Archive for the "5 fantastic reuses" category

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.

5 fantastic reuses: the best recipes for using up leftover rice

It’s all to easy to cook too much rice but thankfully there are lots of ways to use it up.

Food safety warning: bacteria, specifically Bacillus cereus, loves cooked rice – and it can quickly grow to dangerous levels. Minimise it’s growth by cooling it quickly, put it in the fridge as soon as possible then use it with a day or so.

1. Rice pudding

Rice pudding is eaten all over the world in one form or another. The general principle is the same – cook the rice in milk then when it’s tender, add a sweetener (sugar, honey or fruit syrup) and something to give it a bit more flavour such as cream, egg yolk, fruit or nuts and spices such nutmeg & cinnamon. There are thousands of different ways to make it – experiment to find your favourite!

Leftover cooked rice can be used in place of dry rice – particularly if you’re happy to have a mushier pudding in the end. When making it fresh, most people use short grain rice but anything will do – white or brown, long or short, basmati, jasmine – whatever you’ve got on the go.

One of my favourite rice pudding recipes is with coconut and mango – yum!

2. Add it to soup

Leftover rice – again, any time – is great as a bulking agent in soup. Added early on, it breaks down and makes the whole soup thicker; added towards the end, it provides scoopable particles to chase around the bowl.

Add it to a hearty minestrone, or a tasty Moroccan veg soup – or add it to a simple chicken soup for those days when your belly needs something nice and bland.

3. Stuffed peppers (or marrow)

You can quickly make a tasty dinner by stuffing bell pepper or marrow rings with leftover rice.

Cut the top off the bell pepper and remove any seeds/white bits, then mix the rice with any meat, veggies or herbs you fancy, top with a bit of cheese and bake in a medium oven for about half an hour.

As with rice pudding, everyone has their own way of making them with their own favourite ingredients. Some great examples to get you started: beans and rice stuffed peppers; courgette, basil and rice ones; and super saucy tomato and beef mince ones.

To be extra frugal, use whatever meat or veggies you’ve got leftover alongside the rice – a little chilli con carne or casserole is perfect to stir in and lightly flavour the rice.

4. Bake it into bread – or muffins

Have you ever tried rice bread? Not rice cakes, those boring puffy white things but actual proper bread? If not, you should – it’s great and since you need to cook the rice down into a mush, starting with leftover cooked rice will save you time as well as preventing waste.

Check out this video how-to to see how it’s done.

Alternately, fancy something sweeter? Then I give you vanilla rice muffins.

5. Fried rice

Finally, no “uses for leftover rice” list would be complete without fried rice. Fried rice is best made with cooked rice left to go cold so it’s perfect for using up leftovers.

Again, there are a billion varieties and flavours. A simple recipe makes a good side dish but a couple more ingredients – some meat, fish, tofu or exciting veg – and you’ve got yourself a tasty main meal. Try this flavourful chicken and prawns recipe.


Reduce food waste – only cook as much rice as you need each time. Find a cup or dish that makes the correct amount and measure it out each time.

What’s your favourite thing to do with leftover rice?

(Photos by michaelaw and lockstockb)

5 fantastic recycling ideas for used tyres

Just because a tyre is too old and worn to use on a car, it doesn’t mean that it’s useful life is over.

Here’s our top five reuses for used tyres.

1. Planters for the garden

Used tyres can be used as instant planters in a garden – either wide and low containers on their own, or stacked up on top of each other to form higher planters. Some people think they’re ideal for things that need earthing up (like potatoes) or forcing (like rhubarb) as you can add and remove layers as needed.

However, other people are reluctant to grow vegetables in old tires since they can leach chemicals used in their manufacture into the soil and into the food.

2. Cold frames

Alternatively, used tyres can be used to make quick and easy cold frames to protect young seedlings. Place a tyre on the ground (so the plants aren’t sat on the cold earth) then place a piece of flat wood or some slats on top of that, and add another tyre to be the walls of the cold frame. Use an old window in a frame or piece of scrap perspex/clear plastic as the roof to let the sun in. For extra insulation/heat retention, fill the lower tyre and the walls of the upper tyre with straw or similar.
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5 fantastic reuses: what to do with egg shells

We’ve had loads of really good suggestions for what to do with egg shells over the years but here are some of my favourites:

1. Feed them back to your chickens (or lizards, or dogs…)
Eggs shells contain a considerable amount of calcium – they’re 95% calcium carbonate, with the remaining 5% being a binding protein to hold the shell together – so they can be used as a useful mineral supplement for birds, reptiles or animals.

To feed them back to chickens, bake them in a hot oven for about half an hour then crush them into small grit-sized pieces. Bake them while you’re cooking something else to be more energy efficient – it kills bacteria, makes them easier to crush and changes the taste so are less likely to encourage the hens to peck their fresh eggs. The hens will reward you by recycling the old broken egg shells into fresh new eggs!

The same baked crushed shells can be added to the food of egg-laying reptiles (same principle as chickens) but for dogs on raw food diets, most people simply blend/crush a whole fresh egg in with the dog’s other food every now and then as a calcium boost.

2. Use them for cleaning
Again, baked and crushed, they can be used as a mildly abrasive, natural way to clean stains off the insides of bottles, flasks, vases, or other hard to clean things. Place a couple of tablespoons of crushed egg shells in the container, add water, then shake, baby, shake! The egg shells should help remove stains from tea & coffee or wine, without scratching the much harder surface. After you’re done, you can tip the shelly water into your compost (see #5).

3. Make your own Sterno/heating fuel
Again, taking advantage of all that calcium, you can turn egg shells into homemade Sterno – a long-burning heat sauce made from jellied alcohol, used instead of tealights to keep food warm or as a camping stove fuel. Full instructions on how to make it can be found on the Zen Stoves website (along with advantages and disadvantages of using Sterno as a cooking/heating method).

4. Turn them into chalk – or other pieces of art
If that’s a bit too much like a chemistry experiment for you, how about just making them into floor chalk instead? It’s a pretty easy thing to do – perfect for kids as it doesn’t involve stabbing instruments or flames.

5. Use them in the garden
Roughly crushed egg shells have traditionally been used as a slug deterrent in the gardens – the theory is if you sprinkle a circle of shell around plant stems, slugs won’t cross the sharp rough surface to get to your precious plants. It’s very much more of a deterrent than an eradication measure though and while some people swear by it, other people just swear at the continued loss of their lovely hostas.

Egg shells can also be added to the compost heap – whole shells take ages to break down but crushed ones disappear into the general matter very quickly.

More reuses or recycling ideas for egg shells…