In our house, we’re always keen to find quirky, new uses for worn out things and reduce the amount we put in the bin. And if recycling something involves a fun activity for a rainy day then so much the better. However, I’m not the most arty of mums, so I like to keep it simple. Here are six of our most recent recycling projects, no special skills required.
1. Paper cup telephone
Early on during the Covid-19 lockdown, Mr Rixon and I supported our local café by purchasing two takeaway coffees on the way back from an essential shopping trip. The cups are fully biodegradable, but we decided to recycle them at home by turning them into a classic paper cup telephone.
I made two holes in the centre of the base of each cup with a pin and connected them with a piece of string, secured at either end with a knot. To my amazement, it works! However, my kids don’t know this: being only one and three years old respectively, they cannot coordinate their hands and mouths properly nor take it in turn to speak down the telephone while the other listens. But they love it all the same.
2. Vitamin tube shakers
One rainy day we decided to make our own musical shakers out of plastic vitamin tubes. These cannot be recycled but are the perfect shape and size for shakers shaken by little hands. Breadstick and cocoa tubs are also good candidates and can double up as drums.
For a pleasing sound, we filled the tubes with mixed dried pulses from a packet at the back of the food cupboard that went out of date in 2011. Then we decorated them with different coloured paper triangles and painted the ends.
3. Welly boot planters
In general, children are more likely to grow out of than wear out their footwear. But Wellington boots can be an exception, especially if the child is a professional puddle splasher and seasoned camper like Gwendolyn. With huge tears in the sides, there was no putting her size seven wellies away for her little sister Josephine to grow into. So we decided to turn them into quirky little plant pots.
First, we drilled three or four holes in the sole of each boot using a medium drill bit. Then we added a few drainage stones and filled the boots with compost. For the plants we chose oxalis, which (fingers crossed) should provide delicate pink blooms to complement the boots, and garden mint to render those once smelly wellies minty fresh, while providing a source of nectar for bees.
4. Bamboo toothbrush seedling markers
This one was inspired by the ‘Help Our Little World’ song from Tee & Mo – a CBeebies cartoon about ‘a little monkey and his monkey mum’. The catchy tune is full of ‘little ideas’ for how children can lead a more sustainable lifestyle to ‘help our little world’. One of the suggestions is to ‘swap our plastic toothbrush for something like bamboo’. So, we did.
However, while the handles of these toothbrushes are biodegradable, their multi-coloured bristles are made from plastic. So, once worn out, my girls’ toothbrushes enjoy a second life as sturdy, colourful seedling markers for all the seeds we planted this spring and summer.
5. Mushroom box helmet
Although black plastic is recyclable, waste-sorting machines cannot detect black pigments so it often end up in landfill. And supermarkets seem to insist on packaging mushrooms in black boxes. I try to buy loose mushrooms if possible but this isn’t always an option. So when Gwendolyn announced one day after nursery that she wanted to make a knight’s helmet I looked no further than the empty mushroom box on the draining board.
She decorated her helmet (modelled above by Piggy-Wig) with a selection of stickers and brightly coloured pompoms, while I attached a piece of string for the chinstrap. Now she just needs stick sword and she is ready for battle!
6. Muslin lavender sachets
When Mr Rixon and I were expecting Gwendolyn we purchased a pack of 12 muslin squares from Mothercare. More than enough, surely? Then we found out just how much possetting and dribbling a newborn baby can do. All 12 muslins seemed to be constantly in the wash, which reduced their softness so that we had to purchase another 12 when Josephine came along.
What to do with 24 worn out muslin squares? Turn them into lavender sachets! We harvested our lavender from a neighbour’s bush (it grows right out over the pavement) and stripped the dried flowers off the stems. Next, we mixed the petals with rice to absorb any moisture and prevent the scent from being overpowering. I cut the muslins to size, layered one piece inside another, and filled the centres with a handful of the dried lavender flowers and rice grains.
As I’m not much use with a needle and thread, we secured our sachets with rubber bands and pretty ribbons. They make perfect drawer liners or if tucked under the pillow, may help little ones to sleep through the night. At least, I can hope!