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Ten of the best…ways to reuse your rubbish

Valentina Jovanovski

5th August, 2011

Whether it’s plastic bottles or old magazines, Valentina Jovanovski has a creative way to turn it into something entirely new

In June, governments, organisations and environmentalists across the country celebrated Recycle Week - an initiative intended to raise awareness of recycling. This year’s event focused on the theme of ‘Home and Away’, or recycling-on-the-go, which raised an interesting point. While recycling might be an eco-friendly way of disposing of unwanted goods, it’s also energy and water intensive, which means upcycling or reusing your junk is more important than ever.

The need for a cultural shift towards reuse was emphasised by a recent DEFRA report, which revealed that a shocking 44 million tonnes of waste is sent to landfill in the UK every year and only 40 per cent of household waste is recycled. In the Review of Waste policy released in June, the Government launched plans to move towards a zero waste economy. This means only waste that can no longer be reused or recycled will be sent to landfills. But achieving this goal will mean people having to change the way they see their old things. While that might sound like a big ask, it’s surprising what you can do with junk when you think creatively. Here are 10 entertaining ideas to get you started.

Tin-can flowerpots
Cans are easily converted into flower pots for your garden or windowsill. After removing any labels, paint them bright colours, adding patterns using stencils. There’s a wealth of stencils to be found on Ebay, including some ultra-cool Banksy inspired ones. Another way to make your cans decorative is to brush the newly painted surface with steel wool to give the pots a rustic look. Cans can also be used as storage containers for pens, pencils and other office supplies but make sure you go over the rough edges with sandpaper and glue some felt to the top rim of the cans to avoid any painful surprises.

Newspaper mats
News fanatics tend to end up with piles of old papers sitting around waiting to be disposed of, so give them a new lease of life by using them to replace paper towels or dish rags for cleaning particularly grimy areas of your kitchen, such the inside of your oven. There are plenty of other crafty things to make with newspaper, such as a mat to sit on when heading to the park. Just fold each sheet of paper into 5cm strips, weave the strips in an over-under pattern and tuck the end of each strip into the weave. You’ll never have to sit on wet grass again. When all else fails, newspaper is compostable, so throw it in with the rest of your compost.

Wine bottle candle-holders
In 2008, Thai monks used more than one million beer bottles to build a Buddhist temple. If you’re less confident about your construction skills, turn empty bottles into candle -holders or vases. Wash the bottles first in warm water and soap and peel off the labels. You might also want to measure the neck of the bottles before you buy the candles to make sure they’ll fit.

Eat your leftovers
This might seem like an obvious one but, according to DEFRA, the UK produces 7 million tonnes of food waste annually. This waste can be reduced significantly by finding ways to use every bit of food that comes into your kitchen. Use meat scraps to make sandwiches and the bones to make stock. Bread that hasn’t spoiled yet but is past its prime can be used to make breadcrumbs by crumbling up the bread and popping it into the oven until it gets crusty. Compost is another great way to reuse food that’s past its prime and it will save you money on fertiliser for your garden.

Toothbrush scrubbing brushes
Old toothbrushes come in very handy when you’re cleaning. They can be used to clean the tile grouting in your shower or on your bathroom wall, both of which are prone to mildew. Toothbrushes are also useful for cleaning bicycle chains, vents and other tough spots.

Magazine artwork
Magazines can be bulky and take up a lot of room on shelves but, like books, many of us are too attached to our favourite magazines to throw them away. A good alternative to recycling is to cut out your favourite photos, frame them and hang them as artwork in your home. The rest of the magazines can be bound together with rubber bands to create a step stool.

Bed sheet curtains
Bed sheets are typically discarded after a couple of years wear and tear but bedding can be easily converted into something new and exciting such as pillow cases, seat covers or curtains – all you need is a sewing machine and a little imagination. Add lace or fringe around the edges, buttons or stitching to give your homemade items a decorative touch.

Paper clip hooks
Almost everyone has paper clips lying around their desks or tossed in the corners of draws, waiting to be rediscovered. Make good use of them by fashioning some hooks for inexpensive, homemade Christmas tree ornaments? Unfold the clips and bend both ends to make hooks, one end to attach the ornament and the other to hang it on the tree.

Junk mail scrap paper
The endless supply of flyers, coupons and special offers you neither need nor asked for is not just a nuisance; it’s also a huge waste. These unwelcome deliveries can be recycled of course, but they can also be reused for scrap paper. Cut sections of paper from the junk mail free of any writing or print into the same sized squares or rectangles. Then, bind them together with yarn or a stapler and you have yourself a handmade notepad.

Plastic bottle coffee maker
Even the most devoted eco warrior can’t avoid plastic bottles entirely. But the inevitable bag full of bottles at the end of a house party or barbeque doesn’t have to end up in the bin. Cut the plastic bottles in half and use the bottom as a planter and the top as a funnel. The top half can even be turned into a coffee maker by placing a filter inside the funnel, filling it with ground coffee and pouring in hot water. It will come in handy for a camping trip or if you’ve just moved into a new place and haven’t unpacked all your appliances.

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