Decorating repurposed recycling

Short version:

You can decorate repurposed recycling containers for both aesthetics and functionality. Here are some details on how to make both a pot with drainage and a base to collect the drips from a single plastic bottle There are some decorating ideas that involve reusing old wrapping paper, paint and craft bits. It is a great activity for little ones and it ticks a few home schooling boxes whilst being free and involving no screen time.

The majority of my indoor sowing tends to start in March, but there are a few things that I do like to start in late February like tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers some brassicas, some herbs and a few edible flowers. By the time these plants get too large for their indoor pots the weather should have warmed up enough for them to be planted out.

So, early February is the time to start preparing containers for my first batch of early indoor sowing. I have been collecting plenty of food containers over the winter so that I have lots of pots ready to go. I tend to collect old milk cartons, juice cartons, plastic bottles, grape boxes and mushroom trays. The tetra pack cartons I always cut little holes in the bottom or occasionally cut the whole base into a flap and then stick the whole carton into the soil to provide a bit of extra protection from slugs and snails. I have written lots about this in a previous blog ‘Sowing seeds’. I don’t usually care how my pots look but it’s a nice little project to do with the little one. It’s a great opportunity to show her a few new ways to reuse things. We try and keep old wrapping paper, cartons, cardboard and pretty bits of packaging for her to use to make things with – so repurposing is often at the back of her mind.

My usual way to use recycling as pots it’s just to have a container that has drainage holes in the bottom squashed inside a mushroom box. However, our windowsills are a bit thin and sometimes there’s a bit of space that would be perfect to squeeze a single pot into as opposed to ta tray of pots. This is the perfect space to put a repurposed plastic bottle pot.

How to make a repurposed plastic bottle pot

  1. Plastic bottles smaller than 1.5litres may be a bit small for the effort. If the label is easy to remove then do so. It turns out that the innocent smoothie bottles are best left with the label on. The glue doesn’t come of very easily. Just FYI – rubbing with oil can sometimes work on glue that is not water soluble.
  2. Cut the bottle in half with a stanley knife. The ratio of top to bottom is down to your own judgement. The further away from the mouth of the bottle you go the bigger a pot you create for your seeds and seedlings, but if you go too far then what is left at the bottom doesn’t provide much support for your top-heavy bottle.
  3. Invert the top of your bottle to fit inside. You now have a pot with a drainage hole and a receptacle at the bottom to collect any water.

These are fine as they are but there is opportunity to decorate here. Also, by decorating, you can provide a bit more darkness for the roots.

Reused wrapping paper

This is the quickest method and also fantastic for using up old wrapping paper. It’s worth getting a bigger piece and folding the ends over. It’s quicker because it means less cutting and it also gives you a thicker sheath to go around the pot. This is particularly good for when you’ve got a pot that has too short a base. You can extend the height of the wrapping paper past the bottom section so that it forms a taller base for your top pot. Hopefully with careful watering and not over watering your paper shouldn’t get wet. I have tried to use the Christmas paper that is less obviously Christmas themed. Little one is a big fan of cats and this pink monstrosity is what her last birthday pressie came wrapped in.

Painted pots

You can paint pretty designs on any kind of repurposed recycling pot as well as the repurposed plastic bottle pots. I’d advise using acrylic paint as it can be used on plastic and is waterproof afterwards. My little one had lots of fun making this pot with clouds. Quite a fun design is to draw a face on the pot and then whatever grows in the top of your pot looks like it is the pot’s hair. Again, you can see the little one loves cats, with this cat face she drew. I may be one of those awful coo-ing mothers, because I really think this is adorable and pretty good for a 5 year old. Hopefully, you can tell that one of these below is a minion. The other is a, slightly more obscure, vittra from ‘Hilda’ – who do actually have greenery out the top of their heads.

Craft pots

You can make a combination of painting and crafty pots too. This is so very easy for little ones. Glue dots and double sided sticky tape are great for letting little ones stick things on pots. We ransacked her craft box for the little things that she likes. We also had a few paper punches (like a hole punch but cuts shapes) that make really easy shapes. She used both the owl and the dragonflies. One pot has foam autumn leaf stickers. Acrylic paint provides green grass, blue sky and white clouds. Felt flowers and paper dragon flies are stuck on top. The last has 2 sizes of paper punched flowers layered and stuck on a blue acrylic paint base.

As we are currently in the joyous throes of COVID home-schooling it’s worth nothing that getting her involved in things like this ticks lots of boxes. She gets to exercise her imagination, she practises fine motor control as she draws, paints and sticks and of course she’s learning a little about sustainability. It’s also an almost zero cost activity (depending on what kind of things you have around the house) and involves no screen time.

Make a Seed organiser

Short version:

In December when you have little inclination to venture into the garden and you have the head space to deal with your seeds you can make a practical, repurposed seed box with the small Amazon delivery boxes and some cardboard or old cards.

There are only a few things that I can bring myself to do in the rainy, cold December garden:

  1. Sowing – there are a couple of varieties of broad beans that can be direct sown outside still (a few herbs, and salad leaves, like lambs lettuce, can be sow inside or undercover ).
  2. Harvesting – physalis, oca, Chinese artichokes, Jerusalem artichokes, yacon, cauliflowers, chard, three corned leek, chard, Chinese chives, kale, purple tree collards and the last few beetroots and radishes are available.
  3. Removing cat poo and, last week, one dead rat that recalls the phrase ‘smells like something has died.’ To be honest this has put me off going into the garden more than the rain does.

Really preferring the indoors after that and in December I have the time and head space to sort out my seeds. With the plethora of ‘Black Friday /Cyber Monday’ seed sales and my ‘worst case scenario wife’ (and yes – he really does call me that) Brexit/COVID panic I now have a ridiculous number of seeds. Even if I annex the shed roof, parts of the lawn and fill abandoned water tanks and pots, I imagine I’ll still have plenty of seeds come 2025.

The number of seeds is overwhelming and through the year I find myself getting annoyed at trying to find things and forgetting to plant things. I’ve stored seeds in different labelled envelopes and jiffy bags, trying to keep my sanity. In addition, I have a large seed collection for the school edible garden that I look after too.

I would love a beautiful, shiny, metal seed tin. It just seems like a nice thing. I couldn’t find one that was the right shape and size. I soon realised that beautiful was pretty far down my list. I want a practical seed tin. I want a cheap (or free) seed tin and, very importantly, I would like an environmentally friendly tin.

Free boxes

With COVID and school bubble quarantines we have done much shopping online this year, leading to the discovery that the small packaging boxes used by Amazon are the perfect size for a seed box.

I find that this is a good way to organise seeds. Into the main sowing months February – May split into inside and outside with January, June, July, and August with only section each. In January I have nothing that I want to sow direct outside and by June there’s very little point in sowing indoors in pots unless I’m growing extra plants to fill up space outside as it becomes free.

Organising my seed packets

Indoor sowing is the only option – Sweet peppers are sown inside from mid-February to be planted out from mid-May so that goes into the February indoors section. 

Outdoor sowing is the only option – Radishes and beetroots are direct sow outdoors from March, so I put them into the March outside section.

Early indoors or later outdoors options but outdoors is better – Carrots can be sown under glass/plant indoors from February onwards or direct sown from April. I make a judgement on whether I have space indoors and deep enough pots – as carrots are not so good with being transplanted or if I can wait for carrots another couple of months. I’ve put them under April outside.

Early indoors or later outdoors options but indoors is better – Summer squash can be sown indoors from March or outdoors from mid-May. Here, I think it’s worth giving large plants, like these, a head start. Recent years there has been some really erratic weather, so I’ve put these into March indoors so that they get as long as possible a season before weather turns cold or damp.   

Waiting to sow to suit timing – Climbing beans for school if sown as soon as possible (indoors) then harvesting starts in July – when the kids are about to go on their summer holidays. The children don’t benefit from harvests during their longest holiday. Therefore, starting the seeds outdoors early July saves effort and means that they’re ready for the kids when they return. These have gone into the school box under July outdoors.

Using the box

As each month hits, when I have a couple of free days, I’ll pull out the suitable section and sow everything from one section in one go if possible.

With vegetables that can be sown in succession, once they’ve been sown, rather than go back into the original section, I put it into the next month that I think I’d like to sow them again. E.g. Radishes are in March outdoors – but when March rolls round, after I’ve sown the carrots I’ll pop them into April outside so I can sow some more in April. If in April I’ve run out of space in the garden I’ll pass them on into the next month.


I did try making some dividers with some bits of card and folded over post it notes but the post it notes got a bit squished. I then realised that a flap was not necessary, and we could repurpose cardboard further and easily make divers from with the cardboard flaps of the bigger cardboard that we get deliveries in. This was a quick and easy step.

At the beginning of December, I found some old Christmas cards, as well as some birthday and thank you cards. I’ve kept them because they are beautiful or have lovely messages written inside and I can’t throw them away. I am a bit of a hoarder but would like to find a use for them beyond stuffing them in a box and forgetting about them for the next 5 years. Some of the cards were a perfect size for the box. So I used them as dividers. With some creative trimming others had readable messages still or lovely fronts. It’s a lovely way to repurpose (and they could still be recycled a few years down the line too) and I still have them as mementos.

I wrote on the back of the cards (because most of these were white) with a marker.

The outside

With the cards I found some used Christmas paper. So …er…definitely a hoarder. I often try and keep big, not so crumpled paper after unwrapping. I always assume I could reuse it but by the next Christmas I can never find any of the paper I had put away and/or I realise that it doesn’t look very nice and/or the Sellotape glue reside on it has gone a bit funny. I decided that this paper was perfect for covering a box. I had 2 similar looking boxes and whilst it was easy to tell by looking inside which box was mine and which one was school’s. It got a bit tedious having to check every time. At one point I even had a third box that I was building for someone.

The paper wrapped box, of course, is a bit tacky and there’s a few little bits of Sellotape glue residue on it, it’s very obviously Christmas paper and the trees are upside down on one side, but I feel a little good about life every time I pull it out. I know that I’ve given that box, those cards and that paper a second use (and they can all be recycled after when it gets too tatty). It’s a completely guilt free box. There was no energy used in the manufacture of it (the seed box I mean – obviously the original box did, but it has already served the purpose for which it was made), no resources were used to create it, no fuels were used to transport the box, no storage was required, and no money was spent on it (other than paying for the double sided sticky tape). It was also a fun craft project.

Recycling, reusing and waste disposal (Part 1)

Short version: (Part 1) There are many ways to reuse your waste. When repurposing things like jars, tubs and bottles you could save yourself some money whilst giving you or your family a fun project. Consider reusing before recycling. (Part 2) Please see next week for large scale waste disposal and asbestos removal.

This is a two week blog. The last blog on lawns got me thinking about large scale waste disposal, but not many people are dumb enough to launch into a big garden project the way I do (I have no idea how I convince myself it’s a good idea at the time) so I started thinking more about the everyday things and how we dispose of those. Next week we shall delve into skips and waste disposal companies.


Some ideas are easier than others, but the main point is that anything you reuse or repurpose means that that is one less thing that you are paying money for and one less thing that is manufactured which involves an environmental cost. E.g. the energy and resources put into making and transporting a new plastic plant pot, a cloche or a slug trap. Here are a few ideas that hopefully inspire you to find other new uses. Feel free to post anything you’ve done yourself or any ideas that you have in the comments.


The whole tube can be buried into the ground when your seedling is big enough and/or the frosts have passed. The only problem with these is that I would suggest fast growing seeds as they can go a bit mouldy before you get them into the ground.

Tetra Pak cartons or plastic pots are better for seedlings that will be in them for longer or for cuttings. Tetra Pak is made of layers of card, plastic and aluminium pressed together to provide a lightweight and recyclable container that can keep things inside fresh without refrigeration. This means that the carton will last much better than a toilet roll and have a few more options.

If extracting the seedling is hard you can cut down the side with scissors to unwrap it. I’ve also cut the bottom off with scissors and buried the whole carton to provide a bit of extra protection for the seedlings. It’s a great way to give away cuttings or seedling to other people without worrying that I’ll have to buy replacement pots. When you’re done with the pot they can still be recycled after.

We bulk buy innocent smoothies for the little one whenever they’re on offer, so we always seem to have loads of cartons hanging around. The boxes they come in are also rather useful. They’re an easy to shape sturdy box that makes good storage containers.

Old jar, especially large ones, are great for ‘pickling’ things that don’t require pasteurising. Things like kimchi and sauerkraut are especially good in large repurposed jars as any heat treatment kills off the required beneficial bacteria. If ferments aren’t your thing fruit ‘brandies’ are easy – literally a jar full of vodka with a couple of tablespoons of sugar and some fresh berries, sealed and left for a couple of months. Blackcurrant or cherry are two that I would definitely recommend trying.

Large old jars also make great ways to store leftover wetter foods like soup, stew or spaghetti bolognaise in the fridge as they take up less space (area) than a tub. I used to take the jar into work. It’s heavier and more fragile but they don’t spill the way Tupperware does. The jar (minus the lid) would go straight into the microwave at work.

Of course, plastic tubs are great for holding lunches. They’re also great for storing leftovers. I know proper Tupperware is nice, but this is free and environmentally friendly.

That amazon paper as well as cardboard boxes have gone into a new project too. I’m trying to grow mushrooms without buying the expensive kit. The box kits are an excellent gift, for anyone who is fond of mushrooms but they don’t really produce enough mushrooms to make it cost effective for an avid vegetable grower. The cardboard and paper was boiled to kill microorganisms and pulp it down. The excess water was squeezed out. The whole thing was put into a bag and after cooling mushroom spawn was added. After 4 weeks it looks like the mycelium has almost taken over so I think I might try cutting a hole and seeing if I get any mushrooms. This will make its way onto the blog at a later date. 

There are also a few waste bits that I keep in the little one’s ‘making box’. Bubble wrap, tissue paper from packages, bottle tops, netting orange bags, bits of card, flower catalogues and old wrapping paper makes its way there. This is little one’s go to box for craft materials. It’s great for exercising the imagination and it’s free. She seems to get much more use out of these than the expensive plastic toys that she got for Christmas. That both saddens and pleases me in equal oscillating measure.

It may now seem that I keep everything and horde lots. I do put a lot into recycling too and when I’m done with the pots and jars, they can still go into recycling after their second life.

Food Waste

This can be split into compostables and council collection. I try and keep what I can for composting. Full details of this can be found in ‘Why and what to compost’ but basically any peels, cores, tea bags and spent coffee go into my compost tub in the kitchen to go to the garden because it’s free fertiliser for the garden. All meat, dairy, stuff with sauce and seasonings go into the food waste which the council helpfully collects. Co-op now has compostable bags as carrier bags which can go into the council provided tubs to decrease the ‘ew’ factor that comes with emptying these things.

London reusing

This is something I have only seen in London, though I’m sure it must happen elsewhere. People often leave their unwanted but still usable items outside their house. I love this! This just reduces the city’s waste and purchasing of new items. Sometimes things are in amazing condition because their kids have grown out of it or because they were renting and can’t take it with them. You do need to be a little careful as it can be constituted as fly tipping and you need to make sure you’re not just stealing something that someone has just left outside their house for a moment. I have walked past interesting things before on my way out and decided that I would only pick it up if it was still there on the way back. Often a note saying to help yourself makes it more likely that someone will take it. Also leaving stuff out when the weather is nice and protecting when the weather is not makes something more attractive. We’ve left a few items outside like bricks (more on that next week) or suitcases left by the previous occupants of the house. We’ve collected things like an old push scooter and a drawing desk for the little one. In his university days my husband and his housemates got an old sofa and a coke display fridge, which the electrical engineer student in the house fixed. It took 5 of them to get it into the house and even then, it was too big to move beyond the front hall. I felt really sorry for their landlord after they moved out. 


I’m afraid that despite my best efforts we still have a black bag full a week. I’m always extremely pleased when it feels a bit empty on bin day. Whilst a bag per household is still a pretty hideous amount of waste going into landfill there has been steps over the last decade to encourage much more recycling and reusing. From councils providing better options, to companies that try to be more eco friendly and/or have less or zero waste packing, to even the way everyone thinks about what they do with their waste. For now, we can keep trying our best and keep educating and encouraging ourselves and our little ones.

For some ideas on reducing plastic packaging please see ‘composting tea bags – a plastic problem’