My mother, grandmother, and favorite aunt were the champion recyclers of all time. Or at least in my limited frame of knowledge. Probably most people in their generation were who had lived through the depression. My mom and aunt kept it up though long after they had to out of habit and because in their mind it would have been wasteful and sinful not too.
My sister and I thought it was silly - and so became part of the generation that is causing havoc with our environment. In our house a glass jar was never discarded. It was used over and over for leftovers, making jelly, catching lightning bugs, storing nails, thumbtacks, bolts, screws, whatever. We had shelves of glass jars in the basement and garage. Same thing with coffee cans. They were used for some of the above, especially in my dad's workshop. He stored everything in them and neatly labeled the outside. Bacon grease was also kept in both glass jars and coffee cans. It was a precious commodity. You couldn't cook green beans, or dried beans and fresh corn, or cornbread without bacon grease!
I guess when I was a child we used paper towels and napkins, but I don't remember many. Mostly we used rags and tea towels. My mom would do a whole wash load of rags sometimes. She kept every old t-shirt, towel, sheet, and they were torn into good sizes for whatever she needed. My aunt would even go to yard sales and buy other people's old towels for rags. Speaking of my aunt, she is a wonderful, spunky 80 something who lives alone, looks and dresses like a 60 year old, still drives, and still lives this way - she even saves her dryer lint and puts in the edge of the woods behind her house for the birds to use in making nests.
Food, unless spoiled, was never thrown away. They always knew someone with dogs who could use the scraps, so they were sorted into what was appropriate and frozen in (used) plastic bags in the freezer until they saw that person. Plastic bags and aluminum foil were washed and used over and over. Wax paper too if possible.
Leaves, grass clippings, egg shells, coffee grounds were composted by my dad for use in the garden and yard.
My grandmother used a plastic pan in her sink for dishes and when she was finished always took the water and used it to water flowers. She had a beautiful flower garden.
I didn't know how far ahead of their time they were (or maybe out of necessity we are just going back to that time) and I'm sorry that over the years we got away from most of those practices and became as wasteful as we are. I'm trying to do better.