Upcycling and Recycling

Upcycling and Recycling

Gardeners and growers are the original reusers & up-cyclers of this world and have been doing it for decades, just take a look at your local allotment and you’ll see what we mean.

It’s a place where waste and imagination have no limits and inventiveness knows no bounds.

It’s not waste it’s a resource.  A Gardener’s reason for re-using and up-cycling have quite often been to save money because growing food is supposed to be cheaper than buying.  But by being thrifty, it often leads you to become highly inventive, creating whatever you need out of your own, or anybody else’s, junk. It’s not necessarily a make do and mend approach either, more a statement of knowing:

“Whatever it is I need, I just need to keep my eyes open for it and it will come to me in some form or other!”

Gardening and growing food has this curious way of pushing us into a more sustainable way of living and puts us in touch with the cycles of the natural world.  So it’s no wonder we start to think about re-using and up-cycling, it’s an inherent part of our being.

However, although we have increased our recycling and re-using rates, in Britain we still throw huge amounts of waste into landfill. The cost of this is staggering to our purse and the environment, so long term the more we can keep out of landfill the better it will be for our future and generations to come. Recycling is a great solution to our waste problems but it requires energy and resources to collect, sort and process unwanted items. So re-using and up-cycling is a much greener way of dealing with your waste and finding new purposes for your unwanted items. You know the saying…. One man’s rubbish is definitely another man’s booty.

Waste not want not—top tips for recycling and upcyling

Why buy gardening materials when you can just re-use or upcycle many household items to do the same job?

By growing your own food you are already taking a step forward in helping the planet but you can be even greener and save money too just by being resourceful with waste. Here’s some quick ways to get started.

Have a think about what you need to start growing?

Make a list such as seed trays, pots, cloches, wood for raised beds etc.

Then take a look at this section for a plethora of ideas to see what you can use instead of buying.

Seed sowing and labels

Don't go buying any seed trays or pots before you check out this list of alternatives.

  1. Seed trays – check your recycling box for plastic meat trays and fruit punnets. Some even come with lids which make ideal propagators to start those early tomatoes.
  2. Toilet Rolls – filled with compost and placed in a tray are great for growing veg with long roots like peas & mangetout, beans – french, runner and broad—, parsnips, and sweetcorn.
  3. Cardboard egg boxes – drop a seed into each egg cup, these can be transplanted later by cutting to separate the cups and potting on.
  4. Make paper pots with newspaper:
  5. Don’t forget to label your pots and trays by re-using wooden lolly sticks or cutting plastic strips from milk cartons, write plant names with a permanent marker.

Plant protection

  1. Make plastic cloches by cutting the bases off plastic bottles, keep the lids on or off according to the weather.
  2. Cut 4cm rings of plastic by cutting across a plastic bottle and place them round your seedlings to prevent attack from slugs.
  3. Make a plastic bottle greenhouse – this could take some time but the results are pretty amazing.
  4. ‍Make protection hoops for putting a fleece or netting over by using old hose pipe cut into same sized lengths and pushing the ends over canes or wooden pegs in the groun
  5. Make irrigation easy—drill several holes into a plastic bottle then bury next to your plant with only the neck above the soil line. The water will be directed straight to the roots.

Check out this great little Youtube video by Huw’s Nursery on re-using plastic bottles for use in the garden. Huw started gardening at the age of 12 and has gathered quite a big fan base through his educational growing videos.


If you can fill it with soil you can probably turn it into a planter, just make sure there is adequate drainage. So anything from a dustbin to a colander or a chest of drawers to chimney stack, a bucket to a bath can be used. Happy planting and have fun!

Get creative

You can also have a look at what other gardeners use to make resources for growing by visiting an allotment site or a community garden.

Research on the internet – the pinterest site has some great ideas to copy- pinterest.co.uk

Check recycling/swap/free-stuff websites and local social media sites for gardening bargains and giveaways like:

Old slates

These make great signs to really smarten up your beds and keep your growing in order. You’ll need to drill some holes in the slate so you can attach wooden pegs. Make sure that any sharp edges are sanded down to keep them safe. Use chalk pens to write on the signs.

How about making a scarecrow?

This is a great activity to do with children, they can be completely made from recycled clothes, even down to stuffing the clothes to make him fat.


Growing related tips

  1. Recycle the wood chipping from paths to make compost
  2. Always try to grow from seed – you’ll save a small fortune and you can give excess plants to friends and relations
  3. Make your own plant food from comfrey or nettles and have some well rotted manure on hand in a bucket topped up with water (great feed).
  4. ‍Make an organic bug killer from a garlic clove popped in a spray container of water
  5. Gather leaves and bag them up for next year’s mulch
  6. ‍Save water costs if you have a meter by having plenty of water butts around the plot or garden
  7. ‍Take cuttings and propagate from your existing plants
  8. Always try save your own seeds from last year’s crop and if you have any potatoes in that sack left from Christmas put them in a dark place to sprout

Re-using Plastic Bottles to Make Mini Planters

Plastic bottles filled with compost and grit and plants can make a fabulous eye catching display.

The idea of growing in plastic drinks bottles came into the fore after a project that was pioneered in South America.

Honduras is one of the world’s poorest countries, with a burgeoning population where many people live in informal settlements along with high crime rates. But in 2009 four of these settlements were chosen to take part in a project to set up some space to grow food. The project has been highly successful using low cost technologies and some unusual methods i.e. growing in plastic bottles and cartons, in an area where there was a lack of water and poor soil quality. But in a small container soil quality is more easily enhanced and small amounts of water are all that’s needed to irrigate. Families are now able to grow radish, lettuce and herbs, cucumbers and many other food crops.


Incredible Education made a fabulous display of marigolds, growing in the ubiquitous 4 pint milk cartons, to create a wall of flowers attached a raised bed. They were originally created for the RHS Tatton show back in 2015 but are now housed back at the Incredible Education Centre in Salford. What a brilliant idea, as the marigolds, which are a great companion plant will deter aphids and attract bees for pollination.
Here’s a step by step guide to making your own display of plastic bottle planters:

  1. Using a 2ltr milk bottle, first wash the bottle with warm water to remove any milk residue
  2. Now with the bottle so the carrying handle is facing down carefully, with a sharp craft knife or scissors, cut a hole in the topside of the bottle measuring approximately 12cm x 4cm
  3. Next, pierce the holes that for the suspending string to pass through the bottle – two holes in the top, one at either end of the bottle and two further holes underneath. It is important that the top and bottom holes line up so that the string passes directly through the bottle.
  4. Using 5 bottles per run you will also need 10 pieces of wood which act as spacers for the bottles – thread similarly to a tent guy rope. These can later be slid up and down to adjust
  5. So from the top bottle it goes – Bottle – Spacer – Bottle – Spacer and so on – This is quite a useful activity for young children to problem solve. And adults!
  6. Once you have the strung up bottle these can then be tied to the frame
  7. Carefully fill up the bottle with a mix of soil and compost as this will help with water retention – there is no need for any further drainage holes (or gravel) as the holes that the string pass through will allow for adequate drainage
  8. Plant selection isn’t critical, just experiment with what you want to grow, but as the container is small no growing Great Oaks!
  9. We have grown herbs, as they are drought tolerant, however we have also successfully grown lettuce, marigolds, strawberry etc.
  10. Watering is required regularly but will be dependent on your local weather.

A Mark II version of this could include a drip fed watering system, we added this to our vertical planter by running an old hose pipe thorough each bottle, it weaved its way back and forwards in a loop. Then as the hose runs through the bottle drill a series of holes (5 or 6). Block of the end of the hose as it passes through the last and bottom bottle. The top end then needs a water vessel, we used the new style Beer Keg barrels, created a wooden platform to sit it on. Fill the vessel and watch the water weave its way around the hose and into the bottles.

An inspirational beginning: it started with a skip!

Incredible Edible Conwy might never have begun but for the fact that Ruth Bitowski can never pass a skip without having a nose around.

A local artist always looking for materials to work with, saw that this particular skip contained decking squares, 36 to be precise and all still in pretty good nick.

After a quick word with the owner, she soon had them rammed into her small car and went on her way whilst hatching an idea to turn them into planters for fruit trees. This idea became the starting blocks for the Incredible Edible concept to begin in Conwy. It was launched at the Conwy Feast in 2013 and the group have gone from strength to strength, creating many more areas to grow food. And the planters…. well they have been painted and planted up many times since and can still be seen around the town.

Pallets: the facts

A seemingly never ending supply of wood you find piled high on industrial estates and building sites or quite often they find their way into skips and on to waste land.

But with over 2 billion pallets used every day in transportation worldwide then it’s hardly surprising they are so commonplace in our environment.

However this abundant resource has to be used with due care and attention so before you embark on taking away a pallet or two for your next project there is a really important safety check you need to make.

The Pallet Treatment Codes

Most pallets are stamped with codes to define the way they have been treated.  You should check the pallets for the codes as this gives you important information as to whether you can safely use a pallet or not.

The IPPC stamp – International Plant Protection Convention –should be present on pallets, this states the wood is free from plant diseases and invasive insect species from other countries.

[HT] – Stands for heat treated, carried out to control pests and is not harmful to your health.

[DB] – These letter indicate the pallet has been de-barked according to IPPC regulations and so is safe to use.

[EPAL] – Safe to use as these pallets have been heat treated and debarked.

[KD] – Kiln dried to reduce moisture and control fungal growth, this treatment is not harmful to human health.

[EUR] – Old European Pallet Association logo, this has been deemed unsafe to use unless it also carries the [EPAL] stamp.

[MB] Methyl bromide is pesticide that is highly toxic and is linked to ozone layer depletion. Use of the substance has been banned from Canada, US and EU countries but it is still in use in other parts of the world. Do not take or use pallets with [MB] code they are a hazardous product, a danger to human health and should not be used in joinery/craft/food projects. Do not use them for fuel or burn them; they should only be removed by a certified waste carrier.

Coloured Pallets – There are discrepancies with coloured pallets and how they are treated according to the country they come from so to stay safe it is advised not to use them.

What if I can’t find a code or identify the one on the pallet?

If you can’t find a code or can’t identify the code on the pallet then there isn’t any clear information about the product. If you can’t establish whether it’s safe or not then just don’t use it. There are always plenty more pallets around that will be stamped and identifiable.

Take a pallet and make it into something new

What else might be planned for that site?

For those who have the patience to remove those nails and blocks, pallets are an excellent source of cheap or even free wood.

Use them to build into whatever your project needs – once you’ve checked your pallet is safe to use. Here are some lovely creative examples below from Incredible Edible projects around the country to get your imagination fired up:

And for those who are less inclined with a claw hammer then there are also ways a pallet can be used that require no prising apart, de-nailing or even sawing. Here is a great example of vertical growing with flowers but they are also suitable for herbs, strawberries, lettuces and nasturtiums.

Tip – Make sure you keep it well watered to stop it from drying out.

And have a look at this truly easy to create no-dig bed, no need for any tools other than a staple gun:

You can find many more examples of pallet projects by checking out Pinterest and Instagram.

Content kindly provided by Incredible Edible.

Our Story

Around 10 years ago, we first heard about Incredible Edible, a global movement creating vibrant communities through the power of growing and sharing produce. Fast forward to today, with many confined to their homes and unable to get access to healthy food, this idea seemed more relevant to us than ever.

That’s why the teams at Temboo, Incredible Edible, and Mutualism have come together to lend our voices to the social growing message. Our hope is that our combined communities can play a small part in replicating the success of the original movement through a vibrant, sustainable network of growers and sharers.