Let’s talk recycling! I know, it may not seem like the most inspiring topic. But it is important – and we often don’t realise how much we can recycle.
Many people rightly point out that we need to minimise the amount of waste we produce in the first place. This is absolutely true, but we live in an imperfect world, and recycling is sometimes the only option if we want to avoid sending things to landfill.
It can be complicated to work out how to recycle in your area, as different councils have different systems. What’s recyclable in one area may not be in another. And most of us feel we’re too busy to seek out the guidelines.
Why bother recycling?
The main benefit of recycling is that it saves energy and conserves resources. For example, the more paper we recycle, the fewer trees we need to cut down. And for materials like glass and plastic, recycling them is less resource-intensive than making them from scratch.
Plastic is of particular concern here, as it’s made from oil – a fossil fuel. And most types of plastic aren’t biodegradable, so if they’re not recycled then they’ll sit in landfill for decades or even centuries. Worse, they may find their way into the oceans and harm wildlife.
Again, we should minimise our use of plastic as much as possible! But if we do have to use it, recycling is definitely the best option.
If you’re not yet recycling, the first thing you need to do is find out how it works in your area. Your council’s website will tell you exactly what goes into each bin and what doesn’t. Councils normally provide containers, but you can buy replacements if you need them.
If your bins are from the council, it likely says on them what you can and can’t put in. It makes me facepalm when I see a bin with “no plastic film” written on it and I look inside to find – you guessed it – plastic film. Don’t be one of those people.
When disposing of packaging, check for symbols which tell you whether it’s recyclable. Take this with a pinch of salt though, since what’s recyclable varies so much from place to place.
An important point which many people aren’t aware of: plastic film is rarely recyclable. That means if you have, say, a plastic grape punnet, you need to remove the plastic film from the top and bin it before recycling the punnet.
My council hardly takes anything!
I’ve been there. I’ve lived in a place which didn’t take food waste or Tetra Paks (I’m looking at you, Wiltshire Council), one which took no plastic other than bottles, and another which – for some reason – didn’t take glass. It’s really frustrating, and it feels so wasteful just to throw things in the bin.
But you don’t have to – glass, for example, can usually be taken to a bottle bank. And there may be other places locally which have large bins for Tetra Paks, plastic and so on.
If all else fails, you can set things aside and do an occasional trip to your local recycling centre.
Recycling the unrecyclable
By far the best place I’ve lived in terms of recycling was Bath. You could put batteries, clothes, and all manner of other things – even small electrical appliances – into your box, and they would be taken away without complaint.
Unfortunately, most councils aren’t so accommodating. But there are ways around it. For example…
- Batteries, carrier bags, printer cartridges and water filters can be recycled at some larger supermarkets. If you get your shopping delivered, you can sometimes hand bags back to the driver. Some packaging, like the plastic from loaves of bread or packs of toilet paper, can be recycled with carrier bags.
- Clothes, books, accessories, etc. can go to the charity shop.
- You can give things away for free on Freecycle.
- Anything else can go to the recycling centre.
And now let’s talk about food waste…
Many councils now collect food waste – but if yours doesn’t, what do you do?
I never used to see what the big deal was about food waste. It’s biodegradable, so what’s wrong with putting it in the bin?
Well, food waste is a resource like any other. Some councils incinerate it to produce energy, but it can also be composted. If your council won’t take it and you have the space, why not make your own compost? You can use it on your garden or give it to friends and family. However, some things shouldn’t be put in your compost – see here for a list.
…and garden waste
Most councils do take garden waste – though many charge a fee and not all will compost it, so do your research. Councils sometimes also charge you for a garden waste bin, so you may prefer to buy your own – just make sure it’s the right colour if you want the council to empty it. Alternatively, you can compost garden waste along with your food waste.
If you’re careful about what you buy and recycle as much as you can, you’ll find that you need to send very little to landfill – and your general waste bin will take ages to fill up. Consider looking into plastic-free alternatives to the things you buy too. The planet needs all the help it can get.
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