In the September issue of Consumer Reports, we published the results of a curious series of tests one of our experts ran to gauge how much skin lotion, detergent, ketchup, mustard, glass cleaner, bottled hand soap, and toothpaste is typically left over after consumers think they've used up all the contents in the container.
After emptying the contents in the usual way, our tester waited a few days to allow the remnants to settle. Next he pumped, poured, squeezed, shook, and tapped as much as possible to extract any additional amounts. After that, he cut open the packages, and removed and weighed whatever was left. Click here for the details. At the end of the trial, our tester calculated that, depending on the product, as much as 25 percent of the stuff you we paid for could have easily been tossed in the trash.
Being a tightwad, I know a thing or two about getting my money's worth out of packaged goods. So, our exercise got me thinking about products that encourage wastefulness, and the little tricks I employ to eke out a bit more mileage.
I can think of eight products right off the bat: Mayonnaise, honey, maple syrup, sugar, barbecue sauce, shampoo, toothpaste, and corn flakes.
Ever try to remove the coating of mayo from the sides and contoured bottom of the jar? It's tough. I use a pliable rubber spatula with a long handle and narrow head, and it's pretty effective. With honey, which can turn solid over time, I put the bottle in a small pot of boiling water until the crystalized syrup dissolves and reverts back to its original viscosity. Similarly, when the last of the maple syrup in a jar becomes sugary and sticks to the container, I put it in the microwave for a few seconds until it melts. Over the years, I've discarded way too many bags of granulated white sugar because they turned rock hard. That usually happens when the sugar is exposed to moisture and humidity, causing the surface to dry. When that occurs, I pummel the block with a rolling pin, then throw the chunks in the food processor. These days, I make it a practice to take the sugar out of its paper bag and store it in a sealed container.
If I can't wring out the final drops of thick liquids like barbecue sauce and shampoo by storing the containers upside down (it's especially easy with wide-mouth bottles made expressly for that purpose), I add a few drops of water and swish it around. Cider vinegar works particularly well with tangy condiments like ketchup, mustard, and barbecue sauce. When I've reached the bottom of the corn flake box and only broken pieces remain, I grind the shards until fine in the food processor, then use the crumbs to coat fish or poultry. And finally, when I'm not longer able to squeeze any more toothpaste out of the tube with my thumb and forefinger, I run the smooth hard side of my toothbrush handle over the flattened tube, which inevitably yields enough paste for another couple of days.
Now you know a few of the tactics I use to avoid wastefulness, so it's time to share your secrets. What products do you tend to toss prematurely, and how do extract the last drops?