Plastic products that we discard after only one use, like straws, bags, bottles and food packaging, are called single-use plastics, and they’re so prevalent that ‘single-use’ was officially named as word of the year by Collins Dictionary in 2018.
Much of the material used for these items is a mix of different plastics, which can’t be separated for recycling, and that means it goes into landfill, either in the UK or abroad, or is incinerated.
The EU has voted for a ban on a range of items made from single-use plastics, and a reduction in use or food and drink containers, which is expected to take effect by 2021. The British government has pledged to eliminate plastic waste by 2042.
The best way to extend their lifespan, and be environmentally friendly, could be to reuse them yourself.
Here’s our guide to doubling the life of these problem plastics.
Bottles big and small
Around 13 billion plastic bottles are used in the UK each year, but only 7.5 billion (57.6%) of these are recycled.
Protect yourself from painful pokes from canes by topping each one with a small upside-down bottle.
Make a hole in the lids and string them onto lengths of twine and suspend like bunting over freshly sown or planted beds. It’ll move in the wind and help deter birds.
Cut large transparent bottles in half horizontally, to use the top half (take the top off) as a mini cloche to shelter tender specimens, and use the bottom half as a plant-pot, as seen in the Lemon Tree Trust Garden at the Chelsea Flower Show 2018. Or turn the bottle horizontally to make a planter. Screw on the lid, cut a hole along the side and suspend several in rows on wires or from hooks.
To water your pots while you’re on holiday, make a ‘drip irrigator’. Pierce a couple of holes in the lid of a large bottle with a hammer and nail. Fill the bottle with water, screw on the lid and plunge it upside-down into the soil.
Cut opaque bottles (and other containers) into strips and use as plant markers.
You can even use colourless plastic bottles to build a kind of greenhouse. You’ll need a basic frame first (and a lot of bottles – it’s not a weekend project!) Cut off the bottle bases and thread them onto bamboo canes the same length as the side panels, then attach the bottle-covered canes to the frame until all the walls are built.
Or you could join the global, not-for-profit Ecobricks movement (www.ecobricks.org) where you make plastic-bottle bricks by stuffing them with plastic waste until they’re solid, then build with them: anything from seating to basic shelters. You’ll become aware of how much plastic waste you generate, and you’ll know exactly where it is!
Turn takeaways into seed trays
After you’ve enjoyed a takeaway or ready meal, wash the tray, make a few holes in the bottom and use for sowing seeds. They’re smaller than the standard seed trays you buy so you can squeeze them onto even the smallest windowsill.
Keep the cutlery
Keep plastic knives, forks and spoons – they can come in handy for small-scale digging in pots or window boxes, or use them as plant labels – particularly appropriate for fruit and veg!
Pots for plots
Yogurt pots (or those that held cream, custard, crème fraîche etc) make perfect containers for seedlings or potting on cuttings, just poke a hole in the base for drainage.
Use the pot to make a hanging bird feeder – read our guide to making one.
In winter, float a lidded pot in a pond to prevent it from freezing.
Carry on with carrier bags
The UK’s carrier bag use dropped by 85% after we had to pay 5p for them. But in 2017-2018 there were still 19 sold for each person in the UK.
Once the thicker supermarket bags have reached the end of their shopping-trip life, or if you just have too many, how about using them to make leaf mould to help your soil retain moisture and improve its drainage? Gather fallen leaves, pack into carrier bags, tie the tops and pierce a couple of holes in each bag. Then store for one to two years before adding to soil to condition it.
Hang bags from a hook in a cupboard or shed and use to hold tools, string and other kit.
Cut into strips and tie onto fences, railing and hanging baskets to wave in the wind and keep birds away from new sowings or fruit, or use instead of string for plant supports.
Alternatively, make ‘plarn' (plastic yarn) by cutting a bag into a spiral length, then knitting or crocheting it into storage bags or boxes (make two rectangles, sew together, and add plarn handles) or even a mat, to kneel on, or put on the floor of the shed.
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