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Radical Recycling !

"To transform the world, we must begin with ourselves. However small may be the world we live in, if we can transform ourselves, bring about a radically different point of view in our daily existence, then perhaps we shall affect the world at large......."

Buy only things you need, and avoid packaging wherever possible
Use a little less of everything - it will make a difference!
Avoid disposables - wash or clean and continue using things as long as you can.
See these & other pages on this site for creative ways to use almost anything.
Repair things yourself, or have them repaired, rather than throwing them away.
Use kerbside recycling services, also look for other places to recycle items that can't be put in these bins.

No Such Thing As Rubbish(pdf file)
Prints as both sides of 2 sheets of A4)
rtf version - download or read online
And in South Australia, visit THE ZERO WASTE WEBSITE
for the most up-to-date recycling information.
Elsewhere, Google "Zero Waste" to find your local Zero Waste Alliance website.

If you're feeling discouraged, read:
Why recycle?

There is no such thing as Rubbish - only resources!

In 1994, I couldn't resist entering JACKIE FRENCH'S Great Recycling Competition, but I felt like a stunned mullet when I got a note saying I had won, & that my letter would appear in EARTH GARDEN MAGAZINE in 1995!
I have since realised that less eccentric souls miss many opportunities of creative re-use of everyday rubbish. Re-cycling is actually a euphemism. Re-use is what we must aim for, so as to reduce the amount of rubbish going to landfill, & the mountains of unused 'recyclables' which are currently uneconomic to re-process. Some obvious resources for gardeners are lawn-clippings & fallen leaves. Since I have no lawn, I collect clippings which have been dumped in back lanes, or rake them up from the local park when the Council's mower has been through. The surrounding streets are lined with deciduous trees, so in autumn I collect leaves to supplement those from my garden for the next twelve months.(Back to Street Gardening))Collecting fallen leaves from the street to use as mulch

Anyway, here is the meat of my prize-winning letter.


"My current obsession is recycling mattresses. I recycle lots of other things (in fact the reason for the spelling errors is that my typewriter is recycled!) Last week I made a bike trailer from a golf buggy I bought at a jumble sale for $2. And I do interesting things with old phone directories, like using them instead of bricks to make bookcases - tie a stack of them into parcels with discarded pantihose, then cover attractively with whatever you have on hand - fabric, coloured or plain paper etc. They also make good booster seats for small fry. At the table use them just as they are - tear off the pages as they get covered in spilled food; in the car they are better than foam cushions when firmly covered with fabric, while covered in plastic they are ideal to stand on to reach washbasin or toilet bowl, & don't slide or tip like plastic turtles!

I don't have any trouble getting my friends & acquaintances to use ideas like this. Yet when it comes to inner-spring mattresses they go all shy!
Mattresses are a mine of resources. It takes me about 2 hours to completely dismantle one. All the products are so useful a little care is well repaid. I wear a scarf over my mouth & nose, because it's a dusty job, & old clothes, as a matter of course.

First I unpick the stitching around the edge of the mattress. (Every step is repeated, as mattresses have two sides!). Often the thread itself is in good enough condition to re-use, but in any case, the reward for patience is several metres of strong attractive braid, and sometimes some jute piping cord as well. I then remove any buttons or tabs, & the attached tape or thread. The buttons are often attractive, but always useful. (One really old mattress had leather circles just the right size for making hose washers.)

The next job is to peel off the fabric. If it has small holes in it where the buttons were you can still make items such as cushion covers & pillow-cases from it. But often the result is two large pieces of strong fabric plus the side pieces, big enough to make a skirt, or cover a garden lounge. We have also made garden aprons & childrens overalls from striped covers, & I have a classy pair of harem pants made from a green brocade number. If the fabric is stained, you can still sew it into sacks for collecting & storing mulch

Beneath the fabric is a layer of padding. If it is foam, you can wash it & use for stuffing, but usually you will end up with two thick layers of wool or cotton waste, which can be peeled off in sheets & used as the basis of a no-dig garden or to keep your compost warm. Or pull it apart, & use as a wonderful mulch & slow-release organic fertiliser, or compost it.

Underneath the stuffing you will find layers of coconut fibre. Coconut fibre is the most wonderful weed-suppressing worm-attracting mulch you could wish for, or it can be crumbled into an ecologically sound substitute for peat. (The peat-bogs of the world are dying, & peat is definitely on my list of things NEVER to buy!) Have you checked out the price of coconut fibre & peat substitute in your garden store lately? In every mattress there is a gold-mine! Very occasionally you will find wood wool instead of the coconut. This also has plenty of uses.

Under the coconut fibre there will be a sheet of hessian of variable quality & usefulness. In poor condition it can be used to wrap plants, trap codling moth, clean garden tools, or put in the bottom of plant pots. In good condition it makes excellent shade cloth, bags & garden aprons.
There will now almost certainly be a sizeable pile of dirt on the ground, which can be swept up & put straight into the compost. I haven't slept on a mattress since seeing the dirt that came out of the first one I dismantled! And that was one in decent condition!

The toughest part of the process is removing the metal staples that hold the fibre to the springs. I use a large screwdriver, plus pliers & wear heavy gloves. If you really want to use everything, I guess these could be dropped into a jar of dilute sulphuric acid, to make iron sulphate to put on your azaleas, but even I haven't yet gone that far!

Now we finally uncover the core - the inner-spring, which is the reason I started dismembering mattresses in the first place. The foregoing is a bonus!

Mattress-spring fence. The flowers include Calendula, borage, & garlic chives. I attached the springs to a low fence, using wire from coat-hangers
& discarded panti-hose to tie them to the fence & to each other. The result is more or less cat-proof.
They can't get through the horizontal coils, & don't like climbing the "fence" because it's both painful & unstable.
But small birds can fly through with ease, or rest safely in the narrowest section of the coils.

Pelagoniums have now replaced the original annual climbers on this fence I have used mattress springs to make an instant hedge,
by driving metal pickets into the ground, & sliding the springs over them, then planting rampant sprawlers -
beans, peas, nasturtiums, morning glory, pumkins, marrows, cucumbers and other curcubits all work well.
You can have a low hedge or a high fence, depending on what you want & how many mattresses you can snaffle.

Babaco tolerates cold better than its cousin the Paw-paw. Click for information And they make excellent trellis.

They also work well to deter rabbits & foxes from digging into the chook-pen (Hen-run). Dig a shallow trench the width of a single mattress, then place the springs flat in the trench. Drive your fence posts in the mid-line, so half the spring is outside & half inside the pen. I haven't tried this with wombats, though, & if anyone discovers that the method is also wombat-proof, I'd really like to know!

I'm sure you will think of lots of other uses for the materials in mattresses. I've also taken apart bed-bases. The springs are too far apart to make cat-proof fence, but the hessian is top-quality, the wood makes good bookcases, & the legs can be used for making low tables. Plenty of long wood screws too! Single springs from old chairs can be used to support & protect growing plants - bury 1/3rd in the ground, then plant your seeds or seedling in the centre.

Recycling is great fun! during the depression we called it 'making do', during the war it was 'salvage, & in Girl Guides we called it 'thrift'. The important thing is, there is no such thing as rubbish - only resources!"


Collecting driftwood from the river after the floods subside.
When the river floods, wood gets carried downstream & jams against stepping stones & bridges. Collecting, drying & stacking it is a regular task. As well as keeping the crossing places clear,
it fuels my pot-belly stove during the winter. However, I take care not to remove driftwood from places where it provides habitat for native fish and aquatic life.

Now for some Really Radical Recycling!

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