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Garden Recycling: Milk Jugs and Yogurt Containers

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The average American generates 4.5 pounds of trash per day; a whopping 1,642 pounds every year. Recycling programs certainly help lighten the load, but even recycling takes a toll on the environment. It takes trucks and processing plants to transport and recycle the items we put in our little bins on trash day. By far, the best way to help the environment is to shop for items that use less packaging in the first place. A close second is to reuse what you have. By reusing the items usually tossed in the trash or recycling bin, we can go a long way toward reducing our impact on the environment.

Let’s take a look at a couple of common items found in most trash cans and recycling bins:

Plastic Milk Jugs

Americans throw away millions of plastic bottles every year. We use 2.5 million plastic bottles per day–most of them are milk jugs and water bottles. According to the EPA, milk jugs that aren’t recycled will never degrade. That’s right. Never. But plastic milk jugs have plenty of uses in the garden. Here are just a few:

Milk Jug Bird Feeder

This is a great project to do with children. You’ll need:

  • A One gallon plastic milk jug, washed well and dried (with cap)
  • A utility knife or sharp scissors
  • Twine (if you want to hang the feeder)
  • A pencil, dowel, or fairly straight, thin tree branch (for perches)

1. Start by cutting either round or rectangular shaped holes in two or three sides of the jug. If you want to attract larger birds, make your holes larger; smaller birds, smaller holes.

2. Under each hole, use the utility knife or scissors to make a small “X” shaped slit. This will hold your perch. It should be big enough to slide the pencil, dowel, or branch into, but small enough to hold it in very securely.

3. Cut a few small slits in the bottom of the jug. This will allow any water that happens to get into your feeder to drain out.

4. If you want to hang the feeder, punch two holes near the top of the jug and run your twine through.

5. Fill with seed, and enjoy!

You can make several of these, filled with different types of seed to attract different birds. Some can have small holes, others can have large holes. You’ve got a bird feeding station for free!

Store granular fertilizers and soil amendments

If you use store-bought organic granular fertilizers, these often come in a bag, which tend not to be very sturdy or durable. To keep the fertilizer dry, contained, and ready to use, funnel it into a clean, dry milk jug. Cut out the label and instructions from the bag and tape it to the side of the milk jug. No more spills, and your fertilizer or soil amendment will stay dry.

Store food scraps for the compost pile

Sure, you can purchase cute little crocks to keep on your counter to store kitchen scraps in, but why? A plastic milk jug, with the very top cut off so you have a bigger opening, is the perfect container for kitchen scraps. Store it in your refrigerator or freezer, throw the scraps in as necessary, and when it’s full, take the container out and dump it in the compost. It’s not cute, but it works.

There are many, many uses for milk jugs in the garden. Be creative.

Yogurt Containers

Surprisingly, many yogurt containers aren’t recyclable at all. Most yogurt containers are produced with polypropylene (#5) plastic, which isn’t recycled in some communities. Even those made with #2 HDPE plastic, which is normally recycled, may be trashed once they get to the recycling center because they melt at a different temperature than the plastic bottles made of #2 HDPE. In light of this, reducing the number of yogurt containers you purchase, and reusing as many as possible, is even more important.

Ideas for reusing single-serving yogurt containers:

1. Start seeds in yogurt cups. Often, the yogurt cup will be big enough for the seedling to stay in until it is ready to be planted in the garden. Simply poke a few drainage holes in the bottom, and plant them up. Wash them out after you’ve planted the seedlings outside, and use them again next time.

2. Yogurt cups make excellent scoops for potting soil, grass seed, or bird seed.

3. Cut the bottom out of the yogurt cup and place the rest of the cup around newly planted seedlings. Press the bottomless cup an inch or two into the soil, and you have a cutworm collar.

4. Use them in the potting shed for storing odds and ends like hose washers, plant markers, and pieces of broken pots for covering drainage holes.

5. Make a twine dispenser. This is especially useful once you’ve gotten close to the end of a roll of twine, and it won’t really stay in a “roll” anymore. Simply poke a hole in the bottom of the container and feed the end of the twine through it from the inside. Use masking or duct tape to close the open end and keep the twine from falling out.

There you have them: several easy ideas for reusing common trash in your garden!

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