the farm, looking for something to fix the door and finally I came across an old leather horse halter. I recalled a scene from the film Jeremiah Johnson where he had fashioned hinges from leather to fix the crazy ladies' door after they had been attacked by a raiding party. So, I pulled nails from an old house we had on the property because of course,

we couldn't even afford nails, and I cut strips of leather and hung that patio door with leather hinges that were about 1/4” thick by 1” wide. I then took the buckle from the halter and made the door latch. That trash ended up serving my family for the next three years enabling new chickens to thrive and providing us with hundreds of fresh eggs and meat.

A Random Farm Trash Pile

As you wander about your daily life there's no doubt that you encounter trash in some form everywhere you go. Have you ever stopped to spend just a moment to think of three items you could procure from that trash pile that might make a tool or that might make your odds of survival improve? We're all aware of the homeless that walk the streets of major metropolitan areas and we have this picture that they re-purpose cardboard boxes for shelters and stuff newspapers in their coats to stay warm. While this is certainly true to a great extent, there are many that live a nomadic lifestyle and remain homeless by choice. In areas with a greater concentration of people such as major cities, you have a greater influx of homeless people with a greater demand placed on available resources. Thus, many are not able to procure what they need and suffer greatly because of it. Those willing to travel, however, have found solace living among the urban- woodland interfaces among smaller cities and more rural areas. The ingenuity they demonstrate to procure food, water, shelter, safety, and tools is rather ingenious as they often make use of trash resources, not just found in dumpsters, but along curbs, in yard sale leftovers and junk piles scattered across most farms.

In my area for example, once an item is placed at the curb to be taken by the trash service, it's considered fair game to the public. The homeless and those living nomadic lives simply take advantage of these resources, often securing everything needed to camp well, outfit a living area and get clothing which even if it doesn't fit can be turned into blankets and other types of insulation material. I worked for many years in a food and clothing pantry through a local ministry. In my term of service I worked with the homeless community daily, we visited their camps, met them where they took shelter and shared many meals with them. I was often surprised to see that those of a sound mind were often just camping out. There were those with mental and health issues that truly needed assistance beyond that which we could often provide, but more often than not we saw people simply down on their luck or choosing to live 'in between the lines' as they called it to experience a little freedom from the doldrums of societal woes.

A Homeless camp

With these things in mind, let's look at five outside the box items that you should definitely consider procuring in a survival situation.

Rolls of Plastic

Rolled Plastic is one of those things that should seem like a no brainer, but when you ask how much plastic someone has added to their home preps, the answer is usually “Huh?”. Plastic can be used to aid against potential chemical attacks by taping it over windows and other air spaces, which also aids in winterizing a home or shelter in the same fashion. It can be used to create containers, bags, shelters of various sort, ground cover and more. Plastic is something the long hunters of old would have fought to attain and now is considered a must-have item when it comes to survival. A plastic tarp or trash bag is generally a part of everyone's emergency outdoor kit, but consider adding a roll of plastic to your vehicle kits and roll of various types to your home supplies. Should you be forced to survive away from your home and truly be nomadic, collect plastic as you travel and distribute it among others within your group as the more you have of it, the more options you'll have to make useful tools from it.

Plastic used for a camp shelter

Plastic containers are also vital resources that will permit you to transport liquids, but also create first-aid devices for irrigating wounds, fishing tackle, gas masks, night lights, and even creating cordage. By making a simple jig with your knife in a tree stump, you can create a guide to cut cordage as thick or thin as you need it and because it's plastic, it will last quite a while.


Glass is another item that will enable you to not only store and transport liquids, but also effectively heat the vessel for the purposes of cooking food or boiling water, making herbal medicines, and making cutting tools such as knife blades and arrowheads. If you resource a jar with a pop-top such as an old pickle jar, you could even potentially reuse it at least once to can food for a longer-term storage solution. The trick to boiling in glass that is old or that has been dug out of the ground is to not put it too close to the heat, what will often happen on thinner glass is that anything above the level of liquid in the container will break or shatter which makes the liquid unsafe for consumption due to potential glass fragments in the liquid.

Found glass and refrigerator drawer used to boil water

Arrowhead made from a Toilet Bowl


Wire, especially that used for picture frames and in speakers makes for an excellent trapping wire. This small gauge wire can be turned into snares for small games and rodents in an urban or woodland environment. It can also be used for fishing and some creative twisting can be made into its own fish hook. You can also maximize its effectiveness by setting it as a trap or alarm system for predators of any type. String some wire across a path or entryway and set some treble hooks along it to get caught up in the clothing or fur of the predator. With the addition of an alarm on one end of the wire such as a tin can with gravel in it, you'll be able to hear the struggle of the predator getting free of the hooks.


Knives, Forks, and Spoons may seem trivial now as the average home has enough of each to outfit a platoon. While it's obviously useful for eating, each piece has its own unique survival applications. Butter knives can easily be sharpened with a file or piece of sandstone for field use and work very well as self-defense weapons. Spoons can be polished to provide a reflective surface that can be used to reflect run rays to achieve solar ignition. They can also be used for signaling like a mirror and flattened to create arrowheads with a cold chisel and file. Forks can be used to create improvised door locks, fishing hooks and grappling hooks for collecting higher up resources from nut and fruit-producing trees.

PVC and Parts

Polyvinyl chloride or PVC pipe which you can find at any hardware store had a wide variety of applications. Yes, plumbing, it can be used for moving water from one place to another. When it comes to survival however PVC can be used to make backpack frames, toggles, hunting tools, weapons, traps and triggers, bow and arrow sets, and even ax masks and knife sheaths. With a little application of heat from an external source such as a stove or fire, PVC becomes pliable enough to bend and shape as needed making it a great item to keep on hand. The glue needed for PVC is important too, keep a few on hand in case you need a repair or you decide to make a specialized tool. I store all my leftover pieces in a plastic drum and when the notion strikes, I pick up a couple of longer lengths of sizes I use around the homestead to hold back in case I need them for repair or to create something cool in the shop.



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