Growing your own fruit and veg is one of the easiest ways to reduce your waste. Start gardening and gone are the days of half-full bags of limp, chlorine washed salad, replaced instead by a cut-and-come again salad window box. Forget half-used packs of herbs making you wonder who exactly every uses that much tarragon, and snip whatever herbs you need from your herb box (or, better yet, herb garden). And of course, things grow packaging-free!
Don’t let a lack of garden stop you from gardening. I don’t have a garden, but I still manage to grow lettuce, radish, tomatoes, strawberries, spinach and peas in tubs, along with lots of herbs. Using every feasible windowsill as growing space helps.
It’s not just food miles that you can save through growing your own produce. Gardening is also a brilliant way to reduce your waste: start gardening and you’ll see your rubbish shrink rapidly.
Making your own bottle garden gives you more growing space, and uses up plastic bottles. There are numerous designs to choose from – just make sure you have a waterproof layer underneath the bottle garden if you make a soil-based one one indoors.
If a bottle garden doesn’t appeal, you can use plastic bottles as rain-catchers. To make a rain-catcher, cut a large plastic drink bottle in half, Attach it to another bottle, neck to neck, using gaffer tape or similar, then cut flower petal shapes in the top bottle, and fold them back, to give a wider surface area to catch the rain and feed it into the base (it should look like a daisy style flower when you’re finished, if rather ‘home made’). Weigh your bottles down with pebbles so they don’t blow away. You can paint these (and use coloured gaffer tape) if you want to make them more decorative. Use the water you collect for making toiletries or watering plants.
Use the spare base of the soft drink bottle as plant pots for herbs – just punch holes in the base (carefully). Again, you can decorate these (before filling) if you want them to look less obviously recycled. (They can also be used as single-portion freezer containers for soups and stews – though I wouldn’t reheat food in them).
You can use plastic bottles as watering cans, with the addition of a bottle-top waterer. These also make great gifts in party bags for a nature-themed children’s party, along with compost discs and seeds, so you are giving a garden in a bag rather than a load of cheap, disposable plastic toys that will end up in the back of a drawer…
And if you’re going on holiday, you can use plastic bottles to create an irrigation system too.
Just one recycled plastic bottle saves the equivalent energy to three hours of power for a 60-watt light bulb. Think how much you could light up if you re-use every plastic bottle you have – and stop using them from now on… (If you’ve already gone zero-waste and like the idea of bottle crafting, litter picking offers an excellent – sadly never-ending – supply of bottles).
Toothpaste tubes may seem unreusable, but if you cut the sealed end off, and rinse thoroughly, you can use these as either planters (just unscrew the lid to allow plants to drain after watering) or watering devices for houseplants when you go on holiday: put nozzle-side down, add a layer of thick fabric inside the tube, covering the nozzle end to slow the flow of water, and fill with water: a smaller version of plastic bottle holiday watering spikes.
Both yoghurt pots and ice cream tubs can be used as plant pots – just put holes in the bottom for drainage. Lots of other plastic packaging can be reused as pots too.
Creating fairy (or dinosaur) gardens can be a good way to reduce waste and get kids into gardening. Ready-meal packaging with compartments creates instant fairy ‘raised beds’ You can also make a zen garden, if you want something a little less kitsch.
Tin cans are another planter option. They can look really striking when clustered together, and are ideal for an indoor windowsill herb garden, as they’re thinner than many pots.
In addition to using them as planters, tin cans can be used to create lanterns for the garden. Just drill holes in them, then add a solar powered light inside to create a starry effect.
Tin cans can also be a good way to package gardening gifts: just add compost, seeds and a bottle top waterer, after filing or covering the rim to ensure the recipient doesn’t cut themselves on the metal. Chilli and tomatoes are both great beginner plants that tend to be happy inside, as long as they get enough light and food.
One recycled tin can saves enough energy to power a television for 3 hours: if you create a tin can garden, you’ve earned that Netflix binge…
Coffee and Tea
While coffee and tea can be used in toiletries and cocktail ingredients (such as Earl Grey gin or coffee syrup), if you’re a big beverage drinker, you may well have much more waste than you can reasonably use. It should go without saying that it’s best to avoid single-use coffee cups, but if you do have any, use them as plant pots – just punch holes in the bottom.
And compost will happily accept your grounds. You can also use coffee grounds as a growing medium for mushrooms, should you need for fungi in your life.
You can add tea leaves to your compost too. However, do check your teabags are plastic-free before adding them to your compost. If not, rip them open and empty the tea out, but throw the bags in the bin.
If you’re really zealous about zero waste, you can carefully cut the teabags open before emptying, turn them inside out and rinse out the last few tea leaves, then use the dried bags as bags for your own herb tea blends: simply fill with mint, or whatever other herbs you like and tie with cotton, before dunking. NB: If you are going to do this, take teabags out of tea before adding the milk, to avoid the bags smelling.
Food Waste – and Beyond…
While it’s best to make the most of leftovers, some things just aren’t edible. Compost is the zero-waster’s friend. Up to 50 percent of the average UK bin’s contents could be turned into compost. As well as coffee and tea, you can also feed it with banana skins, fruit and vegetable peelings, eggshells and nutshells. You can include citrus peel though some say too much can make the compost too acidic so it depends on what your soil is like.
Don’t add bones, bread or dairy to your compost heap, as it will attract the wrong kind of animal attention: good compost is more reliant on worms than rats!
In addition to food waste, you can (and should) add non-plastic backed, unbleached paper, garden waste (except weeds), small pieces of wood, sawdust, cereal boxes, egg boxes, and the contents of the hoover. Rip any boxes up into small pieces to speed the composting process (I think of composting as a ‘rot recipe’). Do think about whether cardboard boxes could be useful for crafting before you compost them though. You can use boxes to create storage, as well as miniature theatres, tiny villages and fairy wings, among other things…
If you have a pet hamster or rabbit, you can throw the contents of the bottom of their cage onto the compost too – but don’t do the same with carnivore pets’ litter trays. You can also add small amounts of natural fabrics (eg, a cotton T-shirt that’s long beyond repairing or reusing, cut up into small pieces).
When it comes to composting, there are many types of compost bin available to buy or make. Many local councils offer special deals on composting equipment. If you’re short on funds, you can make your own composter, or compost directly into your garden, by digging holes and putting food scraps directly into the ground. It will take around a month to degrade (depending on what you put in – the smaller, the better).
However, I find something magical in turning waste into beautiful compost with nothing more than time and nature’s help: I like the idea of scraps from vegetables I’ve grown being used to help feed my next generation of veg, and love seeing the change from waste into rich, dark soil.
Get into gardening and you’ll rapidly see your waste shrink – and your store-cupboard fill with tasty home-grown produce. It also provides you with a steady stream of seasonal gifts. Gardening has been linked to many health benefits too, so it’s as good for you as it is for the planet!