Saturday, 17 October 2015

Rubbish Talk

Seriously. This content of this post is rubbish. You might argue that how a society disposes of its waste tells you something fundamental about it, in which case there are some signs of hope for us all, as we've become a lot more conscientious about waste than we were. Long gone are the days of my childhood when you put your rubbish (all of it, shamefully unsorted) into galvanised metal bins that the dustmen (so-called) came and collected from your back door, emptied and put back, outside your back door, every week. Now rubbish has to be carefully sorted, segregated and placed in the correct, coloured wheelie-bin which must be placed at the roadside, (but not on the road), by 7.00 am on the correct morning for collection on designated dates, once a fortnight unless there's a public holiday, when the whole system goes haywire and a whole new temporary timetable has to be digested. Waste disposal is no longer a simple business. And failure to comply at any stage of the process  - not sorting rubbish according to the guidelines; filling the  brown garden-waste wheelie-bin so that the lid does not completely close; not placing any wheelie-bin in the correct location for collection, or failing to get any bin in position by 7.00 am sharp - is a serious matter and not taken lightly.

Keeping track of which colour wheelie-bin is due for collection, which day, in which week, is not always easy, when one's life mostly revolves around matters other than rubbish, but it's a shift in the way daily life is lived, that basically, I think, is a rather good thing. Partly because sometimes one man's / woman's waste is another man's / woman's treasure, and partly because the idea of piles of waste fouling the landscape and polluting the earth, sea and air we all live alongside is, obviously, pretty nasty. Something that seeing (and smelling) some of the city's rubbish mountains on a trip to Cairo, a few years back, really brought home.

Having said that, every time the goal posts are moved on the rubbish front, it takes me a while to adjust. For example, when waste-food bins were introduced in Oxfordshire for collecting stuff that wasn't suitable for home-composting, back in 2010, I got myself in a ridiculous quandrary over the correct destination for various items. Where do you place a used muffin paper, for example? It's paper, so, presumably it goes in the normal paper, glass and tin recycling bin, but hang on! What about that muffin-residue that's still stuck to the wrapper? Does that make it food waste? Or where do you put that wad of kitchen paper-towel, soaked in excess roasting-fat, that you used to wipe the dish out before washing? The dilemmas seemed legion at the time although of course one adjusts after a while and it becomes second nature. (Biodegradable paper muffin-wrappers do go in the food bin, I decided.)

The latest goal-post-moving, here in the UK, is in relation to plastic carrier bags which, apparently, take a terrifying one thousand years to decompose. In order to cut down their indiscriminate use, most UK retailers must now charge for supplying plastic carrier bags and the day of the plastic carrier as the disposable receptacle of choice, for everything from muddy wellington-boots to cooking-apples, gifted from a friend's tree, is gone.

I tend anyway to use an old-fashioned shopping basket for hands-on food-shopping. Though, if my eyes are bigger than my basket, I've always fallen back on accepting a free carrier. No more.

I have also always used plastic carriers as bin-liners. In fact, in my kitchen, a plastic carrier on the inside of the cupboard door, under the sink, has, for the last twenty-years-plus, I am ashamed to say, been the bin itself - free, space-saving, hygienic, convenient. Or it was, up till now.

Shopping for clothes or other items, I've never bothered to take a receptacle for my purchases. But I can't stuff half a dozen pairs of socks from Marks and Spencers in my handbag or squirrel bulky stationery supplies in my coat pockets. Habits must change.

So I've been experimenting with a few novel solutions for this new phase in the rubbish dispensation. One is rather frivolous while also functional, the other is a bit more utilitarian. Both recycle stuff that would otherwise probably be heading for one or other of the wheelies.

Want a peek?

This is my first effort. A bin made out of an old Malteser tub and a bit of hooky. It's not huge but adequate for a small room. No liner required. Though I have imposed s few restrictions on what may be placed in it! See below!

The pattern for the crochet flower fabric is taken from a pattern for a gorgeous bag in Nicki Trench's Cute And Easy Crochet With Flowers.

I love that bag! But it requires 207 flowers which is a lot of flowers. In fact the bin idea came about when I'd made and sewn together about 20 and was beginning to baulk at clocking up another 187. I was also becoming concerned by the fact that the way the flowers tessellated together once sewn, was distinctly un-linear and it looked as though it might prove distinctly tricky to create the rectangular bag shape. Could I find something where the way the flowers tessellated was an advantage, rather than the reverse? I could! It's worked like a dream. The Malteser tub, as you can see, is a flower-pot kind of shape ie its circumference is smaller at the bottom than the top.

This is not the easiest shape in the world to crochet a cover for in straight rows, I've found, but the flowers negotiated easily what is difficult otherwise to accommodate, namely the sloping sides. 

I had to keep trying the cover on with the wrong side turned outwards to see where to join on the flowers as I went but it worked fine. I made sure I joined enough flowers to hold together first of all and then went round filling in the gaps, keeping the flowers fairly taut so that it held up nicely.

I think I've used about 80 flowers in total - it's very difficult to count them, once sewn together, without losing track of which ones have been counted and which ones haven't. Certainly nowhere near 207 anyway. The yarn is Stylecraft Classique DK Cotton in a variety of colours left over from various other projects and I've used a 5mm hook which is big for this yarn but works well as the flowers hook up quite densely.

Then there was the question of how to attach the cover to the plastic tub. I considered threading some elastic through the top edge of the flowers but wasn't sure it would hold firmly enough - the cover needs to be stretched quite taut, for the best effect. So I persuaded D to drill small holes all along the top edge which he did very kindly.

I was then able to stitch the cover in place directly on to the tub itself using red yarn to match the colour of the plastic.

Very easy to do, and it can easily be snipped off in order to wash the cover and re-sewn, as and when need arises.

I am thrilled at how it's turned out. The tub is ages old - I got it one Christmas and once the Maltesers were finished - what is it about Maltesers that makes them, even in a tub this size, last so short a time?! - it's served, very occasionally, as a useful container for fruit-picking etc but has otherwise been cluttering up a cupboard and falling out on anyone so foolish as to open the door unwarily. It now has a permanent useful function and has become a delightful object to the eye as well as very useful rubbish container.

This is the base which I decided to make solid.

No nasty rubbish in here, please, though! Yarn ends? Yes! Waste paper? Yes! Pencil shavings? Possibly!

Chewing gum, the contents of the dust-pan, detritus off the bottom of people's shoes? No thank you! I am as pernickety as the local council, on waste disposal protocol, clearly!

OK, now for my second experiment. These are very simple and very functional bags made from old shirts. They aren't disposable but neither are they at all special and if one gets irretrievably snagged, or damaged I shan't have the slightest compunction in getting rid of it (into the textile recycling bank) and replacing it with another. I have taken to using them as my kitchen bin and as other bin-liners as well as spare shopping bags than can be stuffed in the car, my handbag or anywhere else. They go in the washing machine at whim, on a hot wash and I don't care if they get marked or dirty. They aren't particularly pretty but they don't need to be. They are quick to run up and all you need is an old man's shirt. An old shirt, I mean, not an old man! Men's shirts are best as they are more generously cut but you could use any shirt that's reasonably sized. I used some old shirts where the collars and cuffs had become so frayed as to be unwearable but the body of the shirt fabric was still fine.

What you do:

1 Lay the shirt out on a table with the front facing you. (Unbuttoned, as in the pic)

Cut off the button band and the button hole band on each side of the front of the shirt, cutting up from the bottom edge, in a straight line -  the existing stitching will guide you - no need necessarily to use a ruler.

2 Now cut up alongside the side-seams nice and close to the seams. When you reach the sleeve, cut across the shirt front horizontally. You now have two similarly shaped panels each with a straight edge lying adjacent to one another.

3 Place the two edges of these pieces together, with right sides facing, and stitch in a straight seam. Press the seam open.

4 Now turn the shirt over so that the back is facing you. Cut up alongside the side seams as you did for the front and when you reach the sleeves, cut across horizontally.

5 Place the stitched panel and the panel cut from the back together with right sides facing and cut out a simple squareish bag shape. The pattern I drew out was 16"/ 41cm square

6 Cut out small, identical-sized squares from the bottom corners. (Mine were 2"/ 5cm) This helps to make the bag nice and boxy when you come to stitch it up but you can omit this stage if you like. You can see how I've cut mine in the pic of the panels waiting to be sewn together below. The panel on the left is the one made from the two pieces from the front of the shirt, stitched together down the centre as in Step 3 above.

7 Place the cut panels together, right sides facing and pin and stitch the long sides and the bottom edges together leaving the boxy bits flapping, if you cut boxy bits, that is. If you did this, once you've stitched the main side and bottom seams, you need to align these so that the end of the side-seam matches the end of the bottom seam. Pin and stitch across to seal up the bottom of the bag.

If you didn't cut boxy bits out, just carry on sewing down one side, round the corner, along the bottom, round the second corner and up the remaining side. Even simpler.

8 Fold over the top of the bag, press and the fold in the raw edge. Stitch all the way around the top.

9 Cut two strips for the handles about 16" / 41cm long by 3"/ 7.5cm wide from the shirt fabric that remains. I cut mine from the bottom of the back panel but you could also use the sleeves. Try to cut the strips along the straight grain of the fabric from wherever you cut them.

10 Fold each of the handle strips together, right sides facing, lengthwise. Stitch. Turn out and press.

11 Position the handles where you want them along the top edge of the bag and stitch in place.

12 Snip off any loose threads and you're done.

A rather roomier, bigger version could be made from old bed-linen. I have some elderly duvet covers in my sights next which might become boot-bags or potato-storing sacks! And of course although these homemade bags aren't waterproof like plastic ones are, I am not sure that their breathability isn't more useful. Neither muddy boots nor fruit and vegetables do well, wrapped in plastic. And for rubbish? Well, so far, I've found they've worked a treat. Anything wet and messy is generally destined either for the garden compost heap or the waste-food bin. What happens when I have something that falls outside the remit of those receptacles I will have to discover, as and when! Meanwhile, I have no plastic carriers in the house - they've all gone in the bag-recycling facility offered by the supermarket. A small insignificant planet-friendly effort may be, but from small acorns and all that.

Anyone have any any inspirational rubbish tales to tell or frugal rubbish makes you'd recommend? Do share them.
E x


  1. I love the flower covered bin, so pretty. In Scotland we haven't been using plastic bags for a while now, it's amazing what fits in my handbag. Hx

  2. I grew up with plastic bag charge (Switzerland), it seemed the most normal thing of all to have your own. Also in Switzerland, at least in the town where I lived, you had to put a prepaid sticker on your rubbish bag on collection day, otherwise it wasn't collected. It was quite a hefty fee hence recycling was always big. I have been running after the bin lorry more than once, in my pjs and pulling a wheelie bin. No doubt this is very entertaining for both bin men and neighbours. I would love to be the owner of your waste basket, it is very sweet. If I can bring up the energy I might get started on some flowers. I would also love to make shirt bags but Richard would be cross if I used his old shirts, no matter how worn and thin they have become. Have a lovely rest of the weekend. xx

  3. Such an inspirational post. Whilst I am great with the recycling, even taking glass to bottle banks I have been caught out a couple of times already with the carrier bag status. Take care.

  4. Great ideas - love the "shirt bags".

  5. Very clever of you ! The flower pot, or flower bin, is darling. I would be afraid to put any waste there, but trashed mail and envelopes WOULD have a pretty home until emptying of the pail rolled around.

    Any your bags are genius. I might just have to sit down and make one. The striped shirt made a cute one! But then, they all look nice.

  6. You are brilliant with both projects, the crochet basket is absolutely to beautiful for trash and those shirt bags are perfect.
    Well done,

  7. Mens' shirts in this household have a set pattern in their lifetime from smart going out shirt to going to the pub shirt to work shirt. By the time they've done duty as a work shirt they're stained and usually ripped and so end up as rags in the workshop. Otherwise, I'm sure I'd be trying out your idea as your shirt bags look really good.

  8. We've been paying for plastic carrier bags for a couple of years now. I miss the plastic bags as bin liners and it took me a while to get used to always bringing a shopping bag with me. I've made several cotton bags similar to your shirt bags but using craft cotton that I bought. Or an old pillow case. For the shirt bags, why cut off the button band and matching button hole band? Why not button up the shirt and make this a 'feature'? You could stitch it closed so nothing could escape between the buttons. Your crocheted bin cover is magnificent. I started to crochet that bag too from the same book. I only made a small clutch bag that I lined and added a zip to. I never use it though! I tried joining the flowers as I was crocheting them rather than sewing together.

  9. Ikea sell some really strong bags .really large ones holding 25 kg are about a fiver for five on Amazon. Small carrier type are 1.99 on Amazon. If u have an ikea nr the carrier ones are about fifty pence larger ones a pound. They are virtually indestructible. I take the larger ones if I do a large shop. The smaller one for everyday still holds loads. They are also wipe clean. Not pretty or anything just plain blue x x the rest of Europe have been recycling way more than us Brita for yrs so t hey are more organised . I know in Germany they have been sing cheap cloth bags for the last thirty five years , ideal for shopping x x x On a different note I live in Norfolk and while walking my two dogs round deserted country lanes there are all sorts of rubbish , takeaway boxes, drink cans , all sorts I don't understand why people throw rubbish out of cars it makes me so sad to see it all.

  10. By the way the flower bin is super stunning so pretty now that's given me an idea !

  11. Like you, I have a trash protocol. Other little trash baskets around the house are NOT for food or sticky stuff. Food and sticky stuff goes into the kitchen garbage can that gets taken out more often. I may try crocheting those flowers to put on a headband for my granddaughter.

  12. While the plastic bags are still available in our state (some they are not) - I have found that almost everywhere I go on a trip has reusable bags. I started a few years ago buying them (they are pretty cheap) and making them my souvenirs, they are fun to get out, they remind me of a good time and start great conversations in the store lines! Love the crochet basket cover - maybe in the sewing/craft room!

  13. Hi, Elizabeth. I missed seeing this post until today. The last couple of weeks I have been busy with midterms, quarterly grades, etc. I can finally breathe a bit, so I'm trying to get caught up. I love your crocheted flowers--a very intricate process, it seems, but worth the results. I would like to make the shirt bags, but I have to laugh because Dennis wears all of his clothing until it is virtually rags, so I'm not sure any bags I sew would hold up. Occasionally, in secret, I take some of Dennis's very, very worn things to Goodwill--but I have to be careful he doesn't see me doing this, even though the clothes are always, invariably, filled with holes and at least two decades old. I should be thankful, though, since we need one frugal member of my household!

    Hope you and your family are well. Love, Liz

  14. I find myself recycling the recycling. A good post!

  15. So much great ideas! You are so crafty. Your flower bin is super stunning! Thanks for inspiring!


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