Random Acts of Reuse In The Kingdom of Mustang

In Upper Mustang, Nepal, there is an ethic of reuse that has changed my ways. Few things are consumed and then simply thrown away, except for candy wrappers, plastic packaging like biscuit wrappers, ramen noodle packets, and plastic bags holding washing powder. These, sadly, are found underfoot in nearly every village.

Plastic Packaging Used for Irrigation:

But most plastics in Mustang are put to use in innovative ways. Take the plastic lining for water diversion in irrigation ditches. Rather than using jute sacks filled with sand, a readily available material is plastic packaging and bags layered with mud, unwanted clothing and textiles to create an impermeable dam for irrigation ditches. The plastics, unfortunately, often break free and are carried downstream into the Kali Gandaki River where all water flows.

Potato Sack Turned Horse Feed-Bucket:

One of the most innovative Mustang-style trash hacks is the method by which local horses are fed their grain. Potato sacks made of woven plastic are sewn into a configuration that fits easily around a horse’s muzzle, with long string handles that hang over the horses’ ears. Corn is measured out and put in the potato-sack-turned-feed-bag, the chaff blown by hand from the corn to prevent the horse from inhaling it in the bag, and the bag is hung from the horse’s ears: a muzzle feeder that’s a brilliant light-weight way to feed one’s horses while traveling. No need for heavy buckets. Whether on-the-go or at home, these muzzle feed bags are the preferred feeding bucket for Mustang equines.

When one becomes worn out and a hole develops, they’re quickly patched up, as this one was mended by a talented tailor friend in the village of Samdzong, utilizing his son’s worn out sweat pants.

I grew up with horses and we went through plenty of buckets, some made of PVC and plastic which when broken became yet another hefty item in the landfill. The potato/rice sacks turned into horse feed bags are one of the best reuses I’ve ever seen in a remote part of the world that could easily be adopted world-wide!

Planted Pots in Buckets, Paint Cans and Tins:

Anything that is a receptacle is used in Mustang until it can no longer hold anything, disintegrated by sun and wind to the point of uselessness. In the topmost photo of planters, below, you’ll see a plastic bucket that developed a crack and was then sewn back together with plastic twine. Potted flowering succulents are such a valuable addition of organic color to a household, taking the time to repair that heavy-duty plastic pot is clearly worth the effort. If we treated our own plastic pots and buckets the same way, there’d be a significant reduction in the production of these plastics in the first place, and a renewed ethic which the Lobas, the people of Upper Mustang, haven’t lost, of repairing everything again and again until its useful life is truly over. Now that’s reuse!

Styrofoam Filler For Planters

Have a large pot you’d like to plant cucumbers or flowers in? Don’t fill it up with planting soil! Save your soil and fill the base with Styrofoam first. The foam will reduce the overall weight of your planter, enabling you to move it around for best sun exposure. It also acts as good drainage for water.

Styrofoam Planter Filler, Photo: Liesl Clark

We found some big chunks of styrofoam washed up on our local beach, so I knew that we wouldn’t be able to recycle it. If you don’t have a readily-available source on your beach, save a few styro-blocks to stuff into your large planters. If you’re concerned about the carcinogenic qualities of polystyrene, make sure you place the foam on the very bottom of the planter so the roots don’t touch it. Then, fill with good planting soil, ensuring you’ve filled in all the in-between spaces so your plants’ roots don’t dry out.

Studies aren’t conclusive whether there are any known effects of styrofoam or plastics in our soil upon our foods. If so, we’re in trouble. Almost all commercial compost has polystyrene and hard plastics throughout.

Most of our styrofoam gets recycled around Earth Day when a local feed store drives our styrofoam to a recycler on the other side of Puget Sound.

What do you think? Have you got your own reuse for Styrofoam? We’d love to hear from you.

Beachside Reuse

April is the month we visit Grammy on Anna Maria island in Florida. She lives in a sweet little house, one of the originals on the island, now surrounded by large 3-story condos. I feel like we’re in that story, The Little House, by Virginia Lee Burton, about the tiny house that stayed put and a big city was built right around it. This cottage is the epitome of “If it ain’t broke, don’t trash it.” It survives, a cottage-in-the-rough amidst million dollar resort-style rentals, hotels, and Grammy keeps it tidy, functional, and full of simple beachside reuses.

The Little Cottage in the Rough, Anna Maria Island. Photo © Liesl Clark

A low coffee table by the phone holds phone books (Grammy doesn’t use the internet — actually the table doesn’t hold phone books, but a sagging box does just under the coffee table.) But the floor isn’t level so the table wiggles when items are placed on it. Solution? Grammy placed shells under the legs of the table, just like carpenter’s shims, to shore up the legs and prevent any movement.

Shells For Shims. Beachside Reuse at its Best. Photo © Liesl Clark

A plastic soda bottle fish adorns her antique fishnet on the sunroom wall. This fish, spray painted pink on the inside, was simply cut so fins and a tail were articulated, a glue gun was used to seal the fins and tail, and glitter glue was used to create the effect of gills. Done! A cute sparkly pink fish for her household decorations.

Coke Bottle Sunfish © Liesl Clark

An ancient palm tree was cut down on the property years ago. Today the stump is used as a planter for succulents and cacti.

Trunk Planter For Beach Cacti. Photo © Liesl Clark

Shells hung along the wall of Grammy’s potting shed add texture and bright Florida light to any day. These would make interesting downspouts on a gutter.

Potting Shed Shell Adornment. Photo © Liesl Clark

And geraniums in a tree trunk that frames nearby boats inspires the gardeners in us all!

A hole in a trunk makes room for pretty geraniums. Photo © Liesl Clark

5 Planters Made From Everyday Objects

Large plastic containers make great container gardens. Think twice before you throw plastic receptacles away as someone might like to reuse it.

Planters are easy to come by. Whether you have little growing space outdoors, or want to beautify a patio or rooftop, pull your nearest receptacle or container from your trash and turn it into a planter. The more innovative, the more interesting and discussion-worthy for your friends and neighbors. Here are a few unusual planters we’ve come across in our travels in the Himalaya:

1)    Thermos Planter

The planter on the right is an old broken thermos. They also make great modified bird feeders.

2)    Styrofoam Cooler Planter

Herb planters in styrofoam. The village of Kalopani doesn't have styrofoam recycling. But this family found a way to reuse theirs to plant herbs for their restaurant.

3)    Paint Can and Bucket Planters

Paint Cans and Buckets Make Perfect Succulent Planters, Photo: Liesl Clark

4)    Gerry Can Planter

When this plastic water or fuel container broke, it was turned into a large planter.

5)    Barrel Planter

These barrels make great containers for donkey or yak loads when we go on expedition. When they break, they can make a great container garden.

These are all utilitarian planters, used in a place where there are no garden stores to simply go and buy yourself a clay pot. They’re also used in high Himalayan villages that have short growing seasons. Placed along a south-facing wall, these planters extend the growing season by a couple months.

What innovative planters have you grown your food in?