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Oily Rag - Treasure in the Trash

Treasure in the Trash

By Frank and Muriel Newman

Dedicated oily raggers love digging through trash – there’s so much there that can be given a new life purpose! Here are some second-hand uses for plastic, newspaper, and tea bags.
Plastic bags

• For small paint jobs place a paint tray inside a plastic bag. This eliminates a messy clean-up job.

• Use as a glasshouse for young plants. Place four small stakes in the ground to form the corners. Place the plastic bag over and heap the earth around the bottom of the bag to stop drafts.

• Use small plastic bags as "gloves" to protect your hands when doing a messy job.

• Use large plastic bags (supermarket shopping bags for example) as rubbish bags. Use the handles as a tie.
Plastic soft drink bottles

• Turn it into light and durable parcel packaging. Cut off a few centimetres from the tops of two clean (and empty!) plastic soft drink bottles, one slightly higher than the other. Insert the item you want to post inside one of the containers and push the two together to form a cylinder. Tape them together and wrap.

• Make a funnel by cutting the spout and about 75mm of the bottle.

• Turn plastic bottles with handles into a scoop. Keeping the cap on, cut away the bottom at a slant. Great for dried beans, flour or bag of lime for the garden.

• Cut away the bottom to make a container of a size that suits its purpose: nail and screw bins, planters, birdfeeders, or bins to hold kids' puzzle pieces after the original cardboard box has disintegrated. Use your imagination.

Six-pack plastic rings

• Tie heaps of them together to form an indoor net for balloon volleyball. It's a great way for noisy kids to exhaust themselves. (But watch out. Dads may use it as an excuse to drink more six-packs!)

Newsprint (newspapers)
• Use as wallpaper - very appropriate in rooms like a study. When the stories date, just put on another edition!

• Makes good carpet underlay to stop those sneaky drafts.

• Use as cat litter - but be very careful which section you use. Cats get nervous if they come across the “pets, free to a good home" section! -

• Make a lamp shade. The old shade had worn out so we simply pasted the pages around the frame. What made it really interesting was that the newspaper used was about stories of particular interest to them.

• Makes an excellent window cleaner. Scrunch it up, dampen it, and wipe on the window. It's the ink that does the cleaning.

• A reader uses old newspapers to get rid of slugs and snails! Just scrunch up a piece of newspaper and leave it in your vegetable garden. The slugs will see it as a cosy house and within a day or so vacate your vegetable plants to take up residence. Simply remove and replace the paper until you garden is slug free and you can again eat vegetables without the fear of finding half a slug!
Tea bags/leaves
• Used tea leaves make excellent fertiliser for pot plants.

• 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.

• Squeeze tea bags out after use, then place them on a flat tray to dry in the sun or in the hot water cupboard. When completely dry store in an air tight jar with a little kerosene added and the jar shaken. Then use as fire starters when needed - they work well.

Do you have a favourite winter tip to share with readers? If so, please send it to us at or write to Living off the Smell of an Oily Rag, PO Box 984, Whangarei.

*Frank and Muriel Newman are the authors of Living Off the Smell of an Oily Rag in NZ. Readers can submit their oily rag tips on-line at The book is available from bookstores and online at


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