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Wonderful waste

Written by  Staff
| in Tuin
| March 3, 2015

Contribute to South Africa’s recycling efforts by finding creative ways to re-use packaging.

Despite a strong national waste strategy and a massive global trend towards environmental consciousness, South Africans still create an enormous amount of waste.  Statistics show that a large proportion of what ends up in landfills can – and should – be recycled, particularly packaging items like boxes, cartons and bottles. How can you contribute to the solution? One way is to create less waste by creating with your waste.

The South African government aims to have all households in the country’s large centres separating their own waste into recyclable and non-recyclable materials by 2016. This is a rather ambitious goal, given that according to two CSIR surveys conducted in 2010, only 3.3% of South Africa’s urban population regularly recycled household waste in 2010 and 73% didn’t recycle at all. According to the Department of Environmental Affairs, in 2013 alone, a staggering 19-million tons of municipal waste was generated in South Africa.
        It seems urban-dwelling South Africans find recycling inconvenient, dirty and untidy – and many simply don’t know what they should be doing. So what can you do to get on board and go green in your home?

Separating recyclables

        The first step is simply to separate your household waste into three groups: plastic, paper, tin and glass into the clear bags, garden refuse into green bags and everything else into the normal black bins. The black bags will go to landfills and the recycle bags will be taken to a sorting station and separated into different materials to be recycled. This is a small change to your household march-diy-1routine which can contribute significantly to the solution.
        If you are ready to take it a step further, (or if your municipality doesn’t provide clear bags) you could sort your own recyclable waste into paper, plastic, glass and tin, and then deliver at the various drop-off points or arrange a collection service.


        Another simple way to ensure less of your household waste ends up in landfills is to start your own compost heap. This is surprisingly easy and there are hundreds of online articles to guide you. Once you start separating recyclables for refuse collection and putting egg shells, fruit and veg peels, coffee grinds and tea bags, as well as egg cartons and other packaging materials into the compost heap, you will be surprised by how little waste you end up with in your black bin. Meat and bones, dairy and any cooked or processed foods will be among the few things you actually “throw away”.  

Letting the creative juices flow

        Another way – our favourite - is to get creative. The maxim “‘n boer maak ‘n plan” didn’t come around by accident; we are a resourceful and innovative nation. Why not see how little you can throw away by finding functional uses or artistic expressions for everyday packaging items?
       Blogs, websites and Pinterest accounts are full of great ideas for recycling or up-cycling packaging. Not only are you helping to reduce your carbon footprint and reduce the harmful effects of landfills on the environment, you can also save a lot of money by making certain items instead of buying them.

“For instance, why buy candleholders when you can make them? “

        For instance, why buy candleholders when you can make them? As beautiful as an outdoor dinner table with 10 lovely candleholders looks, candleholders can be expensive. But there are a number of ways to make them out of recyclable materials. Tin cans are a great example. Simply wash the can once you’ve emptied the contents. Then poke holes into the can, in an interesting pattern. You can leave the tin plain or paint it, and then pop a tealight inside. The same goes for glass jars – the short kind that normally houses jams. Wash the jar, half fill it with sand and then place a tealight on top of the sand for a wonderful effect.
        Empty glass jars also make eye-catching photograph displays. Simply place your photograph inside – upside down, and with the photo part visible on the outside – then turn the jar upside down and place on your table or shelf. Several together create a lovely warm effect.
march-diy-2        Don’t throw away milk cartons. This packaging item can be torn into shreds and added to the compost heap, or used for a number of DIY projects. For instance, place the carton on its side and cut out a rectangle on the side fa-cing up. This can be filled with potting soil and used to germinate seeds. Once the seedlings are big enough, you can plant them in your garden and send the carton to the compost heap. Milk cartons can also be turned into gift boxes; don’t you hate spending so much just for a box to place your already-expensive gift in? Some clever folding can also turn a milk or juice carton into a one-of-a-kind wallet.  
        Egg cartons too make a great addition to the compost heap, but before you discard them, see what you can create. They make great seedling pots, can be used to create a stunning mini succulent or cactus garden and can even be used to soundproof a room. Craft websites abound with ideas for turning egg cartons into stools, lamps, piggy banks, works of art and much more.
        Toilet roll holders are also extremely versatile and can be used in a variety of DIY or craft projects. Instead of purchasing expensive firelighters, you can stuff lint from your tumble dryer into toilet rolls and use them to get the fire going. Cover a toilet roll holder with peanut butter and then roll in bird seed for an easy, inexpensive birdfeed. You can also fold down the top of the holder to close one end, and then fill with potting soil, and plant one seed in. When the seedling is large enough, plant the whole thing. The toilet roll holder will eventually start to decompose, allowing the roots to find their way into the soil.
        Glass bottles need never be thrown away. A wine bottle can be used as a simple candle holder - as is, or sliced in half.  Several can also be hung onto a frame as a creative and unique chandelier. A lovely table decorating idea is to place a string of battery-operated fairy lights inside an empty wine bottle for a festive effect. Some people have even gone so far as to build bar counters, retaining walls and outdoor tables using glass bottles and cement.
        Plastic is a particular problem for the environment. Wherever possible, avoid plastic or only buy products packaged in already-recycled plastic. Whatever you do – don’t throw your plastic bottles into your black bin; at the very least separate them out and ensure they go into the see-through bin bag for recycling.
        If you do end up with plastic bottles – for instance milk and cold drink bottles – find innovative ways to reuse and up-cycle them.   Plastic bottles make for an attractive vertical herb garden. Simply cut a large “window” out of one side of the bottle and fill with soil and seeds, or herb seedlings. The bottles can then be secured to the wall in a number of ways, for instance using fishing line and washers. The internet is full of instructions and ideas that are both cheap and easy to implement.
        Plastic bottles also make great birdfeeders. You could for instance make matching holes on opposite sides of the upright bottles – so that you can slide a wooden spoon through. You then half fill the bottle with seeds and hang it upright in a tree. The seeds spill out onto the wooden spoon, allowing birds to stand on the handle and eat from the spoon part.
         The bags your onions and oranges come in also have several uses; see our accompanying tutorial on how to turn them into a unique garden feature.

A new way of looking at things

        If you are ready to take the step towards creating less waste in your home, stop seeing recycling as a chore; rather see it as a challenge – how little waste can you create? Take the first step by separating waste into garden refuse, recyclables and normal refuse. Next, make a compost heap where all your compostables will go. And lastly, instead of discarding everyday packaging items like boxes, cartons, bottles and cans, ask yourself – what can I make from this? How can I save money by turning this into something functional?   What could this become with a little creativity?


Create a living mobile

Our team had a great deal of fun constructing this outdoor mobile.  Follow the instructions to create your own.


You will need:

1.   Old vegetable bags (or buy from Agrimark if needed)
2.   Any colourful plastic or glass bottles
3.   Agrimark potting soil
4.   Fine, as well as thicker wire
5.   A steel circle (any old barrel steel will work)
6.   A chain to hang your mobile
7.   A selection of plants that would be happy in the same environment. Choose plants that will hang over your bag to create a more natural feel.




1.   Fill a 6 – 8kg veggie bag with potting soil.  If your bag is too small, then knot the bottom and turn the bag inside out. We chose green and blue bags to complement the colour of the selected plants.

2.   Carefully release your plant from its pot. Gently loosen up the roots if it’s pot bound already and place into the potting soil in the veggie bag.

3.   Fill the rest of the bag with potting soil and close the top tightly around your plant. Remember to loosen and re-fasten as the plants grow, to allow for expansion.

4.  Your first plant is now ready to be hung up on the steel circle.

5.   Arrange your empty bottles and bagged plants according to taste. Be creative, consider expansion and growth rates, as well as the different colours and flowers of your chosen plants.

6.   Remember to water regularly and loosen the tops of bags every so often to allow the plants to grow freely.

7.   Enjoy!