Modest proposals for Waste Reduction Week
By: Ellen Moorhouse
(Special to the Star)
While the event seems rather low key, the sponsors – provincial recycling councils across Canada – have landed a high-profile mascot in Oscar the Grouch. The program, operating since 2001, also has a great slogan: "Too good to waste."
Inspired by that, Trash Talk puts forward a few suggestions for items you may be loathe to throw out. We also welcome more of your ideas, no matter how quirky.
For the Birds
Two-litre milk and juice cartons are durable because of the plastic film coating on both sides of the heavy paper stock. (Most jurisdictions in the Toronto region now accept them in their blue boxes but they're a challenge to process.) Worm composting guru and Bradford resident Cathy Nesbitt uses them, rinsed and dried, for shipping worms and castings; she also turns them into mini worm composters and even bird feeders.
Have a look at the accompanying photo. First, cut about halfway around the bottom of the carton, starting on the side and leaving a one-inch lip. Then make two curved cuts on each side to meet the ends of the bottom incision, creating a flap.
Nesbitt sells the mini-composters (the cartons lying horizontally, with bedding, up to a dozen worms and instructions) at workshops and as birthday favours ($5 each): "We have done several birthday parties, always with huge success," she says. "The kids love it."
Turn a carton into a bird feeder by using two paper clips on either side above the flap fold, twisted to brace it open. Put pinholes in the bottom for drainage, then hang it out in your garden with avian snacks inside.
One reader sent an email describing how she puts her kitchen organics into her blender, adds water, gives it a whirr and dumps it on her garden. She's careful to avoid blender-damaging items like corn cobs and husks and banana ends, as well as oil, dairy and meat waste.
"As a result, I have a beautiful garden with great soil, and the city has very little green waste from my family to deal with," she wrote.
The Toronto Star's real estate section once had a story about an elderly gentleman who did exactly the same thing, watering and feeding the trees around his condo with the blender slurry.
Secret Drying Place
Toronto Star editor, friend and condo resident Alf Holden recently showed me his impressive balcony oasis with abundant plants, fed a rich diet of castings from his worm composter (purchased from Nesbitt). He also has some practical reuse ideas.
How often have you tried to rinse out a plastic bag, especially heavy bags like Ziplocs? They never quite dry and lie around looking unsightly. Holden washes a bag and slips it away to dry, resting it on top of items inside a closed kitchen cupboard. I've tried it, rolling back the bag rim to facilitate air circulation; it works like a charm.
Holden also cuts up worn terry-cloth towels into washcloth-size pieces for use first as dishcloth or paper-towel substitutes in the kitchen, then as cleaning rags. They can be washed, reused and there's always a good supply.
Garbage Bag Substitute
Okay, so maybe we shouldn't accept plastic garment bags from the cleaners, but my husband does for his shirts. In Toronto, we're not supposed to recycle these bags, so I tie a knot in the bottom where the hanger hole is and use it for garbage and green bin. They're strong and they cut down on regular garbage bag purchases and use.
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