Recycling - how to recycle more

How to Go Beyond the Recycling Bin

While we try to start all of our posts with something that will make you chuckle, it’s hard when writing about rubbish and recycling. There’s not a lot of amusement to be taken from lugging boxes of waste to the main road for collection. Especially in our case where we have to walk up steps and a hill to get there.

You may have noticed we didn’t write “recycle more” in our Plan. Rather we said “use less stuff”. Whilst recycling is of course essential, it still uses resources to create the items in the first place and then more resources to recycle them. We try to compost as much as possible, but appreciate a lot of people don’t have the space or the garden to do this. And of course we still recycle. In fact, we’re now trying to recycle to the nth degree.

Our local council does collect a fair amount of waste from the kerbside. However, whilst researching for our posts we have realised how much isn’t recycled. On top of kerbside recycling and home composting, we were saving our batteries, but we weren’t doing much else. Whilst writing the post on Hair Removal and realising we could in fact recycle safety razor blades it got us thinking about what else we could recycle. It started us down a long internet rabbit hole, but it came up with some pretty positive results. We discovered a company called TerraCycle. We’d never heard of them before, but their raison d’être is to recycle hard-to-recycle waste by reusing or upcycling. Whilst part of our Plan is to reduce what we use in general, the ability to recycle what we do use is of course crucial.

What followed was a mission to try to figure out other things we could recycle. Black plastic plant pots clutter our garden, so that was a logical next step. We did a bit of googling, but came up with very little. We did not give up – we actually used a telephone and used our voices to speak to people. We called local garden centres and nurseries to see if any of them would take our black plastic pots. While none of our local garden centres would, both the local plant nurseries, Downside Nurseries and Bathford Nurseries, would. Result! We’re constantly told that we can’t recycle black plastic, but of course it can be resused – so try calling your local plant nursery to ask if they can reuse the old plant pots.

We won’t bore you with the various phonecalls and google searches we did, but with the help of our council‘s recycling scheme and rigorous research we’ve implemented a pretty robust recycling system. And we mean robust – we now have 17, yes SEVENTEEN different boxes / bags / collection points scattered around our home to ensure everything is recycled correctly:

  1. Metal & glass (kerbside)
  2. Drinks cartons, (non black) rigid plastic & cardboard (kerbside)
  3. Paper (to be shredded for our home compost bin)
  4. Food waste & other compostables (home compost bin)
  5. Batteries (tip / recycling centre)
  6. Scrap metal, including razor blades (tip / recycling centre)
  7. Plastic bags (for reuse)
  8. Other recyclable soft plastics (local supermarket)
    • Did you know that supermarkets collect plastic food bags, bubblewrap, (cleaned) garden soil bags, as well as plastic carrier bags?
  9. Water filters (local supermarket)
  10. Clothes to sell on eBay
  11. Clothes to give to charity
  12. Clothes to scrap (kerbside)
  13. Oral care products, including toothpaste tubes and toothbrushes (TerraCycle)
  14. Plastic sweet / confectionary wrappers / crisp packets / biscuit wrappers (TerraCycle have 3 different schemes covering this, one for confectionary, one for crisps and one for biscuit wrappers)
  15. Flexible plastic tubes, eg facewash etc (TerraCycle)
  16. Pens & markers (TerraCycle)
  17. Plant pots (local plant nursery)
Recycling - under stairs recycling storage

We’ve also found other things that we can recycle in unusual ways:

  • Bras that are still in usable condition can be sent to Against Breast Cancer to raise money
  • Ink cartridges (well, some) can be donated to charity and The Recycling Factory has a great selection. Annoyingly our ink cartridges can’t be recycled, but they’ll still take them and they “will ensure the materials are recycled responsibly” or we can return ours directly to Epson
  • Stamps can be recycled to raise money for charity as well, with lots of charities accepting them – not sure we get anything with stamps on anymore, but we’ll save any that we do get
  • Paint can be given to a great project called Community RePaint, which while it has limited collection points, they do provide a template letter to send to your local council to try to persuade them to use Community RePaint

Recycling to the nth degree does initially take extra effort, but it quickly becomes habit. The habit quickly spreads outside of the house as well. Be honest with yourself and ask when the last time you recycled any of your car rubbish was. Our car is not parked by recycling bins and out of pure laziness we invariably just threw all of our car rubbish into the landfill bin. We recently did an experiment and cleared out all of the rubbish from our car. The experiment wasn’t the actual cleaning, although this is a very rare occurrence. Below is our bag of rubbish (contents not show on purpose due to the embarrassing amount of sweet wrappers).

Recycling - car rubbish

Nine times out of 10 this bag (cans and bottles aside) would’ve just been thrown in the bin. On this occasion we emptied the bag onto the kitchen table and sorted out what could be recycled. We were left with this:

Recycling - what can't be recycled

We don’t want to be all preachy, but it really does seem like a no-brainer to make the extra effort. It’s still surprising when some of our neighbours don’t put any recycling out at all. There’s always the excuse of lack of time or lack of space, but if we want to save our lovely planet we need to make time and make space. You can see from the photos above that some of our recycling boxes are very small. Even so we can’t imagine them getting filled up very quickly. Surely it’s better to have a small box to collect scrap metal and bring it to the tip once a year, rather than those tiny bits being pecked at by birds at a landfill site?

A tiny bit of googling will show you there are plenty of small space recycling options and even hanging bags on the back of a door is better than dumping things into landfill sites.

Our conclusion from our recycling push has been that if you ask the question, you may be surprised by the answer. We’re proud to now show you the contents of our landfill bin containing 2 weeks of waste:

Recycling - two weeks of waste

There’s really no excuse to have a full bin at the end of the week. Ask yourself honestly if you were to go through the contents of your garbage a second time could more of it go into the recycling? We bet the answer is yes. We all need to make much more of an effort. It’s difficult, it’s dirty (sometimes) and it’s a pain in the arse. It’s far less of a pain in the arse than living in an apocalyptic wasteland though.

The recycling bin is not a panacea though. Ultimately the only real course of action is to buy smartly. Seek out local, seek out packaging free alternatives and ask yourself ‘do I need this?’ The goal is to have an empty recycling bin too.

8 thoughts on “How to Go Beyond the Recycling Bin”

  1. Looking at your bin, I am embarrassed by how much I’ve just put by our kerbside! Of course we’ve just had grandchildren here for a week (a weak excuse and an even weaker pun!) but I’m sure there stuff in there that shouldn’t be. I think I’m going to drown my sorrows (European not South American of course)

  2. So here’s a conundrum. A party here at the weekend so instead of getting beer from Tesco (our closest but other brands are available) I went to our local brewery (4 miles away) and bought a 4 litre can. Doing the right thing I thought – supporting local business and cutting down on food/drink miles. However, our good old refuse executives wouldn’t take the empty can, though they happily took the squashed Speckled Hen (again other brands are available) but they cam from Suffolk – 200 miles away!

    1. I agree, it’s totally ridiculous. Since I’m rather obsessive, I would contact both your local council and the brewery to pose the question. Firstly, the brewery really should have recyclable barrels. And if they say they do, then that should be levelled at your council to ask why it wasn’t taken. Our only power is to push back whenever we come across these things.

  3. TerraCycle seems very interesting but I’m not certain how we can access it / use it.
    And you’re right – we all need to make more effort!!!

  4. I really love the idea of “Loop’ which I have just read about on the Terracycle page. Can’t wait for that to start!

    1. Yes, Terracycle seem to be doing a great job at changing things (Loop is owned by them). It would be better if the corporations just stopped using so much plastic, but if they’re not going to, then it’s a very good start!

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