The year is 1997. Your mother has just bought you a new pair of Skechers shoes. The fact that Skechers’ whole raison d’etre is to take popular shoe styles and rip them off by making a more “affordable” (i.e. shoddy) version fails to embarrass you. After all, new shoes!

And — bonus! — a new handful of silica gel packets, nestled in the shoe box under all that wrapping paper.

Silica gel packets. They are to retail purchases what sugar packets are to restaurant coffee: a dime a dozen (or $600 a ton, per Alibaba’s showroom), background clutter, something you shouldn’t rip open and pour into your mouth at the table.

English poet William Blake vowed to see the world in a grain of sand. Following his example, I invite you to ponder the desiccated reputation of the silica gel packet.

Very few other things arrive in the care of the consumer with the instructions, “THROW AWAY.” It’s hard not to feel guilty, and even a little cheated, throwing something out after barely making its acquaintance, especially when it could have more uses.

Indeed, before we consign silica gel to dustbins both literal and cultural, we should think about how else those packets can be applied.

The silica gel packet, in fact, contains near-infinite uses, and that’s before factoring in their drying-out capabilities. A wobbly table or chair can be righted by sliding a few silica gel packets under the delinquent leg, thanks to silica gel’s natural pliability. Silica gel is not actually poisonous, but it seems poisonous — as does anything with the instructions DO NOT EAT — and seeming can be just as effective as actually being, particularly if your target has a pre-existing heart condition.

Primarily, however, silica gel packets exist to suck up moisture from ambient air.

“You can use them on your shoes,” says L., a scientist with Fuji Silysia, a silica gel manufacturer with operations based in Greenville, NC. (L. requested anonymity, presumably on the grounds that silica gel poses a national security risk). “And,” L. adds, “on your technology.”

Technology? Yes, it turns out silica gel might be the best way to dry out that phone you dropped in the pasta water. Simply place the phone in a plastic bag with leftover silica gel packets (assuming you didn’t throw them away; YOU DIDN’T THROW THEM AWAY, DID YOU?), and, several days later, voila! Your phone is dry, and won’t short out.

But along with soaking up moisture, silica gel packets can also be used for eliminating smell. That’s the genius behind the Makall Group, who, among their many award-winning applications for silica gel, manufactures silica gel for kitty litter.

Makall Group, which boasts the aggressive slogan, “Customer is Our God,” is headquartered in Qingdao, China. That means a phone call to their headquarters would cost about two tons worth of silica gel packets, so it is wisest to appreciate their genius from afar.

But we should be inspired by their example to place silica gel in a closed environment with anything that is reeking and damp, including socks, golf visors, bathing suits, musty books, and the like. In the end, that’s the beauty of the silica gel packet: its personal application. So if you forgot to hang on to the silica gel packets that came with your most recent pair of shoes, fret not: a ton of silica gel is just a $600 order on Alibaba away from arriving at your door. The only thing they can’t make dry is a martini, and even that, just give it some time.