A Few Tricks To Turn Woods Trash Into Survival Items

Unfortunately, garbage can be found almost anywhere, including in wilderness areas. It can be found on beaches, in the middle of the ocean, in cities, and even on Mount Everest. Many of these items, however, can be modified or combined with natural materials to improve your survival skills and equipment.

Every year, nearly 9 tons of plastic enter the world’s oceans. Almost 3 tons of that is washed into the sea by rivers. Archaeologists may refer to us as the “plastic people” in the future. For the time being, many of these items can be repurposed and used to sustain life.

Plastic bottles

To begin making a minnow trap, locate a clear 2-liter bottle. Remove the lid and horizontally cut off the top third of the bottle.

Insert a rock into the lower portion of the bottle to weigh down the trap, and then insert the section you just cut off backwards into the other part of the bottle.

To keep the two halves together, holes can be punched through them, and wire or wooden pins inserted along the edges.

Fill the bottle halfway with water and place it in a creek or stream, open end upstream, to catch minnows and small fish for bait or food. Food scraps can be used to bait the trap.

Minnows and chubs can be mushed and cooked in a stew, bones and all.

A 2-liter bottle, without the label, can also be filled with clear water and used as a lens for starting fires. Make sure you have plenty of tinder and wood on hand before starting your fire, so you don’t have to go looking for fuel once it’s started. You could organize your materials by size.

Fill the bottle to the brim with water. Rotate the bottle so that a fine ray of magnified sunlight shines through the water and into the finest part of the tinder. To facilitate ignition, you’ll need some tinder, such as charred punk wood or cloth.

Plastic sheets and bags

reusing plastic sheets and bags

Discarded plastic sheeting or bags can help you collect rainwater, drag firewood, or transport building materials.

The reverse wrap method can also be used to make strong rope and cordage from plastic sheeting or garbage bags. This sturdy cord can be used to secure shelter poles or other materials. Plastic strips or sheets can also be used for signaling or route marking.

Plastic sheeting and garbage bags are excellent building materials. Use duct tape to reinforce areas that will be used as grommets if it is available. When tying out, use taut line hitches and pitch in a tree-sheltered area to keep the wind from destroying your shelter.

A standard survival lean-to can be built by draping plastic sheeting across its front and combining it with other materials to create a super shelter that will significantly increase its effectiveness at sustaining life during the winter.

Hard plastics

Another useful resource is hard plastic, which can be found pretty much everywhere, just like plastic sheets and bags.

Broken toys, used disposable lighters, packaging, discarded electronic devices, and other items containing hard plastic are abundant.

It can be broken and ground on stones to make projectile points, fishhooks, sewing needles, and a variety of other items.

Steel cans

Steel cans are excellent containers for a variety of uses. A large coffee can make an excellent boiler for disinfecting water, but any can will suffice in a pinch.

If necessary, a steel can, can be used as a shovel in the field.

They can be used to store food and water or as reflector signals, if they are new. They are also excellent for transporting fire from one location to another.

Larger cans can also be used to make hobo-style stoves. Small sticks can be used to start a very hot fire for cooking and boiling.

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Inner tubes

Inner tubes are no longer widely used in automobile tires, but they are still widely used in bicycle tires. Bicycles are widely used in cities, particularly outside the United States. They are occasionally found washed downstream from populated areas.

Inner tubes can be cut into segments and used to secure gear as strong rubber bands. A similar band can also be wrapped around a traditional cigarette lighter to prevent liquid lighter fluid from evaporating too quickly.

A slingshot can also be made out of a tree fork and inner tube rubber. Make all of the rubber parts in one piece, with a larger portion left over for a pouch in the middle of the fork.

A survival expert once showed me how to make a band spear out of a straight piece of wood and a section of inner tube. To begin, locate a 3- to 4-foot length of arrow-shaped cane or wood.

Cut a section of the inner tube, tie the ends together to form a rubber band, and tie it to the spear’s small end. Allow the spear to slide between one hand’s index and middle fingers. Wrap the rubber band around this hand’s thumb.

Finally, with the other hand, pull back on the spear’s end, then release, making sure that no part of your or anyone else’s body is in front of the point. This handy spear gun can be used to pin fish to the bottom of shallow water at extremely short ranges (2 to 3 feet), as well as to kill frogs, lizards, and other animals.

Inner tube strips can also be used to make strong, long-lasting shelter bindings and thongs for sandals made from tires or other materials.

Rubber strips also make excellent tinder for starting fires. A small strip of rubber can burn for an extended period of time at high temperatures.

Disposable lighters

Even if the fuel in a disposable lighter has run out, the lighter can still be used to start a fire. Send a spark from its flint into old campfire charcoal or into fine milkweed or thistle.

Once the fire is going, take advantage of the opportunity to make more tinder out of punk wood. Find partially rotten wood from poplar, pine, or other species. The best texture is spongy.

Look for dry wood or allow it to dry by the fire or in the sun. Set it on fire and suffocate it by wrapping it in an old rag or using some other method to cut off air to it. If possible, keep it in a watertight container.

Tinder made in this manner can be lit with a lighter flint or ignited with sparks struck by steel on a rock or from the sun’s concentrated rays. Metal scraps that could be used as fire steels can sometimes be found along old roadbeds or near abandoned mines.

Aluminum cans

It’s a long shot, but the bottom of an aluminum can can be used as a parabolic mirror to focus sunlight and start a fire.

First, polish the can bottom with fine ash from a fire or, if you have some on hand, chocolate. Once it’s shiny, use it to direct a fine white dot of sun-reflected light onto tinder, such as charred punk wood.

Dan Mowinski once demonstrated how to make a loud signal whistle out of an aluminum can by cutting two strips and bending them into shape.

Animal bones

using animal bones for fishing

If you come across animal bones while traveling, they can be shaped into a variety of implements.

Before breaking the bones into smaller pieces, inspect them for natural cracks or fractures. Remember that bone has a natural proclivity to fracture spirally. This can be controlled by taking advantage of the bone’s natural contours on sharply angled pieces of stone.

Once the bone has been cut into pieces, it can be shaped by rubbing it against a stone that is coarse enough to grab the material of your jeans when rubbed against it.

It’s all about what works in a survival or primitive living situation. All that matters is that combining modern materials with natural materials such as bones works. A bone hook with a nylon line, for example, works just as well as a plastic hook with a natural cordage line.


If you want to learn more about reusing various items you can find in the wild for survival purposes, I recommend reading the book “Woodcraft and Camping” by Bernard S. Mason. This book, in addition to being a well-illustrated source on woodcraft pursuits in general, details the creation of frying pans, stoves, buckets, and the like from food tins.

Even if you don’t have a lot of tools to modify these objects, the book may give you ideas on how to use them as survival items.

Experiment close to home to generate new ideas for improving your survival gear with recycled materials. The options are limitless!

Other Useful Resources:

Knowledge to survive any medical crisis situation (including cold injuries management)

Cold Injuries Management and Succesful Treatment

The realities of food shortage during a crisis

Staying outside longer during the winter months

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