The recycling bin is a rich source of crafting materials, but all too many people empty it, then go out and spend a fortune on cardboard, fabric and many other things they could be getting for free.
I’ve long believed that there are two ways to improve your income: earn more, or spend less. By re-using the contents of recycling bin, you can save money and help save the planet at the same time. Here are a few ideas.
If you have children, these are a crafting essential and can be used to make anything from minature theatres to fairy wings
To make the latter, cut a fairy wing shape on either side of the ‘spine’ of a cereal box and they’ll really flap when the ‘fairy’ runs around. Cover the wings with feathers collected on nature walks – the canal is a rich source. For a sparklier option, cover in biodegradable glitter.
If you sell things on eBay, boxes can be handy for packing. And if you’re into crafting, they make a handy base for decoupage.
You’ll save a fortune on Christmas gifts by covering boxes in recycled wrapping paper and filling with shredded newspaper (and foraged jam and drinks, or crafting materials), rather than buying expensive hampers.
I got lucky finding the below basket in a charity shop but was shocked by the price of new baskets last year and wanted an alternative option. You can decorate the box to suit the recipient’s interests and add an extra personal touch.
If you start now, you’ve got enough time to put suitable care and attention in so that no one would know they were ever cardboard boxes when you’re finished. The below is a cardboard box covered in glitter, ribbons, lace, gold paint and broken costume jewellery. (It also marks the point at which I decided that there is such a thing as too much glitter – and decided to move to using biodegradable glitter only.)
Egg boxes are a crafting joy. From storing beads and other small items to turning into flowers, there’s a lot that can be done with an egg box.
I also use them for storing cleaned, washed eggshells. I split these lengthways rather than widthways when cooking, as I find them more useful for crafting that way.
If any eggs are too broken for eggshell crafting, I use them for making eggshell mosaics. I’m planning on experimenting with natural dyes. However, nail varnish gives a lovely finish.
Whe making eggshell mosaic pieces, for ease, paint when the eggs are as intact as possible, then let them dry before smashing them into pieces (put them in a freezer bag or similar and hit with a rolling pin until they’re the size you want. Remember, the smaller the pieces, the more work it will take to make your mosaic.)
One of the most valuable tools in the frugal handbook, tights can be used to make dolls with crafted faces (the stretchy material makes them ideal for shaping the face.) Fill with stuffing from an old, flat pillow – after washing it.
You can even make it a real hair wig for your doll if you’re not squeamish and are planning on having long hair cut. Just knot cotton around the middle of a hank of hair, then stitch or glue the knots to the doll’s ‘hairline’. If this doesn’t appeal, use scraps of leftover wool or string instead. You can separate out the strands to make it more lifelike.
You can also use tights to make a surrogate net for fishing litter from water (or going rock-pooling) – use the rim of a large yoghurt pot for the ‘frame’; or turn tights into an old-fashioned draught excluder by stuffing a leg with rice and decorating with scraps (snake face optional).
If you boil wash tights in soap-free water, you can also use them for straining jams and jellies (very handy at this time of year).
And old tights can be used to make fancy dress costumes and festival outfits too, from a black cat’s tail to a vamp’s gloves (cut two tubes of dark tights then trim each end with marabou or elasticated sequins for an instant way to transform a little black dress – and keep your arms warm on cold nights!)
You can also make a gorgeous bath treat by cutting the toe off a pair of tights and filling with oats and a few drops of aromatherapy oil. Tie a ribbon around it then throw in the bath and enjoy a sumptuous soak.
Soak the labels off and use to plant herbs for a kitchen herb garden: a great way to save money and ensure you never have to go out in the garden in the cold. They can look surprisingly attractive grouped together in clumps, or lined up along a windowsill.
You can also use tin cans to store office supplies, crafting materials or dry toiletries such as salt or oats for scrubs. Just make sure you file the open end if you’re going to be giving them to kids, to make sure they don’t cut themselves. Alternatively, ‘finish’ the edges with sequins or ribbon to cover the metal.
I’m a big fan of turning plastic packaging into miniature gardens and bug hotels. It feels as if it is turning a negative into a positive – and you’d be surprised how much life can thrive in an old ready-meal packet, once you add a little compost mixed with water retaining gel.
Sow your miniature garden with wildflower seeds and leave it outside for the pollinators; or have an indoor succulents garden (dinosaurs optional).
Making ‘fairy gardens’ (or dinosaur gardens) is a fun way to get kids to engage with gardening. Sow it with cress, which grows at speed, to really open children’s eyes to the magic of growing.
Firstly, please buy a re-usable cup and use it. You’ll be helping the planet – and may even get a discount on your coffee.
If you have a large coffee cup stash, use them to take a coffee with you when you leave for work (another money-saving option – if you put the cash you save in a tin, you may be pleasantly surprised by how much you save).
Alternatively, turn them into gardens. You can use coffee cups for an indoor herb garden (decorate them with pictures cut from magazines, or cover them in fabric to hide their provenance) or create a pollinators garden, filling them with seasonal flowers loved by the bees and butterflies, such as cornflowers, fuchsia, thistles and lavender.
You can often get bargain flowers at garden centres if you don’t mind plants that need a little love. If you’re a member of a community allotment, you may be able to get plants for free from other members too – and look into seed swaps too (the Growing Events website lists gardening-related events, including some seed swaps)
You can even turn coffee cups into a stool if you have enough of them (this isn’t an excuse to use lots though – just ask your local coffee shop for their used cups.)
Bottles and Jars
In addition to making bottle gardens (pictured under plastic packaging above) keeping bottles and jars can help you save a fortune at this time of year.
Fill with foraged elderberry and blackberry port or cordial, jam or chutney depending on what you can find for free. At the moment, there’s a lot to choose from…
These are just a few of the things that can be re-used. I’ll share more tutorials in the future.
Let me know if you try any of the above, and share your photos with me on Twitter @GrowEatGift. By re-using rather than recycling, you’re making the strain on the planet a little lighter – and, more importantly, it’s fun.