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Recycling what others throw out

Oily raggers are a creative bunch. There is no limit to their imagination when it comes to putting other peoples junk to good use. They have come up with millions of ways (thousands…hundreds…OK, some ways!) to turn rubbish into of uses for things that others throw away. Here are some of those creative suggestions, but send in your own ideas for the mirth and benefit of others.

Building sites

  • Go though waste skips at building sites. A lot of excellent material get dumped, material that can usually be had for the price of asking. – P.S.


  • How about saving those calendar pictures. They make wonderful wrapping paper. - G.A.


  • Cars get abandoned from time to time. The get dumped any where: reserves, forests, anywhere at all. They are however a treasure-chest of nuts, bolts, screws, washers, clips, pins, hinges, handles, hoses, wire, belts. Springs and so on that can be used for house repairs or modifications rather than having to go cap-in-hand to the hardware store. They can also provide seats for the porch as well as glass, steering systems, axles and diffs for larger projects. – P.S.

Cereal packets

  • Use inside "plastic" bags from cereal packets to wrap left-over food instead of grease-proof paper. I use it to wrap my lunch and it keeps fresh. Just wipe and dry it each night. - J.J.

Christmas cards

  • Each year I make my own Christmas cards with my own poem and pics of children.  For envelopes I use magazine pages, they're easy to fold into an envelope. I used old bridal mags last year. They look great and people appreciate your effort.  Unfortunately some recipients thought they were wedding invitations! Hehe.  V.M, Levin.

  • Once Christmas is over, mum cuts up her Christmas cards and uses the pictures on the front for present tags for the coming year. -2nd generation Oily Ragger, Wellington.


  • I am not a knitter, so op-shop or passed on jumpers etc would be used like knitted material and cut down to make anything from kids clothes, to patchwork throw rugs or to line oven cloths and pot holders. If you are smart and utilise the ribbed areas well shrunk woollens make brilliant leak proof baby over-naps, provided you don't use disposables. I also made toddler 'ski' suits out of an adult parka, again using existing rib and running the zip right down one leg to make nappy changing easier. I found that a lot is achievable with just a basic zig-zag sewing machine and as little sewing as possible, use what is already sewn. - W.G., Waimauku

Computer bits and pieces

Cotton reels

  • Use as broom holders. Attach two cotton reels just far enough apart for a broom to fit between. - O.R.

Cotton shirts

  • Shirts with scuffed cuffs and collapsing collars can be transformed into pillow cases. - O.R.

Egg cartons

  • I'm 74 now but I well remember being a poor university student and begging bacon ends from the butcher and ends of the cheese rounds from the grocer. We ate Pavlova most nights - sugar was cheap and we got egg whites free from the laboratories because they only used the egg yolks for their tests.  We used to line our rooms with egg cartons for sound insulation and to stop draughts. That was in 1957.- JWC, Auckland. [Egg cartoons for sound proofing and insulation – now that is an oily rag trick!]

  • Make excellent pots for seedlings. Fill with compost and plant seedlings in each compartment. - O.R.

  • Remove the top and use the bottom as an office organiser. Place paperclips in one compartment, rubber bands, in another and so on.

  • Use as an artists paint pallet. Open up the carton, place a blob of paint in each compartment and place the brushes in the lid. Toss away after use so there is no messy cleaning up.

  • Empty egg cartons are excellent for draining deep fried chips etc. - D.M, Katikati.

Egg shells

A reader has asked what can be done with egg shells. We put that question to our oily rag research team and they came up with a surprisingly large number of uses and some interesting facts.

An eggs shell accounts for about 10% of its weight and is about 95% calcium carbonate? For years scientists have been looking at ways to use the calcium properties in egg shell. It has many commercial uses, including in paper making to improve brightness, opacity and strength in paper (those oily raggers making their own paper may want to try adding crushed shell to their paper making recipe). It is also used as a nutritional supplement in animal feed and more recently engineers at Ohio State University have found a way to use the high calcium content in the hydrogen fuel process.

But it also has many uses around the home and in the garden. Here are some of the more common (or interesting) uses.

  • Finely crush the shells and tip a small quantity down your drain. It will sit in the elbows and scour away grease and grime and as they flow to waste, and prevent future blocking.

  • As a stain remover. Place finely crushed shell into a damp tea pot or thermos. Let it sit overnight, then add water, swirl around then rinse out.

  • Some people use the shell as a filter. Crack open the top of an egg, poke a small hole in the other end, and pour in whatever is to be strained. The liquid will seep from the bottom. (Big jobs may require Ostrich sized eggs!).

  • Use near whole shells to plant seedlings; crack a few holes in the bottom for drainage. Place them in an old egg carton. When the seedlings are large enough to plant out crack the shells and plant. This can add a bit of fun to a children’s garden. 

  • Surround plants with crashed egg shells to deter slugs and snails. It acts like a barrier because these garden pests do not like crossing over sharp objects. Add crushed shell into your compost bin or directly into the soil of plants like tomatoes and roses. You could also make a liquid fertilizer by placing crushed egg shells into a jug of warm water and leave for two days. Apply the water directly onto indoor or outdoor plants.

  • For those with chickens, add crushed shell to their food. The calcium in their diet helps build strong shells and give them grit to help them digest their food. The trick here is to crush the shells up in tiny pieces. Place them in a plastic bag and run-over it with a rolling pin or something similar (like the family car!). 

  • Use as a health supplement for you and your pets.  Shells are full of calcium. Crush dried egg shells (preferably in a warm over) into a powder and sprinkle over your food. Half an egg shell would provide the daily intact for most people. Add it with the dog and cat food too… they need calcium for strong bones and healthy white teeth.

  • A traditional oily ragger now in her 80s recalls with humour playing practical jokes on her school mates. They would fill an empty egg shell with confetti and break them over someone’s head (and we thought kids today were bad!).

  • Another oily ragger said they hide little home-made treats inside eggs and open them up at kids parties – a little like the Christmas-egg-cracker.

  • Make egg candles. Remove the top from an empty shell, add a central wick then melt candle scraps into the egg. Place in an egg cup and light.

  • Egg baubles are interesting decorations on a Christmas tree.

  • Egg faces. Paint a happy egg face. Mom, dad, bothers and sisters… all sitting on a humpty dumpty wall. Or what about Russian eggs? Cut each egg in half… hinge and have a smaller one onside.  

  • To make mosaics from egg shells, paint the shells before crushing, and gluing to a solid surface. Another method is to spread hobby glue over the surface of something sturdy or a box, can, a mat, books, etc and sprinkle the egg shell over to give texture. Paint the image when dry and spray with several coats of sealer. Small prices can be used like glitter.

Food scraps

  • "I only use a large rubbish bag about once a month for rubbish to go to the dump. I always put fruit and vege scraps, tea bags, egg shells, and vacuum cleaner contents into a bucket and when it is full I dig it straight into my small vege garden, where it turns into soil in next to no time. The compost bin is used for grass clippings and prunings and the odd weed - that takes much longer to produce soil." - C.T. Onerahi, Whangarei. [Good idea C.T. We put all household scraps into a compost bin, and a few weeks ago we emptied it to find dark rich soil. We formed it into a fertile mound, which has now become a thriving melon and pumpkin patch. Another way of getting rid of kitchen food scraps is to start a worm farm. We read an article recently about one being made from a length of 160mm downpipe. It was fun for the kids and a great way of having tiger worms turn kitchen waste into plant nutrients. - oily rag ed']

Free stuff

  • Check out the new Kiwi "freecycle" website www.asksharegive.org.nz for heaps of fantastic free stuff. Anything can be borrowed, given away or exchanged on the site as long as no money changes hands. – JF, Auckland.


  • I use the inner tops off yoghurt half litre pottles of cottage cheese etc to separate layers of food for the freezer. Saves using plastic, and can be re-used over and over. I also find the white newsprint type paper that supermarkets wrap some goods in can make a good lining for my fridge vege bins to stop that wet messy bottom - and the used paper can be composted when soggy. I also get 52 free lunch bags a year using the Listener magazine wrapper so I never buy lunch bags! -   Lorraine, Whakatane.

  • Great site where you can send out an email to all members offering an item you no longer want/need for free. They pick it up so no cost to you. And you can also ask for items, or if you get an email and are first to reply you can pick up something for free. - Miriam, Auckland.

  • I get a lot of enjoyment out of using things other people class as rubbish and if I save money by doing so, it’s even better. For years I was on a small wage and I still managed to pay off a $10,000 loan in 3 years. I’m proud of myself and think I am a real “oily rag” person!  – J.O. Christchurch.

  • Don't throw your old basketballs away. Simply cut the tops of and poke a few holes in the base of the ball. Fill with spagnum moss and soil, and fill with plants, Poke four holes evenly around the top and hang up with rope or what you have lying around. Makes a good hanging basket. Have fun. - Dianne MacDonald.


  • This isn't an original idea but I joined my local city Freecycle online. It is excellent for picking up or giving away items that might otherwise end up in the landfill. You can give away or ask for anything within reason. No money changes hands. I've picked up a vacuum cleaner that works incredibly well, toys, bar stools, and plants for my garden. You can find you local town or city here >>> - Sande


  • A use for old guttering:  board up the ends and fill half with spagnum moss and then soil on top.  Plant out with parsley which will grow nicely even over winter.  Probably can do little lettuces too. - Glenn, Wellington.

  • I have a use for the small extra pieces of marley guttering. I buy 2 stop ends for the piece and glue into place and this makes a great feeding trough for my chooks. - B.H., Pakaraka


  • To get the labels off commercial jam jars use hot water. Heat water in the kettle as the water from the hot tap isn't hot enough to soften the glue. Pour the hot water in the sink but not directly on the jars with a few drops of detergent and soak for a couple of minutes then wearing rubber gloves and a vege knife try to peel the labels off. Stubborn glue residue can sometimes be removed with cooking oil. Jar lids can be reused to seal the jars. Steralise using the same method as for preserving jar seals. - Sweetpea, North Shore.

Junk mail

  • When cooking, I use junk mail, old newspapers, box of cereal opened up, to line the kitchen counter while i prepare food. Afterwards, all the rubbish just gets folded in the paper and the counter-top is as clean as, or just needs a little wipe. - Joan, Wellington.

  • I use all junk mail for lighting fires, wrapping rubbish, etc - J.J. (and an excellent use for junk mail it is too! - Oily Rag Ed')

Milk cartons

  • Recycling milk cartons are great for potting up seedlings. Cut in half with knife, trim bottom corners with scissors for drainage. Ready to go, Plants should be removed when ready to plant as plastic coating doesn't breakdown. - M.T., Dunedin.

  • Use to freeze fish. Put the fish in a clean milk carton, add water then freeze for later use. - O.R.
  • Wash milk cartons. Dry and use to store food in the freezer - don't forget the label. Alson good for carrying plants. - J.D.


  • Newspaper bags: Take 2 sheets newspaper. Lie lengthwise. Fold up along bottom approx 3". Reverse over. Fold into 3. Tuck outer one under flap. Reverse over. Fold in half & tuck under flap. Has lots of uses including your unwanted pamphlets etc for collection. - C.M., Kawerau.

  • I have found that cutting the corners off the bottom of an empty one litre milk carton and packing in wet newspaper makes wonderful compressed fire bricks. As the carton fiills I make holes in the sides to allow the water to escape. Compress the wet paper into the carton. These paper bricks last about two hours in a low combustion fire and about an hour in an open fire. An entire weekend Herald will almost fit into one container. - G B, Kerikeri.
  • Use as wallpaper - very appropriate in rooms like a study. - A.N.

    Makes good carpet underlay to stop those sneaky drafts. - A.N.
  • Use as cat litter - but be very careful which section you use. My cat gets very nervous if I include the "pets, free to a good home" section! - O.R.
  • I have a firend who made a really attractive lamp shade from a newspaper. The old shade had worn out so ne simply pasted the pages around the frame. What made it really interesting was that he used the newspaper that reported the 1987 sharemarket crash. It is always an interesting read and it is nice to know that he has finally seen the light! - O.R.

Orange peel

  • When dried they make excellent fire starters. - O.R.


  • The plastic domed packets that duvets or sheets come in make ideal kneelers for gardening.  Just stuff with the packaging or a newspaper. - Yane, Porirua

  • I save my empty Maggi stock plastic containers (washed & dried) remove label & re-label-for my Spices & Herbs. One side used as a sprinkle the other side if I want to use a bit more. - Shar, Wellington


  • Wrap the tops of old panty-hose around the bristles of a soft broom and use with a little detergent if necessary to clean the car or windows. Hosing down first helps, then dry off with a clean rag. Cut sections off the legs of tights or knee highs to use over lower trouser legs to stop them being caught in a bike chain. Pieces of old tights make effective cleaning cloths. Old tee shirts and skivvies make good pyjama tops. Get the last of the contents out of tubes by cutting them in half. - Gaynor, Paraparaumu.


  • When planting my strawberries I have given them a mulch of wet shredded paper from my shredding machine. It matts together nicely keeping light out to prevent weeds and I should have nice clean strawberries to eat. Makes use of your old bank statements too. Or your advertising junk is very colourful when shredded. Will break down eventually and feed the worms helping the soil. - Canny Scot, Christchurch.

Paper towel cardboard rolls

  • Paper towel cardboard rolls are a convenient and tidy way of storing plastic bags in your drawer. I just stuff the plastic bags in, and pull them out when needed.

Phone books

  • Instead of throwing out your old phone book, a reader from Awanui suggests it be used on the kitchen bench for hot pots. Tear out the pages as required to wrap small items for the rubbish and to use under paper towels when draining fried food.

Plastic bags

  • Being the meanest woman in the world according to my two daughters aged 15 and 8, I refuse point blank to buy gladwrap or plastic bags.  In fact, so mean am I that I reuse the plastic bag the TV Guide comes in for a lunch bag for sandwiches. (Oh the TV Guide subscription was a gift. Do I sound like I would pay for such a luxury?) Every plastic bag that comes into our home meets several different fates. It is laid flat on the kitchen bench and I cut the handles off, then I slice down the sides so I have 2 large pieces of plastic.  This I then cut into sizes suitable for wrapping sandwiches, and any other items that will find their way into the school and work lunch boxes. And I always use plastic bags to cover food in the fridge. If I buy meat from the supermarket I pull of the wrapping and rinse, and use to cover the cat food, which by the way I also make. Mean, absolutely, and proud of it. - Waste Not Want Not Lauren, Whangarei.

  • Like waste-not-want-not Lauren, I too use the plastic bags that magazines and advertising come in for our lunches. I haven't bought plastic bags for over 20 years! I have started to use the plastic bread bag tags, too. I freeze left overs, etc. in the bags and write the date and contents of the bag on the plastic tag. Only when I've written on both sides of the tag, I throw it in the rubbish. I don't use plastic covers to put over left-overs in the fridge, I put a plate on the bowl, or a saucer on the cup, which I then can put straight into the microwave if I need to. - J.O., Canterbury. 

  • Plastic grocery bags make great small garbage bags or use them as rubbish tin or waste paper baskets.

  • Paper towel cardboard rolls are a convenient and tidy way of storing plastic bags in your drawer. I just stuff the plastic bags in, and pull them out when needed.

Plastic bottles

  • Rather than buy packing, a reader from Hamilton recommends cutting the tops off two plastic soft drink bottles, one slightly larger than the other. Insert the items to be posted inside one of the containers and then push the two containers together to form a cylinder. It’s then ready to wrap and post.  

  • At Christmas time I always cut circles out of plastic milk bottles and use them as gift tags.  They look like bubbles and if you add a little glitter and hole punch and thread ribbon through they are fab!!!  Use a permanent marker for the name. - Angela Allan

  • 2lt ones are great for cutting up and making into flash cards for little ones.  Cut down the side panels into the size you want then right on them with permanent markers , words, numbers, letters etc.  Hole punch through the corner and thread onto an old key ring. Great for in the car.  - Angela Allan

Plastic ice cream containers

  • Next time you think about throwing out your old ice cream boxes cut them into strips and make little plant markers with them. Make sure you use a waterproof marker when writing on them. - Canny Scot, Christchurch.

  • Cut ice cream containers into plant labels; write on with garden pen. – G.B.
  • Donate ice cream containers to preschools. – G.B.

Plastic milk bottles

  • Use as flowerpots. - T.H.

Roof guttering

  • Use off-cuts from roof guttering (plastic) for a cool sloping track four your kids cars to go down. My son loves them, and they are free! – K.C.

Rubber gloves

  • To make strong "rubber" bands of varying sizes, cut used rubber gloves into strips. The cuffs make big bands and fingers make smaller ones, good for keeping pairs of knitting needles etc together. - Canny Lass, Upper Hutt


  • With living nearby a rubbish tip I've become a tip scavenger. I go out and scout around after the bulldozers go. I barter articles I find such as "fur" coats, discarded stuffed toys with plastic noses/eyes to a home handicraft lady for any mending or sewing I need done. I also exchange articles with another lady in exchnage for fresh baking. With the barter system wveryone is happy. One persons junk is another persons treasure. - G.W.

  • An expat oily ragger has some suggestions from across the ditch: "They have this thing called hard rubbish day over here where people throw out all their old junk. I went for a drive with my father in law (otherwise known as Mr Steptoe) and we got a big old desk with 9 drawers, hose reel, shade cloth, drip pipe and we will do another drive tomorrow for some more goodies - all free of course." - B.J., Australia.

  • A reader from Gore says, "I have found that putting a handful of blood & bone with the rubbish when wrapping it up to bury will in most cases help break down bones."


  • I have a lot of soap pieces that I keep during the year. I render them down in an old pot, when it's a bit cooler add petals from your garden, even pieces of orange peel,apple peel, lavender flowers,even use your old perfume. Use cookie cutters [$2 shop] stand on waxed paper, and tip the melted soap in and let it set, and wrap in sellaphane paper and tie with ribbon.


  • When double or queen size sheets are a bit worn in the middle, I cut them down & rehem the cut edges to make cot-size sheets. - A recycler from way back, New Plymouth.

Tea bags/leaves

  • Used tea leaves make excellent fertiliser for pot plants. - O.R.
  • Use used tea leaves to make a window cleaner. Simple pour boiling water on the discarded tea leaves/bags, leave for an hour, then use. - O.R.
  • I save my tea bags and use them to clean my eye glasses. The bags do a perfect job, and then they go in the garden. - D.M.

  • Tea bags make great fire starters. After brewing your morning cuppa, flatten each tea bag out and leave in the sun to dry (or in the hot water cupboard). When dry, store in an air tight container, add a little kerosene and give it a good shake. Remove from the jar when ready to use.  - PB, Hamilton.
  • Regarding your tip on reusing old tea bags as firefighters do you need to drain off the kero’ after adding to the jar of dried teabags?  Very drippy and smelly and it lingers on the fingers for ever! Have used a wooden skewer to fish them out and put the whole thing in the fire. By the way my husband tells me his Dad used to do a similar thing with cut up old Pinex soft board tiles. - MJP, Rotorua. [In answer to MJP’s question, yes, drain off the kero’ so the now kero’ infused teabag is dry.]

Tin cans

  • Hide keys, rings, jewellery etc in an empty baked bean tin and place it up high on a shelf when you go away. Should anyone break in when you're away, valuables will appear to be part of the larder ! Harder to find than easy places like the dressing table in the bedroom ! - D.H. - Howick

  • An empty used tin of beans can be used as packaging to post things in. It's quite strong and keeps whatever you are sending safe inside. - L.O., Rangiora

Toilet rolls

  • If planting large seeds like beans, use the inners of toilet rolls, part fill with seed mix, put in the seed and top up. You can get about 12 of these to stand up in an ice cream container. And in due course plant out the whole tube. No transplant shock. The cardboard will rot away quickly. – G.B.


  • Use as a scrubbling brush in those hard to get at places like between ceramic tiles, taps, etc. - O.R.


  • Get the last drop out of tubes of anything by cutting them in half when you have finished squeezing out as much as you can.  You will be surprised how many more portions you will get out of the tube.  Slip one cut end inside the other until finished.  This works really well for cosmetics - I find I get at least another week's use out of moisturisers, etc. - A.V., Wellington.


  • Use old rolls or part rolls to make inexensive gift bags and wrapping paper. - A.C.

Wheelie bin

  • As a Christchurch resident with our wheelie bins supplied I was left with a plastic bin with locking lid. I have found a great use for it, after washing it I got my husband to drill 10 holes in a circle around the lid then 5 holes in an inner circle to fit broom handles. Now we have a very tidy garage as all the brooms, mops, hoe, rake, garden canes etc. are all standing in the bin. It has even proved earthquake proof. - Canny Scot, Christchurch

Wine bladders

  • If you need to keep food cold when travelling by car, here's a tried and true tip. Save the plastic bladders from empty wine casks and fill them with enough water so that they lie flat like a brick and freeze them a few days before travelling. Then pack frozen bladders on top of your food in the chilly bin and your food stays cold between destinations. - Carol, New Plymouth.

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