The humble cardboard carton: the perfect vessel for holding milk or juice. Alas, even with the rise of recycling, squillions still end up in the nation's landfill each year where they wait for Mother Nature to do her thing.
So how about putting them to good use around the house and garden? Here are a bunch of clever, thrifty, crafty and downright surprising uses for the humble cardboard milk carton.
Mega-sized ice cubes.
Clean cartons thoroughly, fill with water and freeze. Remove cardboard and use them in the cooler for your next party, or let kids and pets play with them outside.
Floor protectors. Moving? Cut the tops off cartons and use the bottoms to cover furniture legs. Slide your stuff around without scratching the floor.
Paint containers. Cartons make ideal disposable containers for small painting jobs
. Trim the carton to the appropriate size, then add paint. No rinsing is needed – just throw the carton in the trash when you're done. Okay, this is wasteful ... but it's darn convenient.
Drawer organizers. Cut lengthwise to fit utensils. Cut the bottoms to make one or two (or more) inch-deep squares. These make very handy in-drawer storage containers
for small odds and ends.
Dispose of cooking oil.
Fill a carton with newspaper and pour oil inside. The newspaper absorbs the oil and the carton keeps everything neatly contained, so no leaks. When it's been used several times, throw it away.
Disposable cutting boards.
Slit cartons open and spread them flat. Keep on hand for when you need to chop smelly items like fish. Or use them for draining fried foods. The paper side absorbs oil and the waxed side keeps oil from leaking through to the plate underneath.
Liquid storage. Use cartons for storing liquids in the refrigerator or freezer.
They are great for freezing soup, frozen desserts and whipped cream. When you need some, you don't have to thaw the whole container: just slice off a chunk as big as you need, then peel the cardboard off and thaw.
Feed the birds in winter. Cartons are ideal for storing homemade suet or peanut butter-based mixtures. Pour hot mix into a carton. When it's completely hardened, use a sharp carving knife to cut into inch-thick slices. Peel off the cardboard around edges. Each slice fits perfectly into most wire suet holders.
Cut cartons in half lengthwise and punch drainage holes in the bottom. Fill with potting mix. Now you're ready to grow some seeds!
Bug stopper. Keep bugs off your baby veggie plants
: cut tops and bottoms off cartons and push them into the soil around the plants. This cardboard collar makes it hard for slithery bugs to get near those tender shoots.
Toe guard. Camping? Try using bottoms of cartons as tent peg covers
. They'll help prevent painful stubbed toes.
Weight. Fill cartons with sand or pebbles. Punch holes in tops. Use them to weigh down a tarpaulin or drop cloth
when it's windy. Great if you're out of spare bricks. Thread rope through the punched holes and tie them down for added security.
Compost. Schools in LA collected 200 tons of school lunch milk cartons, which the city converted into compost
and used to plant trees in bare urban areas. You can do the same on a small scale. Just shred them before adding to your compost container.
Bowling alley. Empty cartons make great (free!) bowling pins for kids
. Let them spend a rainy afternoon decorating the "pins" with paint before the all-important first game.
This is too adorable. Check out the photo at the top of my post.
Blocks for baby. Wash and dry cartons, then stuff with scrunched up newspaper or junk mail, and tape shut. They make wonderful blocks for babies and toddlers
to play with and practice their stacking skills.
Trim carton to size. Anchor wick at the bottom on the inside, making sure the wick is a couple of inches longer than the container is tall. Pour hot wax inside and let it set.
Ice candle mold.
Coat the inside of a clean carton with cooking spray. Anchor the wick inside, then fill with ice cubes. Pour in hot wax. The melting ice creates beautiful formations in the wax.
Plant pots for kids.
Trim cartons to size and decorate with paints or old wrapping paper. Whatever you think your tots will have fun with. Fill with potting soil and plant with cheerful annuals. Water flowers regularly and give them lots of sun if you want them to survive past next week.
An easy homemade feeder that encourages kids to learn about birds. Cut a hole in a carton and insert a piece of dowel for a perch just below. Fill with seed and hang from a branch.
Decorative bird house.
A great craft idea for kids or adults. Decorate a clean carton however you like. Cut holes and decorate by gluing little craft "birds" into the doorways or on top. Use twigs, raffia and moss to create their "nests."
Pencil holder or vase. Clean and trim old cartons, then decorate with paints, papers, ribbon, glitter – or whatever catches your eye. Use them as pencil holders or even as flower vases
Ginger bread house.
Very young kids don't have the dexterity to work with real gingerbread house kits. So let them use cartons for a firm foundation. Just clean and trim a carton, then let the kids glue ginger cookies onto the sides, using white icing for "glue." Add candy, pretzels etc for added decorations.
Doll house or toy town.
Each carton can become a room or tiny house in your child's imagination. Help him/her cut the sides out of cartons and decorate the insides. Glue them together to make a house ... or a whole town.