Posts tagged "foam"

How can I reuse or recycle the nets you get around wine bottles?

Long time Recycle This friend (and very frequent commenter!) Anna has a question about the protective sleeves slipped around wine bottles:

Any ideas what to do with the plastic nets they put for wine bottles for protecting them when you buy one?

I don’t drink wine so I had to turn to my friend Google to see what those nets are like – some have big holes and look foamy, whereas others have smaller holes and look more like the thin plastic netting you get garlic bulbs in (a smaller version of orange/onion nets). I think the former are to provide some “bounce” protection while the latter just keep all the big bits of glass together in the event of a breakage. (Please correct me if I’m wrong about those assumptions.)

Either way, the first suggestion has to be reduce if you can: if they only add the netting at the shop after you’ve bought the wine, don’t let them: either take an old net to reuse or throw caution to the wind and just go nude ;)

As for reusing them for other things, the thinner/smaller holed nets can be filled with bird seed to make your own bird feeders, filled with the ends of old soap bars and hung on an outside tap for garden clean-up, or bunched up to make washing scrubbies.

I’d be tempted to throw a few of the foam type ones in with our reusable shopping bag stash for when we go to the supermarket for a big shop – they could cushion glass jars and other glass bottles to save them clinking together all the way home. Opened out flat, the foam ones would also be useful as cushioning under heavy plant pots (so they’re less likely to damage/dint the surface they’re stood on) or between occasionally use crockery to save that knocking together too.

How do you reuse or recycle those nets?

Five fantastic reuses for expanded Polystyrene foam packaging

foam_packaging.jpgExpanded polystyrene, the moulded white shapes you get as protective packaging when you buy electronics or large toys etc, is a pain to recycle – it can be recycled now but not many places collect it.

Unlike its foam ‘peanuts’ counterpart which can be reused as multi-purpose packaging again and again, the moulded stuff only really fits around the item you got it with — but there are still some fantastic ways to reuse it.

1. Crocks in plant pots

Chunks of expanded polystyrene foam make great crocks for plant pots – particularly large tubs filled with shallow rooted plants. The light foam fills the space rather than heavy soil, making it easier to move around and it helps with drainage too.

Those worried about plastic chemical leaching may want to avoid using it when growing fruit or veg in containers though.

2. Use it to make artwork or to mount pictures on walls

Waste expanded polystyrene can be used to make fun artwork – it can be used as a core for sculptures or models.

Flatter sections can be used like poster board/foam core to mount pictures, photos or posters on walls – the resulting picture is rigid (so won’t curl) but light.

Deeper pieces of the foam can be used to make blocky canvas-style wall art – mount your picture so that it run around the edges, covering the foam sides. If you haven’t got a single piece of polystyrene that’s big enough, make a strong frame from lengths of it instead.

3. Floating bath pillow or bath toys for kids

Pick a reasonably smooth piece of expanded polystyrene and cover it with a quick drying fabric – thin cotton or an old swim suit perhaps – to use it as a floating pillow in the bath.

Or cover smaller, interesting shapes with fun fabric to make floating toys for kids.

4. Use it to make costumes

As it’s light, bulky and reasonably easy to modify, it’s perfect for turning into Halloween or fancy dress costumes where you want to be bulkier – or more robotic/mechanical – than you currently are.

5. Use it for insulation

The air trapped between the individual polystyrene beads makes it an excellent insulator. Some people are worried about using it around the house in case of fires but it can be used in other ways:

  • Coldframe – moulded expanded polystyrene boxes are great as cold frames in the garden as they protect delicate seedlings from the cold earth. They’re commonly used for shipping refrigerated vegetables or chilled/frozen fish so ask at your local market to see if they have any spares. Then you just need an old window or some scrap clear plastic sheeting for the top.
  • Ponds – if you’re installing a pond, consider placing a layer of expanded polystyrene around the liner and the earth. It’ll stop the cold earth leaching away the water’s last bits of warmth in the winter. You can also float the foam on top of the water in winter to stop it freezing solid – and in the summer, frogs can use polystyrene floats as mock lily pads.
  • “Hay” oven – a hay oven allows you to save energy while slow cooking stews & casseroles. You start the casserole on the stove then cover it and put it into a well insulated box for several hours – the retained heat keeps it hot and cooking. As the name suggests, hay is a common insulator – but expanded polystyrene can perform a similar job.


Try to avoid buying items packed with expanded polystyrene in the first place. Support more environmentally conscious manufacturers who uses paper based alternatives instead. And if you do, tell the original company why you didn’t buy their product – it might inspire them to be greener in the future too.

How can I reuse or recycle foam water pipe lagging?

This is usually the other way around – we usually suggest things that can be used to insulate water pipes – but I saw some foam water pipe lagging on the road today while walking the dog. I imagine it had blown off a nearby skip or been taken off by kids (because reuse #1: they’re great for sword fights) but either way: yoink!

Given the rain of the last 24 hrs, they’re a bit wet but since they’re plasticky foam, I imagine they’ll dry fine. We’ll probably use them for actual pipe lagging as we’ve just had some new pipe work put in – but if we were already insulated, what else could we use them for?

How can I reuse or recycle plastic/foam egg boxes?

We’ve had an email from Rowena asking about reuses for foam egg boxes:

I’ve seen all the ideas for paper egg boxes but I get plastic ones sometimes. I can’t even compost them!! What can I do?

The first suggestion I have is possibly a little unhelpful but “reduce” – don’t get the plastic ones any more. As I said, that’s probably a little unhelpful because I’m guessing that you wouldn’t get them if you had a choice but still, it’s always worth reducing if you can.

One advantage foam boxes have over cardboard ones is that they’re not so easily damaged when they get wet so they’re better for certain reuses – I remember using them as colour palette while painting as a kid. They can also be reused many times for their intended purpose – offer them to chicken-owning friends or take them with you to use when you buy eggs from somewhere that sells them loose (such as certain farmers’ market stalls or markets in general).

Any other suggestions specifically for foam ones?

How can I reuse or recycle giant holey foam things?

We’ve had an email from Petra:

From a party project, we have left two big foam “things” with holes in it. See the picture included. They measure 108 by 47 by 18 (in centimeters). The holes are large enough to hold a winebottle. But the foam is quite soft, so it’s not safe enough to make it into a hanging wine rack.

I thought about it being playing items for the kids in the garden, but any better ideas are more than welcome.

The bright colour, softness and chunkiness make them feel very much like something for kids – one of those things that if we’d had it as a kids, we’d have come up with a thousand different play uses for it. If you have a few, another kid-related thing might be to string them up as hanging dividers in a bedroom – such as between the sleeping area and the playing area, or to give kids a little privacy/sense of their own space in a shared room.

Aside from that, if you could find boxes big enough to hold them (under bed storage boxes maybe?), they might be useful for keeping glasses or bottles safe during a house move (if you’re not moving, someone on Freecycle probably will be!).

They also could be useful in the garden if you’re growing a lot of seedlings – holding plant pots upright when they start to get a bit top heavy or if it’s windy.

Any other suggestions?