Trash happens. It just does. And, our job as concerned world citizens, responsible for ourselves and the impact we are all individually making on the planet, is to figure out how to deal with that garbage in a sensible way. When all is said and done, we should be leaving the world in better condition than we found it, not in heaping piles of toxic waste.
The truth of the matter is that, aside from a few progressive countries, governments are still falling very short of providing us with a sustainable solution to the issue of trash. Until they do, we’ll have to take it upon ourselves to make things right. Luckily, we are an innovative bunch with our eyes open and our minds tuned in.
Got trash? Here are some ways to make the most of it.
1. Sheet Mulching
Paper, cardboard, and other flat biodegradable materials are nearly a no-brainer. We are making garden beds, growing food, and need mulch to do so. Sheet mulching is top quality. Simply layer good organic items, leaves, grass, manure, compost, soil and then some cardboard boxes and/or a few newspapers. Top it off with a bit of straw, or hay that’s been worked over by the chickens, and it’s ready to roll.
2. Clean Composting
Many people forget that composting household waste doesn’t just revolve around kitchen scraps. In fact, carrot ends and onion skins should only be a small percentage of what’s in the kitchen compost bin. We need a much more significant carbon element, and that can come from boxes, paper, napkins, cardboard, dust bunnies, old organic clothing, and similar waste. Often the balance we are looking for is about one part nitrogen (food scraps) to 25 parts carbon (paper products).
3. Container Gardening
Seeing as most cans, bottles, and the like were once containers, it all makes sense that we use them to similar ends. Tin cans, plastic bottles, jugs, tires—they all work great for container gardens that can flourish on a windowsill, nestled on a shelf, around the patio deck, in the bathroom, up the wall, and all over the place. With these supplies so ridiculously abundant, we should never buy a pot to plant in, and we should use them as an excuse to plant more food.
4. Rooting Clippings
A bottle of beer finishes a day of work like nothing else, and while these can be recycled or, even better, washed to reuse, I love to root clippings from herbaceous plants. Go out and take a few dozen clippings every week or two, and before long, there will be more plants growing than can be reasonably planted. At that point, there’s a great surplus to be shared with neighbors or sold as a side income. As if we needed another reason to drink.
5. Melon Protecting
Plastic tubs, a la butter, or the bottoms of two-liter plastic bottles can be used in the garden to lift large melons and squashes off of the ground so that they won’t rot. Be sure to puncture the bottom in a few places so it doesn’t hold water and create a problem that way. It’s a clever tool to keep around.
6. Seed Collecting
Once again, jars, bottles, and plastic tubs were actually built to be containers, so why not just let them continue fulfilling their destinies. We should all be collecting seeds from our plants, and thus we should all be looking for some way to organize them and keep them safe. Get a marker and write the type of plant and when on the container. Dads have been doing this with spare nails and screws for years.
7. Pinpoint irrigating
There are lots of ways to do this, lots of items that can be used, but the basics are filling something with water and having it slowly release in an exact spot. This can be as grandiose as a five gallon bucket, buried about ¾ deep in a garden bed, with holes drilled into it, or it can be an upturned wine bottle shoved into the plant pot. But, watering this way gets the drink beneath the soil surface where it won’t trickle away or evaporate. And, it delivers the water slowly.
8. Portable Cooking
Rocket stoves are an amazingly efficient way to cook with wood, twigs and sticks actually. With a few cans, one of which should be industrial sized, it’s possible to build an easy-to-use portable rocket stove that’ll be great for camping or just cooking up a little something on the patio.
9. Pest Deterring
Spent coffee and used tea bags are both amazing for providing plants with a boost of nutrients as well as simple way to deter bugs from garden beds. Just sprinkle the grounds (be careful with soil acidity) and leaves. These work well in compost, of course, but take a minute to experiment and find out what plant pest might be deterred with a little Earl Grey.
10. Wind Chiming
Not everything has to be production based. Sometimes is great to just have pleasant things around, things that catch our eyes, tickle our ears, and make areas more enticing. Wind chimes are really nice, and they are very easy to make with old tin cans, simply string them together, either inside or next to one another. It’s a great project to do with the kids and can be a fun feature on the patio.
11. Biodegradable Potting
This can be done several ways, but the two that work really well use either cardboard tubes (as in toilet rolls, paper towels, or wrapping paper) or paper or certain egg cartons. Newspapers or non-glossy paper can be molded into seedling pots with the bottom of an old beer bottle and some folding. Then, when the plants are ready for life in the garden, they can be planted, pot and all.
12. Insect Lodging
Strictly speaking, an insect hotel isn’t all that necessary in a well designed permaculture garden, with nooks and crannies all over the place for wildlife to settle into, but why not make one more spot for beneficial insects, frogs and so on to live? Insect hotels are a blast to make and are an attractive way to make use of bottles, wood scraps, broken bricks and whatever other garbage is around.
13. Fancy Lighting
There are lots of methods for making garbage into outdoor lighting. Tin cans can be converted into luminary candle holders: Just feel them with sand then water then freeze it, and after, draw a design on a piece of paper and punch out the shape with a hammer and nail. Or, use old glass bottles as Tiki torches by setting up a wick and some fuel.
14. Tree Building
Another visually nice thing to put in the garden, and an effective way to use some glass bottles, is to make a bottle tree. Find a gnarly old branch or a weather post and equip it with some dowel rods or wooden stakes. Set the post and slip some colorful bottles onto the stakes to make a cool visual for the sitting area. This could also be used as something for vines to grow up.
15. Warming and Protecting
Large plastic bottles or jugs make for great miniature greenhouses for transitioning seedling into the garden, keeping the sheltered from too much exposure to the elements. Cut the bottoms off and punch of few airflow holes for good measure. Put them around new plants, burying the edges a couple of inches deep so that they won’t blow away.
Maybe some of the ideas are new to you, maybe some are repeats, but the point is that, with a little creativity, we can transform our garbage into useful tools as opposed to a global detriment. Of course, we should be reducing the amount of waste we create, but sometimes it just happens. Those are the times to make the most of having some garbage around.
How do you transform your garbage into a resource?